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The big questions facing players and selectors as losing streak drags on

Cricket

Steve Smith has a clear idea of what Australia must improve to level their three-Test series against South Africa: everything.

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It was a first-innings collapse of 10-86 that changed the course of the first Test, which Australia lost by 177 runs at the WACA yesterday.

But Smith noted that wasn’t the only concerning element about the defeat, which was Australia’s first loss in the opening Test of a home summer since 1988.

“Every aspect of the game needs some improvement,” the skipper said as his side confronted home truths and a short turnaround before the second Test, which starts in Hobart on Saturday.

“I can’t fault the guys’ work ethic. We work extremely hard at practice and do all the right things.

“It’s just about when we get out in the middle – we’ve got to do things better.

“The guys will work hard at training over the next couple of days to make sure that on the first morning of that Test match we’re ready to go.”

Australia dropped three catches during South Africa’s second innings of 8(dec)-540. The three errors cost 153 runs and ensured Australia remained in the field for 160.1 overs.

The hosts bowled well in patches during a game-changing partnership of 250 runs from JP Duminy and Dean Elgar – especially Josh Hazlewood – but weren’t able to generate as much reverse swing as the opposition.

“When the ball is hard and reversing it’s probably the hardest thing to face,” Smith said.

“We got it going at times.

“We’ve just got to try and manage the ball as much as we can to get the ball going as well.

“I’m not sure of the reason why but it certainly seemed like their ball stayed harder for a lot longer.”

Offspinner Nathan Lyon failed to fire in the Proteas’ second innings but notably wasn’t used on day three until the second session.

Smith dismissed speculation Lyon was on the outer.

“I do (have confidence in him) … he’s still looking to continue to improve as well but I’m happy with everything and there’s no issue there at all,” he said.

Wicketkeeper Peter Nevill was one member of the XI to stand up under pressure.

He was wrongly given out on 23 during the first innings, while he finished 60 not out and almost dragged the game to tea on day five while trying to salvage a draw.

“The guys fought quite hard. Nevvy … to be there at the end was great,” Smith said.

MENTAL SCARS REOPENED

South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis believes his side’s crushing Test win over Australia has opened up old wounds in Darren Lehmann’s vulnerable outfit.

The Proteas took a 1-0 lead in the three-test series, the result followed the Proteas’ recent 5-0 ODI whitewash against Australia in South Africa.

In late October, Australian paceman Peter Siddle laughed off suggestions from du Plessis that the one-day defeats had inflicted some mental scars.

But du Plessis says the series-opening Test win in Perth would have revived memories of the ODI thumpings.

“It’s a different format but you’d like to start well and almost open up those wounds a little bit again,” du Plessis said after the Test win in Perth.

“So it was important for me that we make sure we played really well because we know in Hobart the Australians have a good record there.

“So it definitely helps in terms of going there now.”

Proteas paceman Kagiso Rabada – who was named man of the match in Perth for his seven-wicket match haul after fellow quick Dale Steyn retired hurt – said the ODI series against Australia was crucial in showing him what tactics to use.

“I think it definitely did help in terms of strategy,” Rabada said.

“You tend to develop a sense of where to bowl to different batters. It helped in that regard.”

Australia could make up to three changes to their team heading into Hobart.

Opener Shaun Marsh has already been ruled out with a broken finger, and Adam Voges will be monitored after tweaking his hamstring.

Batsmen Callum Ferguson and Joe Burns have been drafted into the expanded 13-man squad.

Redbacks paceman Joe Mennie, who was 12th man in Perth, could squeeze his way into the final XI at the expense of Peter Siddle.

South Africa are likely to make just the one change, with Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott the leading candidates to replace the injured Steyn.

Allrounder Dwaine Pretorius has been added to the squad as cover.

REVIEWS UNDER REVIEW

Former Test star Mitchell Johnson has labelled the decision review system a failure following Mitch Marsh’s controversial dismissal yesterday.

Marsh was originally given not out when he was struck low on the pads by a swinging Kagiso Rabada delivery.

But the decision was over-turned when the ball-tracking technology used by DRS predicted the ball would have clipped leg stump.

Most observers were stunned, thinking the ball was angling well down leg side.

Steve Smith was more diplomatic when asked about the dismissal but made his thoughts on the matter clear.

“A little bit strange. It looked like Rabada started bowling legspin at hone point, the way the ball was sort of going down leg and it sort of straightened,” Smith said.

“That was a little bit odd. Maybe it needs some improvement.”

Former Test skippers Michael Clarke and Mark Taylor shared similar sentiments.

“I was certain that was missing the stumps,” Clarke said while commentating on The Nine Network.

“When you look at that replay, I thought it was definitely swinging too far and missing the leg stump. He’ll be really disappointed with that.

“What I don’t agree with is the line of the delivery once the ball hits him on the toe… I believe the line of that delivery is going down and missing leg stump.”

Taylor said Marsh (26) was unlucky to be given out.

The DRS also came under fire in Australia’s first innings when Smith was given out lbw despite charging well down the pitch to play spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Smith reviewed the decision but the DRS showed the ball clipping leg stump.

FIVE KEY QUESTIONS NATIONAL SELECTORS WILL MULL THIS WEEK

Mennie is every chance of making his Test debut in Hobart after Australia’s quicks were forced to bowl for four consecutive days at the WACA. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood sent down a total of 103.4 overs in Perth, but the new-ball pairing are so crucial to Australia’s hopes of levelling the series it’s hard to imagine either of them being rested. That leaves underdone Siddle as the man under pressure. The veteran was economical throughout the first Test but rarely looked threatening, and his pace dropped throughout the contest.

The skipper sets the batting order but it will be governed by the 10 players at his disposal. The most likely answer is Joe Burns. The Queenslander was somewhat unlucky to miss the cut for the first Test, having scored a Sheffield Shield ton against a NSW attack featuring Test bowlers Starc, Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. But Darren Lehmann and Steve Smith indicated in October that Usman Khawaja could flourish as an opener. Selectors could spring a surprise by naming Callum Ferguson as a replacement for Shaun Marsh, who has a broken finger.

Mitch Marsh’s medium pace and batting potential has kept the West Australian in the side during the past year, when he has struggled for runs. Moises Henriques and Marcus Stoinis headline the leading candidates to fill the void should selectors run out of patience with Marsh and want a like-for-like replacement for the third Test. The other argument is a specialist batsman should be at No.6 in the order and Burns and Ferguson warrant call-ups in Hobart, but Rod Marsh’s panel will be reluctant to further burden the side’s overworked pacemen.

A dodgy hamstring could be an unfortunate end to Voges’ 19-Test career. The 37-year-old averages 73.75 with the bat but hasn’t registered a half-century in Australia’s four-Test losing streak. He will be closely monitored by team medical staff but the short break between games does not bode well for the veteran. Even if Voges is passed fit and plays at Bellerive he could soon be squeezed out of the XI.

Cameron Bancroft has been earmarked as a future Test player but failed to reach 25 in all four of his Sheffield Shield digs this season. Redbacks captain Travis Head and the mercurial Glenn Maxwell will come under consideration, while George Bailey finished 142 not out in a recent Shield game but hasn’t played Test cricket since 2014 and is 34 years old. Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers and Scott Boland are the pick of the depleted pace stocks, while spinners Ashton Agar, Steve O’Keefe and Jon Holland impressed in round two of the Shield season.

-AAP

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