Australia takes on ... Australia |



Australia takes on ... Australia reviews crucial intra-squad match

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It’s tough to extinguish the fire that burns within long-retired fast bowlers, but Steve Smith was hardly expecting he would be the one to he burned during Australia’s internal trial today.

Smith was the most obvious casualty of the extended centre wicket practice session at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, which has been arranged to allow them some much-needed outdoor training ahead of the first Test beginning at Centurion next Wednesday.

While the sight of an Australian bowling team in full Test kit taking on a couple of Australian batsmen in the same regalia beneath the daunting but vacant Wanderers’ grandstands was slightly surreal, the cricket itself was more relaxed than revelatory.

That was until Smith was sent on his way by stand-in umpire Craig McDermott, the ex-Australian quick who was assigned umpiring duties along with coach Darren Lehmann and spin-bowling coach John Davison.

Up until that point, things had progressed reasonably tamely as the batsmen battled to find their timing against what Michael Clarke has rated the world’s best bowling attack, on a worn pitch that hosted the South African’s three-day trial game early in the week.

Chris Rogers managed just a couple before he edged a typically probing Ryan Harris to second slip. David Warner decided to pretend Nathan Lyon was Graeme Swann and tried to belt the spinner’s first delivery over long off only to sky a catch to point.

And Alex Doolan, in line for his Test debut at Centurion and batting at three in the practice match as he did during the only other centre wicket hit-out at Potchefstroom last Sunday, looked composed and organised until he opted to leave a delivery from James Pattinson that seamed in and clipped his off stump.

That brought Smith to the middle, and his innings was but a handful of deliveries old when he pushed at a full delivery off Pattinson and, following a deliberation that any former fast bowler would consider to be unnecessarily lengthy, McDermott raised his finger in support of the Australians.

The ones in the field, that is.

Given that the aim of the exercise was to provide cricket-starved players with some match-similar practice, it was not difficult to understand Smith’s annoyance at being deprived the benefit of the doubt.

He stood his ground risked a fine for dissent had this been a properly-sanctioned fixture and would doubtless have called on the DRS video appeal system had that been available, before trudging discontentedly back to the foliage-fringed dressing shed.

Some at ground level claimed to have heard a noise as ball passed bat, but there was a distinct chance it was Smith’s bat brushing the pitch.

But having spent his 71-match Test career with the in-grained bowlers’ belief that cricket is far too often a batsman’s game, McDermott was unmoved and unrepentant in cutting Smith’s practice session markedly short.

Smith might also have been left to brood that privilege is perhaps dispensed on the basis of office.

That’s because Michael Clarke, having spooned a catch to mid-off after spending around half an hour at the crease, was halfway from the field only to be recalled when Davidson revealed the bowler had overstepped.

As it turned out, Clarke did not benefit greatly from the reprieve and fell in similar fashion – spooning a lofted drive to mid-on – from the first ball of Lyon’s second spell.

Shane Watson, showing no sign of the calf tightness that meant he won’t bowl in this session but will be tried closer to the Test for which he’s apparently in no doubt, played some powerful front foot drives and was joined by Phil Hughes in the lead-up to lunch.

But as has been the case for so much of their tour to date, the weather on the Highveld threatened to intervene when – as the two teams mingled over lunch – the warning bell signifying an imminent electrical storm rang loudly on the adjacent golf course.