What an amazing week it's been. On to PE today to prepare for the second test. Thanks to all for your ongoing support!— Alex Doolan (@alexdoolan15) February 17, 2014
For Alex Doolan, it wasn’t the fitful sleep on match eve or the emotion of being presented with his baggy green cap less than an hour before his debut international innings that he found the most difficult element of adding the suffix ‘Test cricketer’ to his name.
Nor was it the expectation of having to face one of the world’s foremost fast bowling attacks on a pitch that was as far removed from the sort of decks he grew up on in Launceston as Tasmania is from South Africa.
Rather it was the expectation of knowing that, having earned the honour of representing his country, he now carried a hefty personal obligation to ensure he did not let his teammates, or indeed the whole of Australia down.
It’s a pressure that opener Chris Rogers spoke about in the lead-up to the first Test of the three-match series, which Australia won crushingly by 281 runs, and which emanates from the external expectation to perform and the internal fear of failing on such a heavily scrutinised stage.
It’s a feeling that Doolan, a calm, articulate 28-year-old, carried with him when he was summoned to the middle less than 20 minutes into his maiden Test to confront the world’s number one and two ranked fast bowlers – Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn – on a batting minefield.
“By a long way, for a whole number of reasons,” Doolan smiled wryly today when asked if his introduction to Test cricket – in which he scored a composed 27 followed by an even more impressive 89 – was the most gruelling cricket he had ever encountered.
“The bowling attack, the outside pressure of wanting to do well in that first Test – that’s definitely the toughest I’ve ever played.
“I remember speaking to (former Australian opener) Justin Langer before I came away (on this tour) and he said the major difference was expectation from (Sheffield) Shield cricket to Test cricket.
“I certainly think that’s the case.
“Yes, the bowling attack was very, very good - the best I’ve ever faced - but that expectation of needing to perform and make sure that Australia stayed ahead of the game is certainly very tough.
“I tried to use (the weight of expectation) as motivation, but I don’t think you can totally disregard it.
“It’s always going to be there whether you like it or not.
“I tried to have it feel like the nation was behind me, and was striving to do well and put the team into a good position.”
But it’s fair to say that the burden of expectation that Doolan carried with him into the Test arena is also partly a by-product of the higher standards he has set for himself and which, over the last couple of summers, has lifted from an elegant batsman with raw talent and faultless timing to Test cricketer.
The former was, he acknowledges, a common perception built on the numerous times he got a few runs under his belt in first-class innings, but then found a way of getting himself out just when his teammates and his many supporters thought he was finally set to go on with the job.
That corner was negotiated in the summer of 2012-13 when he undertook some advanced and intensive tuition from fellow Launcestonian Ricky Ponting, and announced himself with a polished, emphatic 161no against the South African touring team that contained a number of the same players he encountered at Centurion last week.
“In the past, there has been a perception of me that I do get to 30 and get out,” Doolan said.
“I was aware of that.
“It was something that bugged me a lot, so I've been a lot harder on myself in making sure that those (perceptions disappear).
“I got 27 in the first innings (of the first Test) and got out, and I was pretty ropeable.
“I'm just trying to make sure (to remember that) the job's not done when you get to 20 or 30, then try and push on and make a hundred every time I bat, rather than just getting lucky once or twice."
Which is why he was so demonstrably disappointed in Australia’s second innings when, having survived more than four hours in conditions his captain claims Doolan won’t see the likes of again no matter how many Tests he plays, he gave up his wicket 11 runs short of a famous century.
Not to the highly-ranked new ball duo, nor to South Africa’s most threatening and impressive seamer Morne Morkel, all of whom had subjected him to a searching examination that Doolan had passed with a high distinction.
But to the first ball of a new spell from part-time spinner JP Duminy that loomed as such as juicy gift when it pitched short and wide that Doolan could not believe he edged it to the ‘keeper rather than spanking it to the point boundary as per his intention.
Still can’t believe it, in fact.
“I’m not sure I will ever get over that,” he said.
“You only ever get one chance to make a debut hundred and I blew that opportunity.
“The fact that we were in a really good position made it a little bit easier, and the fact that we had batted really well, Davey (Warner, with whom he shared a 205-run second-wicket partnership) and myself to get us into that position on that third day.
“That was, I guess, the silver lining to the cloud but I’m still pretty gutted about it.
“I think I will probably get more disappointed as time goes on, rather than the other way around.”