Lehmann defends heavy hit pace attack

Coach insists the best available quicks are being chosen in wash-up of Australia's heavy ODI series defeat

Australia coach and national selector Darren Lehmann has defended the choice of seam bowlers his team has taken into its disastrous ODI tour of South Africa, claiming he is confident it is the country's best available pace attack.

In the wake of the Proteas record-breaking run chase at Durban on Wednesday night which handed the home team an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series with a shot at an unprecedented whitewash, Lehmann pointed the finger of blame fairly at his bowlers.

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But he rejected suggestions that the make-up of the pace complement – which included three uncapped players and no bowler with 40 or more ODI wickets to his name – was inadequate given the restrictions imposed on selectors by injury and the need to manage workloads.

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The only first-choice fast bowler who could have been included in the 14-man touring party is Test quick Josh Hazlewood who is being rested with an eye to the non-stop five months of international cricket that begins with South Africa's three-Test tour to Australia next month.

And in recognition of the fact that since the start of 2014, Hazlewood has bowled more overs across all three formats in international cricket (and collected more wickets) than any other pace bowler from all Test nations.

Significantly (in excess of 35 per cent) more than the second-most overworked international bowler in that period, Mitchell Starc, who was also due to be spelled from the current Qantas Tour of South Africa before he sustained a leg injury in a training mishap last month.

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Lehmann conceded that the absence of other front line quicks James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile and even all-rounder James Faulkner meant the world champions were lacking significantly in fire power.

But he added that the bowlers chosen to do the job against South Africa had earned their stripes through performances in the Australia domestic competition, and had learned the hard way over the past week just how vast is the step up to top-level international cricket.

"Very much so," Lehmann said when asked, in the wake of the Proteas stunningly successful pursuit of a 371 with almost an over to spare at Kingsmead, if he still believed the current Australia ODI bowling attack was the best available to his selection panel.

"The only one that could possibly be here is Josh (Hazlewood) and he needs a break before the Test series.

"I think we worked out we're taking pretty much seven of our first-choice one-day team out of the bowling attack, and when you go through that it's some high-quality bowling.

"But it's an opportunity for the young guys to learn, to learn quickly and learn what they need to do to step up in international cricket.

"At the moment we're failing in that and they've got to get better.

"It's something we have to rectify in the next two games (at Port Elizabeth and Cape Town)."

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The brutal truth for those looking to vilify the roster of bowlers sent to South Africa before the 2016-17 summer had got underway in Australia is that the most recent form upon which selection could be based was last summer's Sheffield Shield competition.

In which Daniel Worrall and Joe Mennie were the leading wicket-takers and where Chris Tremain (fifth-highest after Jackson Bird and the now retired Michael Hogan) showed he possessed some of the pace and menace that was lost to the current squad through Starc's absence.

Had the selectors relied purely on domestic white ball form from the 2015 Matador BBQs One-Day Cup staged a full year ago in Sydney, then the only fit and available performer they might have considered was South Australia's Kane Richardson.

But the 25-year-old had returned early from Australia's ODI tour to New Zealand last February due to a stress fracture in his back and had not played a significant amount of cricket in the interim.

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Other pace bowlers among the top 10 wicket takers in last year's Matador Cup were Western Australia's Andrew Tye and Queensland pair Ben Cutting and Mark Steketee.

But Tye, who played three T20 Internationals earlier this year, is nudging 30, as is Cutting who played the most recent of his four ODIs against Zimbabwe in Harare more than two years ago.

And 22-year-old Steketee has played limited competitive cricket throughout the Australia winter.

In Lehmann's view, the problem has not been that the bowlers selected are not up to international standard nor has it been poor preparation since arriving in the Rainbow Nation a fortnight ago to acclimatise and hone their skills.

Rather it's been an inability to transfer the skills sets they've shown in the practice nets to the middle on match day, under the glaring scrutiny that international cricket brings and with the miniscule margins for error that the world's best batters allow.

And players the calibre of South Africa's top-order hitters Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and last night's hero David Miller fit comfortably within that echelon.

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"With 370, you shouldn't lose too many games like that if you bowl half well," Lehmann said in a blunt assessment of Australia's efforts to defend the highest ODI score ever posted at Durban's Kingsmead Stadium.

"I thought we batted really well last night, posted a really good total and the wicket was really good.

"But we bowled poorly – it's pretty simple.

"We've got to find a way to get some early wickets and put some pressure back on South Africa and at the moment we're not doing that.

"And we're not doing the good things that we do in the nets and taking them out into the middle in front of a packed house.

"We've got a couple of days in PE (Port Elizabeth where the fourth game will be played on Sunday), but at the end of the day the blokes have trained really well and prepared well.

"And bowled really well in the nets, but international cricket is quite pressurised.

"They've just got to get used to that.

"They (South Africa) have got some quality players."

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Certainly the Australians will have the practice facilities at Port Elizabeth's St George's Park Stadium to themselves when they hit the training track in the windswept coastal city tomorrow.

The Proteas have been granted a couple of days off to celebrate their series win that was achieved with a couple of matches to spare, before they reconvene in Port Elizabeth on Saturday to set about a clean sweep.

Such was the euphoria in the wake of their win at Durban, the second-highest successful run chase in ODI history, that Miller organised for a bar in his home town to remain open all night so he and his teammates could toast their triumph.

A celebration that stand-in skipper du Plessis had foreshadowed when he tried to articulate at game's end his pride and amazement at the way the series had panned out given South Africa's poor recent form in all forms of the game.

"I just want to take my thinking hat off and really enjoy the moment of winning a series against Australia," du Plessis said when asked in the immediate aftermath of the four-wicket triumph whether he had turned his thoughts to an unprecedented 5-0 series whitewash.

"This is a special occasion for us as a team."

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