This is the hardest stint I’ve ever endured in international cricket.
Without blowing my own trumpet, I feel as though I’ve bowled reasonably well in all the Tests I’ve played for Australia, and my biggest battle has been getting my body right. Those body problems haven’t gone away – my knee is still giving me grief – but in the past fortnight I have bigger issues to deal with, and still am dealing with.
Usually I’m all good in terms of self-confidence. Since I began this series, and especially because of what happened in Port Elizabeth, I’ve had negative thoughts. I’ve been laying in bed for the past few nights thinking, ”What have I been doing wrong?”, and also what I’ve done to fix myself before when things haven’t clicked.
So far my plan A and then even my plan B hasn’t worked. I’ve just got to get better at those two – and also my plan C, which I haven’t had to use a lot in my Test career. I’m not far away. I know I’m still bowling OK. If my pace was down consistently I’d be worried, but it’s not. I’m putting some balls in the right spot – just not enough of them.
The good thing about being a bowler is that you generally get another chance. It’s about making sure you’re looking forward to that chance, not dreading it. Even with the doubts that have been creeping in I haven’t dreaded coming on for that next spell – quite the opposite, actually. It’s very important for me to get to the next couple of days’ training and work out what I need to do to get back to what I did so well in England and then in the summer at home.
Once the third Test starts I have to stop thinking about what happened in the first two. If I keep obsessing over how I bowled in them then I’m as good as beaten before I even get out there.
The other thing is the ”if” – if I am picked. I haven’t been told by any of the selectors that they are looking to freshen up the pace attack for this next Test, yet I also haven’t been told my spot is secure. If they think I’m not going well enough to justify my spot in the team, I’ll cop that. But if I do play, once I get that first ball I want to set the tone. It’s time for me to lead.
We knew the South Africans were going to come back hard. It’s not just something we said publicly; we raised it in the dressing room as well. They’re the best team in the world, and they have been for a long time. Even so, we still weren’t ready for it. We can still look back and be happy with how we approached it, with the intensity we showed: the guys hit enough balls, we bowled enough balls. It’s just that they came even harder than we expected. That was clear at about 4-100 on day two, when their pacemen, especially Morne Morkel, came around the wicket and bounced us.
We’re now back in Cape Town – yes, site of ”the 47” just over two years ago. It was just one of those days where you don’t play and miss, you just nick, where everything went wrong. It was a weird feeling because we’d bowled so well – Watto just kept taking wickets – after Pup [Michael Clarke] had batted out of his skin and we’d got a really good total. He put us in a position where we should never have lost the Test.
As bad as that was, the follow-up win at the Wanderers to draw the series was about as good as it gets. I wasn’t there because I’d flown home because of a hip injury. I was sitting on the lounge watching all of the last two days. I was still screaming, because to come back from that and win a Test showed our character. The way we did it, with young Patty Cummins finishing it at the end, was brilliant.
I’m sure we’ll draw inspiration from that win. As a team we know we can bounce back and beat the best team in the world. That’s what will motivate us, to know we’re one game away from doing it.
In every Test I play I try to make sure there’s nothing left in the tank by the end of it. For this Test I can guarantee – if I get the nod – there’ll be absolutely nothing left, given that after this I’ll be going home and finally getting my knee done, and then not playing again until the second half of the year. Whatever I have to do to get through this game – massages, ice baths, needles, whatever – I’ll do it.
Although we would have liked to have had the series sewn up by now, there’s no better way of doing it than here. Amazing city, amazing ground, the two best teams in the world with the two best pace attacks in the world. It can’t get much better than that. The Ashes was huge, but to come here at one-all and have a chance to beat the world No. 1, that’s up there with the Ashes.
The last time Australia finished a series in South Africa I was glued to the TV until the middle of the night, with the sleep deprivation worth it to be watching when the Aussies sealed an awesome win. This time around, I’m hoping there will be tens of thousands back home doing exactly what I did – while I’m here in Cape Town taking a wicket or two – and then some.