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Dale Steyn hits back as Australia is routed in second Test

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Darren Lehmann was never going to be doing handstands after again watching his team lose nine last-session wickets to crash to defeat, just as it had during the winter Ashes series.

But at least this time he was comforted that it was primarily due to brilliant bowling rather than poor batting.

There was a remarkable symmetry between how Australia succumbed to a 231-run loss to South Africa on Sunday and when it ceded the fourth Test against England just over six months ago.

In Durham, Australia was 1-120 before losing 9-104 in the final session. The key spell was Stuart Broad taking 3-2 in 17 balls to remove Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and Brad Haddin.

At St George’s Park, the visitors were 1-141 at tea and then lost 9-88. The key spell was delivered by Dale Steyn, who took 3-4 in 15 balls to remove the same three batsmen: Clarke (1), Smith (0) and Haddin (1).

“It takes you back,” coach Lehmann conceded. “The pleasing thing for me . . . is that we got bowled out, if that makes sense.

“In Durham we played some poor shots, but they [South African bowlers] were too good for us.”

While Australia’s rot started with the losses of Alex Doolan (5) and Shaun Marsh (golden duck) to Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, respectively, the pivotal moment was the reintroduction of Steyn, whose apparent filthy mood darkened further on the cusp of tea when captain Graeme Smith – for the second time in the match – declined to support a decision referral that would have brought him a wicket.

“His anger goes from very angry to extremely angry most of the time when he’s bowling,” Smith joked.

To that point Steyn had been wicketless, meaning he had been outshone by Australia’s Mitchell Johnson in Centurion, and then by teammate Morkel here. He bowled as if he had a point to prove about his place in the world’s pace pecking order.

In the first over of his new spell he had Clarke caught brilliantly at second slip by Faf du Plessis from an outswinger, and then with the next produced a searing inswinger that left Steve Smith completely beaten for pace and trapped leg-before.

A few overs later he again delivered a vicious inswinger to Haddin that produced the same result as in the first innings: an uprooted middle stump.

“You saw a class bowler bowl consistently at 140 to 145km/h and execute his skills as well as you will see in international cricket,” said Clarke. “They got the ball to swing both ways; reverse swing both ways is extremely tough to face at any stage, let alone when guys are walking out to face and starting on zero.”

A rib injury Steyn suffered in the Boxing Day Test win against India sidelined him in the lead-up to this series. While he took a team-high six wickets in Centurion, his captain suspected he was only “a spell away from hitting his best”.

“If he’s not getting five-fors, knocking people over or knocking people’s heads, then people start to ask questions,” Smith said.

“It’s great to see when the game’s on the line . . . that he can respond like that.

I feel like he’s going to get better and better, the more he bowls and the more we play.”

Lehmann said the ability of South Africa’s pacemen to achieve reverse swing was influenced by the home team bowling last on a surface that became progressively more abrasive and conducive to reverse swing.

His concern was the failure of Australia’s batsmen in the first innings, leaving it too much to do in the second and piling stress on the bowlers.

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