MELBOURNE // Peter Siddle came to the defence of Brett Lee after outshining his illustrious Australia colleague on the second day of the second Test against South Africa. The paceman Lee was treated with disdain by the Proteas, but Siddle and Mitchell Johnson rattled the opposition to leave them struggling on 198-7, still 196 runs behind their hosts.
Johnson, 27, did the damage for the Australians in Perth and on this occasion it was Siddle - the youngest player in the team - and another rookie, Nathan Hauritz, who came to the fore. Siddle, 24, claimed figures of 3-24, including the wickets of openers Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie, while the off-spinner Hauritz bagged 2-49. In contrast, Lee, who turned 32 last month, was plundered for 68 runs in 13 wicketless overs by a Proteas batting line-up which otherwise melted under the Melbourne sun.
Siddle said: "He bowled well, he bowled good lines. He bowled well to the left-handers with not a lot of success. I suppose days like that are going to happen. "Brett and I did that in Perth and Mitch got the wickets and today we've all bowled well again and the wickets were shared. "There's going to be plenty of days like that but he's bowling well and bowled good areas. [It was[ good team bowling."
Siddle not only survived the axe from Perth but was given the new ball by the captain Ricky Ponting, and rewarded his country with an excellent spell of fast bowling. Getting the ball to jump off a good length, Siddle fizzed past the outside edges of hesitant batsmen not sure whether to play or withdraw their bats. He said: "I'm still young and still learning so I don't think I'm going to be comfortable for a little while yet.
"[I'm] just very pleased knowing I can compete at this level and I can bowl consistent lines and lengths and I can work hard and the success will come." Lee, meanwhile, regained the pace which has deserted him recently but still failed to threaten. Since the start of the Test series in India, Lee has taken 21 wickets at 45.5 each. Here, Ponting lost faith in him with the new ball after only four overs, which cost 27 runs, turning instead to Johnson, who struck in the first over of his spell on two of the three occasions he was asked to relieve Lee.
The first time, he removed Hashim Amla after Lee had conceded 15 and nine runs in his previous two overs. Later he removed tailender Morne Morkel, who had no problem scoring off Lee but had no answer for Johnson's pace and movement. Proteas coach Mickey Arthur is certainly not writing off the paceman. "We've got a huge amount of respect for him. "He's right up there. He's still running in, he's still doing the job," he said.
South Africa will resume today still 196 runs behind Australia's first-innings total, with JP Duminy (34 not out) the key to eating into Australia's lead. Only Smith (62) of the tourists' top order offered any real resistance. Arthur was left hoping Duminy can emulate the feat of Australia's Michael Clarke, who scored an unbeaten 88 with the tail to take his side's first-innings score to 394. "If we can get some form of partnership going and add another 70 that will take us to around lunchtime and not only does that get us closer but it takes time out of the game," he said.
"Australia are chasing. We're lucky to be 1-0 up, they're then going to have to come out and maybe be a little bit more positive which will allow some opportunities with the ball. "But we've got it all to do really. We've got to find a way to get ourselves out of this situation we're in on day two." * With agencies