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Embattled Australia bid to avert full-blown crisis

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Cricket - Australia v South Africa - First Test cricket match - WACA Ground, Perth, Australia - 7/11/16 South Africa's team captain Faf du Plessis (R) reacts as he walks off the ground as he celebrates with team mates after defeating Australia at the WACA Ground in Perth. REUTERS/David Gray
Cricket - Australia v South Africa - First Test cricket match - WACA Ground, Perth, Australia - 7/11/16 South Africa's team captain Faf du Plessis (R) reacts as he walks off the ground as he celebrates with team mates after defeating Australia at the WACA Ground in Perth. REUTERS/David Gray

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A mis-firing Australia head into the second test against South Africa in Hobart under pressure to save the series and avert a full-blown crisis which would almost certainly be triggered by a fifth consecutive test defeat.

Selectors, staff and players are all under the microscope after the 177-run loss in Perth, which was Australia's first series-opening defeat at home in 28 years and sparked acrimony from a disaffected public.

Australians have become accustomed to seeing Steve Smith's side flop on foreign wickets but have little tolerance for failure at home.

They switched off in droves as their team crumbled against an undermanned South Africa attack at the WACA, and the television viewership figures will have raised alarm bells through the halls of Cricket Australia's Melbourne headquarters.

Head coach Darren Lehmann said this week that every man would be playing for their career at Bellerive Oval but is unlikely to feel too comfortable about his own position, despite holding a lengthy contract.

His predecessor Mickey Arthur was sacked after Australia last lost four tests on the trot, on their 2013 tour of India.

Former coach Tim Nielsen was also packed off after the 2010/11 Ashes defeat, the catalyst for an exhaustive review of the team's management.

As a selector, Lehmann has worn twice the flak.

The panel led by outgoing chairman Rod Marsh has been under fire, and was openly defied by top order batsman Usman Khawaja, who derided them as "fickle" for dropping himself and Joe Burns from the third test in Sri Lanka.

The selectors' call to pick a 12-man squad for the opening two tests against South Africa invited further derision, with underperforming players, including all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, guaranteed a second start in Hobart.

Only injuries have forced changes and Burns comes back into the squad after opener Shaun Marsh's withdrawal with a broken finger.

Paceman Peter Siddle has also been scratched with a lower back injury, paving the way for a test debut for Joe Mennie, whose selection over Jackson Bird was sealed, oddly, due to his superior batting, according to selector Marsh.

Selectors have held off naming an 11 but Smith confirmed that middle order batsman Adam Voges will be fit to play after nursing a hamstring strain.

Smith said Australia could go in with six specialist batsmen, which would mean jettisoning Mitchell Marsh and a potential debut for South Australia veteran Callum Ferguson.

"You might not need to have that extra bowling option if there's a lot of rain around," Smith told reporters in Hobart on Friday.

The forecast has only added to Australia's doldrums, with heavy rain expected on the opening two days.

That will likely further crimp their chances of taking the three-match series into a decider in Adelaide later this month.

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)


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