Hill hundred dominates opening day
England XI 1 for 50 trail Victoria 2 for 216 decl. (Hill 105*, D Hussey 67*) by 166 runs
Victoria's opener Michael Hill made the most of a first-ball reprieve to record his maiden first-class century, as England's reserve bowlers were made to toil for breakthroughs on the opening day of their three-day warm-up at the MCG. On a sluggish drop-in wicket that offered little of the pace and bounce that is anticipated for next week's third Test at Perth, Victoria ground their way to 2 for 216 in 74 overs, before a surprising declaration allowed them time to claim the prize scalp of Alastair Cook before the close.
By winning the toss and choosing to bat first, Victoria ensured that the focus of the first day would fall on England's three back-up seamers, Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan, all of whom are in competition for the Test place left vacant by Stuart Broad's stomach injury. In all, England made six changes to the team that won the Adelaide Test by an innings, with Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann also sitting out the match.
Hill stole the show with a gritty innings that surpassed his previous first-class best of 79, and ensured that he'll at least be on the fringes of the selectors' thoughts if Phil Hughes, who has been named as Simon Katich's replacement for Perth, fails to impress on his return to Test cricket next week. Hill's innings was, however, laced with good fortune, as he survived four clear-cut chances in his first 92 runs, before a scampered single to mid-on brought him his hundred from 234 balls.
Tremlett, who is the firm favourite to take over from Broad in Perth, took the new ball for England and could have struck in his first over, when Hill edged his first ball to third slip, only for Matt Prior - playing as a batsman to give Steven Davies his first outing of the tour - to fumble the ball as it flew at him from an unfamiliar angle. Shortly before lunch, Prior's gloveless hands let him down again, as Hill on 21 smeared Monty Panesar's first ball of the match at a catchable height to midwicket.
On 62, in the final over of the afternoon session, Hill inside-edged a lifter as Tremlett came around the wicket, but Davies couldn't cling onto a tough one-handed chance. And on 92, Tremlett's own hands let him down, as Ajmal Shahzad induced a scuffed smear to mid-on, only moments after an inside-edge had bobbled perilously close to his stumps.
Despite the let-offs, it was a valuable and attritional performance from Hill, who finally struck his first boundary from his 42nd delivery when Tim Bresnan overpitched. He added two more boundaries in a single over off Panesar, a slog sweep through midwicket followed by a sweetly- timed cover drive, before he nudged Bresnan off his hip to reach fifty off 139 balls. By the time his captain Cameron White declared, he was unbeaten on 105 from 251 balls, with 11 fours.
Compared to the rampant show that England's second string put together at Hobart last month, this was a disappointing performance, although the conditions were not conducive to wicket-taking or heavy run-scoring. Tremlett and Shahzad shared the new ball and conceded their runs at barely two per over, before Bresnan made the only breakthrough of the morning session, as Ryan Carters greeted him with a first-ball cover-drive for four, before his second delivery hit the seam and moved just enough to take a thin edge through to Davies for 16.
White reached lunch at 19 not out from 48 balls and looked set for a significant innings. However, shortly after the break, he took on Panesar with a checked drive over mid-off, and skied a simple chance to Shahzad for 23. But David Hussey, who had been an outside bet for a Test call-up until the Australia squad was revealed shortly before tea, looked in impressive form as he racked up an unbeaten 67 from 104 balls, with his only half-chance being a low edge off Shahzad that eluded Ian Bell at gully on 43.
Victoria's new-ball bowlers were a mixed bag. Clint McKay kept things tight from the Members' End with six overs for nine runs, but at the other, the Victoria debutant Jayde Herrick conceded 22 from four in a spell that was notable only for the enforced removal of his head-band.
Neither Andrew Strauss nor Cook looked especially troubled until Cook misjudged a cut off Jon Holland to be caught behind for 27. Holland, a left-arm spinner, toured India recently without playing a Test. Thanks to Michael Beer's call-up for Perth, he'll have to wait a while yet to get his opportunity. At the very least, until the teams return to the MCG on Boxing Day.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.