Wicketkeeping duo repel England
CA Invitational XI 271 for 5 (Carters 94*, Nevill 75*) vs England XI
Stuart Broad's location of something like his best form was counterbalanced by largely indifferent displays from Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin as the England tourists were frustrated by Ryan Carters and Peter Nevill on day one of the tour match in Sydney.
Cricket Australia had bowed to ECB pressure to bolster what would have otherwise been a New South Wales Second XI, but the strongest resistance was ultimately provided by two men who would have been playing regardless. Carters and Nevill, each behind Brad Haddin in the NSW wicketkeeping order of preference after moving from Victoria, combined for an undefeated stand of 178 to raise a few questions for the England team director Andy Flower.
Chief among these was how to choose between Rankin, who was tidy without claiming a wicket, and the more profligate but also penetrative Finn as the two had an opportunity to press for the final pace bowling spot in the first Test.
During the 2010-11 Ashes tour, Finn lost his place to Chris Tremlett after claiming regular wickets in the first two Tests but releasing the pressure being built up at the other end by offering liberal helpings of the short and wide. He did so again at the SCG, and not even a sandy, top-dressed outfield could prevent plenty of his deliveries scuttling away to the fence.
Broad's performance was altogether more reassuring, showcasing his speed, bounce and increasing command of the correct lengths for each pitch he encounters. He admitted later to feeling sore in the legs due to the heavy nature of the outfield, but otherwise appears ready for the Gabba.
Graeme Swann appears less so, though he was not helped by a surface that seems to have lost its previous attraction for slow bowlers. There were fewer full tosses than he had delivered rustily in Hobart, and there will need to be fewer still against an Australian batting line-up now stacked with right-handers to counter him.
England's priorities for the match were made clear the moment Cook won the toss and sent the locals in to bat, despite a surface that looked amenable to run-scoring and a refreshingly blue sky after two days of rain which had detracted from the tourists' training. The last place in the bowling attack remains open, and after Tremlett completed the second of his two matches in Hobart it was now the turn of Rankin and Finn to state a claim following jetlagged displays in Perth.
They could take precise cues from Broad, who quickly built up a decent head of steam from the Randwick End while finding the sort of fuller length at which he is most menacing. Aaron Finch was unable to cope, edging an away seamer through to England's Brisbane wicketkeeper-elect Jonny Bairstow, and so maintaining his maddeningly poor first-class record despite increasingly promising limited-overs outings for Australia.
Another to suffer from a similar lurgy is Callum Ferguson, who has never been truly close to Test contention, although equally accomplished when granted the chance to play ODIs. Batting at No. 3 for a team that has at various times been the NSW Second XI, a NSW Invitational XI and ultimately a CA Invitational XI, Ferguson was probably out lbw to Broad a few balls before he was given out in the same fashion, both deliveries seaming back towards the stumps.
Ed Cowan, still without a first-class century since what had seemed a breakthrough innings against South Africa in Brisbane a year ago, made a neat enough start. He lost another partner when Kurtis Patterson followed a Finn ball angled across him and snicked into the England cordon, but then formed the kernel of a decent stand with the older, wiser Ben Rohrer.
They took the hosts to lunch without alarm, but soon afterwards Rohrer fell to a rasping catch at backward point by Michael Carberry, his outstretched right hand stopping a cut shot on what had seemed an inevitable path to the boundary. Next over Cowan fell to another full-blooded but airborne stroke, pulling Finn straight to midwicket, and walked off cursing himself at passing 50 for the 10th time since the Gabba century without once going on to three figures.
At 5 for 85 Cook and Carberry harboured thoughts of batting around tea time, but they were to find doughty adversaries in the form of two men who should be rivals. Nevill and Carters and the Nos. 2 and 3 NSW glovemen behind the Australian vice-captain Haddin, but on this day they became batting allies, presenting straight bats and patient attitudes to prolong the innings.
They played without undue haste but enough scoring intent to prevent England's bowlers from settling, rotating the strike neatly against Swann while capitalising on errors of length from Rankin and Finn. Cook resorted to Jonathan Trott and Joe Root in the overs leading up to the second new ball, but the honeytrap did not distract either batsman. Several figures in NSW cricket expressed surprise when the equivalent WA XI declared their first innings five wickets down two weeks ago, meaning Carters and Nevill are likely to resume with the intent of keeping the Englishmen in the field for some time yet.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here