England hopefuls fall to Aussies
MCC 126 for 7 (Moore 45, Thorp 4-15) drew with Durham 311 for 4 dec (Blackwell 102*, Smith 71*)
Australian quick bowlers are likely to cause English batsmen plenty of problems this season, but their impact began unexpectedly early as England's prospective No. 3 options were given a torrid time at Lord's. The MCC's top order, including Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Robert Key, was dismantled by Callum Thorp and Mitchell Claydon - from Western Australian and New South Wales respectively - as the three premier batsmen made a combined total of 29 runs.
At the start of an Ashes summer it didn't go unnoticed that it was two Australians who did the damage, putting a spanner in the works of those hoping to make the selectors sit up and take notice, as the MCC finally got a chance to bat after two days of frustration. Both bowlers are playing county cricket under British passports, but their performances certainly helped their home rather than adopted country.
Thorp had a brief career with Western Australia, but Claydon had to turn down a chance to play for New South Wales this winter because he wanted to retain his status in the UK. This was just his seventh first-class match of a career which started in 2005 with Yorkshire, where he spent plenty of time bowling to Vaughan in the nets. It took him five balls to remove Vaughan with one that bounced a touch more outside off as he tried to cut, three balls after a similar shot had brought four over point.
"In my second year I played a few games with him at Headingley," Claydon said. "I had a plan to pitch it up and try and knock him out, but short and wide worked."
Vaughan jerked his head back in frustration, but although this opportunity had been notched up in importance over the last few days it shouldn't be make-or-break as far as his Test chances are concerned. With an enlarged squad set to be named next weekend Vaughan should find a slot and then be able to make a final push for selection during a couple of Championship matches for Yorkshire.
Vaughan had come to the crease in the sixth over after Key, with plenty of his own reasons to impress the selectors, edged a low catch to gully to give Thorp his first wicket when play finally began at one o'clock. It took Vaughan ten balls to open his account, but he was finally offered the chance to free his arms when Liam Plunkett dropped his first ball short and Vaughan cracked it through point.
A similar boundary followed when he cut Claydon's opening delivery one bounce over the rope, but three balls later an attempted repeat brought his downfall. Such are the fine lines that batsmen tread.
The day didn't go much better for Bell, the man probably in main competition with Vaughan if Owais Shah is replaced, as he also fell for 12 to the impressive Thorp. During a dangerous spell from the Nursery End, Thorp troubled all the batsmen and had Bell edging behind as he pushed forward to one that left him. Early-season English conditions aren't the easiest for batsmen trying to find form and they were well exploited well by Thorp.
The most impressive strokeplay came from Stephen Moore, the Worcestershire opener who was part of the Lions tour to New Zealand, as he struck eight boundaries in his 45. Very strong square of the wicket, he upper-cut the day's first ball over the slips and regularly picked off any width through the off side.
Moore was the leading first-class run-scorer in 2008 but his presence in this game has been overshadowed by the three batsmen aiming for England recalls, yet he looked the most in-form of any of the top order. However, after doing the hard work in tough conditions he edged a low catch to Mustard when trying to drive at Thorp.
Thorp played a key role in securing Durham's maiden Championship title last season with a career-best 7 for 88 in the final game against Kent and has picked up where he left off. He claimed his fourth scalp when James Foster was trapped on the crease to leave MCC on 81 for 5.
Some home-grown talent finally got among the wickets in the final session when Liam Plunkett uprooted Adil Rashid's off stump with a perfect, full outswinger and Graham Onions promptly dispatched Tim Bresnan leg-before. A few moments later the light was offered and shortly afterwards play was abandoned.
Durham are the only team able to take much from the truncated match and are looking in good order ahead of their Championship defence. For the England hopefuls it's a case wait, watch and hope.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo