Australia cook up a feast
Australians 313 for 9 (Clarke 76, Hussey 67, Topley 4-46) beat Essex 134 (Cummins 3-26) by 179 runs
Australia will hope for similarly brief encounters with Alastair Cook over the next two weeks. So dominant with the bat in his recent appearances as ODI captain of England, not to mention a 766-run Ashes jaunt down under in the last Ashes series, Cook lasted only 15 balls for 5 as the tourists routed Essex at Chelmsford in their final warm-up for the looming NatWest Series which begins at Lord's on Friday.
Cook's conqueror here was the Victorian seamer Clint McKay. Cracked to the backward point boundary early on, he persisted with a back-of-a-length line outside off stump and was rewarded when Cook edged an attempted forcing stroke to Michael Clarke at slip. By that point Mark Pettini had already departed, slicing Brett Lee to third man, and the Australians' towering 313 for 9 was never to be threatened. Ravi Bopara and James Foster came closest to disrupting the procession.
Aside from the early demise of Cook, Australia were also encouraged by a decidedly swift contribution from the 19-year-old Pat Cummins, who beat both Tom Westley and Greg Smith for pace to clatter their stumps. He later nudged the helmet of Reece Topley to demonstrate the aggression so admired by his teammates and coaches. Having earned selection for this fixture ahead of James Pattinson, Cummins is now heavily favoured to play at Lord's, where he may find the slope to his advantage.
Australia had limbered up by rushing beyond 300. The captain Clarke and the seasoned David Hussey did best for the tourists with a pair of half centuries, after David Warner and Shane Watson had sprinted at the start. Matthew Wade and Steve Smith also contributed at the end, leaving George Bailey as the only batsman not to have made a score of any real note in two county innings on the tour so far. His stay was ended by Topley, who caught the eye with his height, bounce and modicum of movement and finished with four wickets.
Lee took the new ball and swung his first two past Pettini, though being right-handed the ball struck Wade's gloves rather than the stumps as it had in two of his first three balls against Irish left-handers at Stormont. McKay took the second over, though it is unlikely he will get such a privilege for long consaidering the form Cummins is in.
Westley lost his off stump to a delivery angled in and moving away, before Ryan ten Doeschate was involved in a mix-up with Bopara and elected to give up his wicket to the run-out instead of his England partner. The gesture was not to benefit Essex too much, as Bopara's stay was ended by a diffident wave of the bat at Watson and a simple catch for Wade.
All Australia's bowlers finished the evening with wickets, Steve Smith's snare to dismiss Foster a particularly laudable piece of fielding as the visitors reached a decent level of sharpness ahead of the first match against England.
Clarke had won the toss on a beautiful summer's afternoon, sending out his third top-order batting combination in as many matches by pairing Watson and Warner to open, with Bailey slated to come in at No. 3 after recovering from a groin strain. The visitors' pace attack comprised Brett Lee and Cummins, who each bowled against Ireland, and Clint McKay who did not.
Warner and Watson were off to a rollicking start, adding 51 in little more than 6 overs as they took advantage of an invitingly short western boundary. A Warner pull shot sailed clear beyond the stands, while a Watson on-drive clanged off the back of an open stand. Mercifully for Essex, Warner would perish for only 26, unable to control a hook towards the more distant fence and being caught in the deep off Graham Napier.
Watson was soon to follow, touching a bouncing delivery from Topley as it arrowed down the legside and offering a catch to Foster. When Bailey cut the promising Topley to an alert Greg Smith at backward point having made only 12, Essex had rather made up for the flowing runs off the first six overs.
Clarke had picked the gap at mid wicket to reach the boundary from his first ball, and with Hussey he set about regrouping. All of the bowlers were to be taken for greater than five runs per over with batting that was more busy than bluster, Clarke timing the ball sweetly across a swift outfield and Hussey punching his strokes with typical purpose. Their stand was worth 137 in 123 balls by the time Clarke decided he'd had enough and retired, and Hussey stayed only another four runs before he swung once too often at Tim Phillips' slow left-arm.
Smith and Wade contributed useful cameos to hurry the tally along towards 300, and Lee put a capstone on the innings by lathering a six to rival those of Watson and Warner before Topley removed his leg stump. There was some evidence of reverse swing late in the innings on a dry pitch, a skill the Australian bowlers would also go on to rehearse.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here