Top order batsmen find form to cap good day for Australia
Australia will have been encouraged by the form of opening batsman Mathew Hayden prior to the Ashes battle that begins at Edgbaston next Thursday.
The left-hander had played chancelessly with imposing dominance and was within two runs of a merited century when he was caught at cover as he drove a ball from off-spinner Peter Such as he attempted to complete his seventeenth boundary.
His opening partner Michael Slater was also in the runs, scoring 58 during an opening partnership of 138 in 23 overs. His innings was cut short by 19-year-old pacemen Andrew McGarry when the Aussie top-edged an intended pull and was caught at mid-on. Justin Langer also used the opportunity for valuable practice in the middle, spending 64 minutes whilst scoring 10 not out as Australia reached the close on 188-2 to take a lead of 362 runs into the final day.
The Essex innings had earlier been held together by two of their promising youngsters, James Foster and Graham Napier who shared in a sixth-wicket stand of 104 in 21 overs and refused to be intimidated by the tourists formidable pace attack.
Foster, widely tipped as an England 'keeper of the future struck 74, his highest score for the county, that included 11 boundaries before he was last out to provide Brett Lee with his only success of the innings.
The hard-hitting Napier struck a belligerent 59 with two sixes and 10 fours before becoming a victim of Jason Gillespie who capped an impressive performance of hostility and accuracy. He was rewarded with figures of 5-37 as the home side were bowled out for 231 with Nasser Hussain the first of Gillespie's victims when he was caught at short-leg having added just nine runs to his overnight seven.
"You have to be realistic, and it is probably one of the best Australian sides - if not the best - I have played against," Hussain admitted afterwards.
"If you take out that game and a half against India this side have won 15 Tests. You can easily slip into the position of saying 'these Australians are so good'. But instead you have to be so mentally strong against Australia," he continued.
But Hussain is looking forward to the challenge beginning in earnest.
"I just love playing against the Aussies. The way they go about their cricket is brilliant, and to come up against that is testing yourself to the umpteenth degree.
"I have looked back on my Ashes Tests as such great moments. We need to just go out there and enjoy it. They will respect you more if you do that."