Cowan and Harris share honours in even battle
Australia A 308 for 9 (Cowan 73, Paine 59, Hughes 51, Harris 6-102) v England Lions
Two cricketers dominated the evenly-balanced opening day of the second unofficial Test match between England Lions and Australia A at Edgbaston. One of them, Glamorgan's James Harris, has been badly hampered by injury over the last year and is not mentioned too often when the full England side's seam bowling requirements are discussed; yet he proved the timeless value of accuracy to take six wickets, two of them lbw and two bowled, as the Lions attack enjoyed success, but also conceded runs too freely, on a pitch which had been trimmed since it offered the seamers plenty of help in Monday's CB40 game.
The other player to catch the eye was Australia A captain Ed Cowan, who made 73 when the Birmingham wicket was at its liveliest and the England bowlers fresh. Cowan did not seem to be the obvious candidate to open his country's batting early last November until hundreds in four successive matches won him a place in the team for the Boxing Day Test. So if the players have a moment to relax with a beer after this game, maybe Harris can compare notes on the virtues of persistence with a man who is nearly eight years his senior and who has paid his dues to make it.
For the moment, they are on opposite sides in a short series which has been well contested throughout. And no one has fought harder than Cowan, whose 186-ball monument to patience on the opening day of the second match followed his 99 in last week's encounter at Old Trafford. The Australia A captain has worked hard to fashion a successful technique in which every stroke seems carefully calibrated; even favoured shots, like the cover drive, are removed from his repertoire if they carry unacceptable levels of risk.
It was in this manner that Cowan proceeded carefully to his 116-ball fifty, hitting four boundaries and, somewhat incongruously, lifting a bouncer from Harris over fine-leg for six. He seemed set for a century too, until James Tredwell won an lbw decision from Neil Mallender when Cowan attempted a sweep. The batsman had almost to drag himself from the crease and appeared less than enamoured with the decision. He may have had a point.
By the time Cowan was fourth out, the total was 186 and Harris had started his good day's work. That had begun with his twelfth ball of the morning when Liam Davis shouldered arms and was lbw for a 15-ball 24. Four overs later, Michael Klinger was also lbw although on this occasion the batsman was on the front foot, not that it saved him from Tim Robinson's finger.
Cowan and Phillip Hughes saw Australia A through to lunch on 106 for 2, although they did so in contrasting styles: Hughes was adventurous, cover-driving Matt Coles for two fours and clipping Ben Stokes' final ball before the break though midwicket for another boundary; Cowan stuck to the method he knew and it served him well.
Ten overs after the break, Hughes gave Harris his third wicket when he drove all too loosely and was caught by Joe Root at short cover for a 51 which had been filled with fine strokes, yet had exhibited an all too fallible method. The afternoon might have gone even better for the Lions had not Joe Burns been dropped by Samit Patel off Chris Woakes, who was in the middle of a fine nine-over spell which cost just 12 runs.
Either side of Cowan's dismissal, Burns steadied the ship for the tourists, reaching tea on 27 in one of those innings where one looks up at the scoreboard and wonders quite how the batsman has acquired his runs.
The final session of play at Edgbaston was the most attractive of the day. Australia scored 110 runs for the loss of five wickets, three of them to Harris, who bowled Burns for 29 immediately after the resumption when the batsman played across the line. At the other end, the Kent offspinner James Tredwell epitomised the parsimonious spinner and he too got his reward, first when Tom Cooper edged his arm-ball to Kieswetter, and then ten overs later when Mitchell Johnson also snicked a ball to the keeper, though this delivery did turn.
By the end of the day Tredwell's figures were 19-7-35-3 and he has been the Lions best bowler in the series, albeit that he seems fated to be the supporting actor rather than the leading man.
Dominating the stage in the last hour were Tim Paine and, inevitably perhaps, Harris. The Australian wicketkeeper-batsman restored the game to some sort of balance with a well-judged innings of 59 and a sensible eighth-wicket partnership of 51 with Nathan Coulter-Nile, who made 24. Both batsmen fell to Harris, though, Coulter-Nile hitting across the line and Paine caught down the leg side.
These dismissals proved once and for all that it was to be the Welsh seamer's day and he was honest enough to admit in the aftermath of success that other bowlers had deserved success too. Probably he was thinking of Woakes, who had Nathan Lyon dropped by Tredwell at slip in the last significant action of the evening session.