Maddinson's rapid ton shows potential and pitfalls
Gloucestershire 104 for 5 (Sayers 3-24) trail Australia A 331 for 4 dec (Maddinson 181, Hughes 47) by 227 runs
Boom. A lofted straight drive clatters into the construction site at the Ashley Down Road End of the County Ground in Bristol. Whoosh. An attempt to repeat the shot next ball draws a wild swing and a near outside edge. It is 45 minutes before lunch on day one of a first-class match. This, more or less, is the existence of Nic Maddinson, arguably the most conspicuously talented of Australia's young batsmen in England in 2013.
On a day when Australia A clambered all over Gloucestershire, Maddinson's ball-striking - and occasional ball-missing - left the most lasting impression. In a little more than three hours he crashed 181 from 143 balls, and spent just 34 balls hurtling from three figures to his final tally. Unbridled flair taking hold of modest bowling on an unexpectedly sunny Friday made for pleasant, light-hearted viewing: the Ashes are not at stake here for the tourists, nor any Division Two points at risk for the hosts.
Less jaunty was Gloucestershire's batting in response to Australia A's 331 for 4. Jackson Bird and Ryan Harris are working back into fitness and form while Chadd Sayers has only one full first-class season behind him, but all were made to look piercing as the shadows lengthened. Sayers could count the wicket of his South Australian team-mate Michael Klinger among three victims, while Ashton Agar also nipped out the wicket of Dan Christian. Gloucestershire's two Australians could manage only 14 runs between them.
Earlier it had been possible simply to sit back and enjoy Maddinson's spectacle, studded with 22 boundaries and a blink-inducing nine sixes. Yet amid the flurry of runs, Maddinson showed why he has some way to go before maturing as a batsman, and why at 21 he is still deciding what sort of player he will become: a Twenty20 blaster or a more rounded Test match contender.
Regular visitors to Nevil Road could be forgiven for wondering aloud why a batsman so obviously gifted as Maddinson was not in the Ashes squad proper. Their answer can be provided by a record that shows that days like these do not come as the result of an easily repeatable approach to batting.
The best Maddinson can offer is unforgettable, as a wonderfully free swing of the bat can send perfectly presentable deliveries soaring into the stand at square leg or bouncing percussively off the top of Gloucestershire's new pavilion under construction. But he remains an unfinished article, vulnerable early on when the ball is new and the bowlers fresh, and prone to frequent lapses of concentration thereafter. In the early overs Maddinson struggled by comparison with the more obdurate Jordan Silk, beaten often outside off stump even if he was not aiming an almighty heave towards the cover fence.
Later, well after a more experienced player would have settled in, Maddinson showed a tendency for the over eager, often following a pristinely struck boundary with a six, and then a swing-and-miss. In this he recalled nothing so much as the former Australia coach Bob Simpson's line that Ian Healy "bats faster and faster until he gets out". At one point Maddinson offered a vertical bat in some kind of outlandish ramp shot attempt that fell just out of reach of the field. Somewhat fittingly he was to be dismissed the ball after clouting his biggest six of all, skying Benny Howell to mid-off.
Maddinson was certainly playing a game not familiar to his batting partners, two of whom have greater challenges ahead. After Silk offered no shot to be bowled by Gloucestershire's Twenty20 signing Christian, Phillip Hughes strode out at No. 3. A few balls after his arrival Hughes faced up to Liam Norwell, who shares some quirks of a bowling action, if not a common level of skill or pace, with Andrew Flintoff. The Gloucestershire captain Klinger posting a leg slip. This show of 2009 Ashes nostalgia did not overtly perturb Hughes, and his dismissal cutting at Howell was a surprise.
Usman Khawaja followed Hughes to the middle, and set about batting in an unhurried manner that did not suggest too much anxiety about not having topped 51 on tour so far and therefore not really enhancing his claims to an Ashes batting spot. He was comfortable without dominating, composed without looking commanding. Perhaps bigger runs will come in the tour matches against Somerset and Worcestershire, but it was difficult to imagine Khawaja being entirely thrilled when the captain Steve Smith - leading in place of a resting Brad Haddin - declared at tea.
Smith's decision granted his bowlers the chance of an afternoon run, and the pacemen were to find enough movement in the air and off the pitch to be dangerous. Sayers showed his command of line when Chris Dent shouldered arms and was bowled, and Harris coaxed a feather-edge from Dan Housego after he was swung around to the pavilion end in place of Bird, who was tidy in his opening spell.
Sayers would go on to have Klinger taken at mid-on, and Gareth Roderick losing his off stump. Like Maddinson he is not in direct Ashes contention, but may be attracting the interest of several Championship sides with his consistency and knack for wickets. The left-arm spinner Agar had Christian snaffled at short midwicket and Fawad Ahmed, now eligible for his passport thanks to the passing of new legislation back in Australia, twirled through two overs before the close.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here