Hussey ton holds Australians together
All the discussion over Australia's team for Cardiff surrounds the make-up of the bowling, but the batsmen are trying hard to gain some attention despite Michael Hussey and Simon Katich covering for their rusty team-mates in Worcester. While nothing looks wrong with the tourists' 337 for 8 on the first day against the England Lions, five of the top seven combined for 20 runs, leaving Hussey's 143 not out and Katich's 95 to stand as tall as the nearby Cathedral spires.
Hussey's 221-ball stay was a relief for the squad, proving his return to form against a well-qualified pace attack, and Katich also cruised before a lapse to the uncomfortable Steve Harmison. There was little steel from the rest of the specialists, with Phillip Hughes (7), Ricky Ponting (1), Michael Clarke (4) and Marcus North (1) failing on a surface offering some low bounce.
Following their first-innings slip to 114 for 5 in Hove last week, the Australians wanted to shine against England's 2nd XI, but after being surprised to lose two early wickets, they wasted the 141-run recovery of Hussey and Katich to be 197 for 6 before tea. Although Hussey and the free-swinging Mitchell Johnson, who launched the legspinner Adil Rashid out of the ground at midwicket during a breezy 47, pushed their side to end-of-day comfort, the rest of the batsmen have one innings to polish ahead of the first Test on Wednesday.
After Ponting won the toss in cloudy conditions, Hughes was unconvincing in dealing with some sharp short balls from Harmison. With Hughes and Katich entrenched in the Test team, Harmison was trying to unseat them to remind England's decision makers that he still has enough energy to be an international force.
In his first spell there was plenty of spice, starting with a bouncer which a fidgety Hughes failed to duck under, and the ball rebounded from his helmet to third slip. Hughes has so many movements that it was hard to tell whether he was shaken, but he was unable to cope with a similar delivery on 7. Fending and turning his head, he felt the ball lob from his glove to Joe Denly at third slip. Following the early-season surge at Middlesex, when he flooded three Championship hundreds, he has suddenly given England something to aim at.
Like most of the Australians, Ponting was uncertain early, hitting his first ball while trying to leave, and after pulling Harmison to get off the mark his feet stayed set when he tried to drive Graham Onions off the back foot. The edge was taken by Vikram Solanki at first slip and Australia were stuttering at 24 for 2 in the 11th over. Whispers of an England Ashes success started to float across the ground.
The Hussey and Katich combination stopped them, but further frailty was shown in the second session. Harmison, who gave away only six runs in his opening six overs, bowled another eight straight after lunch, displaying his lethal and lethargic faces. He returned to bowl Brett Lee with the second new ball, finishing with 3 for 67 off 22 overs, while Onions (2 for 66) and Tim Bresnan (3 for 46) also created problems.
After Katich collected two boundaries in one Harmison over, including a fierce cover drive, he pulled a long hop to Onions at fine leg. Both the batsman and bowler looked a touch embarrassed and, once Clarke had driven Bresnan loosely to gully, it was North wishing he was somewhere else.
North, the incumbent No. 6, has experienced hot and cold flushes throughout his career and was left feeling the most uncomfortable in the steamy conditions. His single came from a squeezed French cut and he was bowled by Onions, playing back and playing on, from his next delivery.
North now has 12 runs in three innings on tour and if Shane Watson's thigh injury hadn't restricted the allrounder to more laps of the oval on Wednesday, the left-hander's spot could have been in serious trouble. Andrew McDonald is another option, although he hasn't been picked in the opening tour matches and is not yet considered a top-grade batsman.
Haddin was unhappy to fall lbw trying to whip Bresnan in front of square - the ball was heading towards the leg side - and it was left to Hussey to engineer a second fightback. He did it and showed himself as the batsman from 2006 and 2007, instead of the cluttered operator of the past year.
Hussey started slowly and gained confidence with each clip and off drive, bringing up his half-century after lunch before flexing with two fours through cover in an Onions over. A back-foot force off Rashid earned his hundred, his first for Australia since the opening Test of the India tour 10 months ago, and he began to pull strongly after the milestone. It was only a tour game, and the England Lions could not sustain their intensity throughout the day, but it was a satisfying performance from a man who may need to hold Australia's middle order together in more important engagements over the next two months.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo