Hauritz's performance draws praise
Here's something Nathan Hauritz didn't expect to read after his headaches in the opening two tour games in England. "He's a clever bowler, and he's no fool. He's a good bowler that guy."
The speaker was Kevin Pietersen, demolisher of elite spinners and a man who is career-threatening to anyone else who runs off a handful of steps. After the punishment Hauritz received against batsmen significantly inferior to Pietersen in Hove and Worcester over the past fortnight, it's tricky to decipher what the judgment of Hauritz's work on the opening day actually means. Cunning England plan or thoughtful, tough and thick-skinned bowler?
Hauritz returned 1 for 67 from 19 overs, removed Pietersen with help from a frozen moment in the batsman's brain and was praised from both sides. This pitch is already turning and England could already be thinking of the dust-free wickets in future matches, where they would want to face Hauritz again. And again. Or he might be in the process of delivering his most important performance in his five Tests spread over three countries and five years. Hauritz certainly did what Australia wanted, supporting the fast men without giving away many boundaries, although it helped having four men in the deep when Pietersen was in.
"That guy Nathan Hauritz, he bowled some very good lines today, varied his pace and I commented at tea, saying this guy is a good bowler," Pietersen said. "He knows what he's doing. Although he doesn't have the mystery spin of the Muralis, Mendises, Warnes and all those guys, he's got good control. He's a clever bowler."
Hauritz, who bowled from both ends, dropped short a couple of times to Paul Collingwood to be cut for boundaries, but was not taken to by Pietersen. Australia blocked off his boundary areas with the field settings and gave him singles instead. Until he was in his 60s he didn't seem bothered but on 69, having survived an lbw and a dropped catch, he swept at a ball he could have glided to third man and was caught at short leg off his helmet.
Facing a slow pitch, Hauritz preferred the safety of men near the boundary for all batsmen. "Nathan just thought the margin for error was very small," the coach Tim Nielsen said. "He was very conscious of letting himself be hit through point. The wicket was spinning a lot so he was playing a supporting role for the fast bowlers. To get his 20 overs out at just over three an over and get that important wicket was a good result for us."
Most tellingly for the direction of the game, he turned the ball before tea. England have Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar to twirl in the second and fourth innings and Pietersen was already looking ahead. "Not many Test wickets spin off the straight on day one," he said. "And the wicket, where [Mitchell] Johnson, [Peter] Siddle and [Ben] Hilfenhaus were following through, has definitely roughed up and there's a lot of dust and footholes to work with. That keeps us smiling as well."
England reached 336 for 7 at stumps and Nielsen wavered slightly over Australia's chances of staying in the game when he arrived to speak at stumps instead of all the bowlers he was praising. "It'll be important that whatever England get, we get close and bat our backsides off in the first innings," he said. "There's no doubt the wicket will deteriorate over the next couple of days and batting over the last day-and-a-half will be pretty difficult. We saw when the ball got a bit older the wicket was slow and it became hard to score and get people out."
Johnson, Hilfenhaus and Siddle captured two wickets each as they restricted England whenever they threatened to run into the distance. Nielsen was most pleased with the work of Hilfenhaus, who gave away 61 runs in 23 overs, and swung the ball for most of the day.
"He grabbed the bull by the horns, bowled up into the breeze, went well early on," Nielsen said. "He did a holding job as well as getting wickets. All in all, a very impressive performance, probably his most consistent performance for a full day's [Test] cricket."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo