Ferguson settling into key role
The sight of Shane Watson, Tim Paine and Cameron White filling the top three positions in the Australian batting line-up had a distinctly unfamiliar feel, but not so the heavy contribution of Callum Ferguson in the middle-order. In just 15 limited overs appearances, Ferguson has established a reputation for consistency and malleability, capable of tailoring his style and tempo to requirements.
In an ever-changing limited overs line-up - the result of Cricket Australia's rotation policy, retirements and Andrew Symonds' blood-alcohol levels - Ferguson is fast emerging as a constant. The South Australian batsman possesses a technique and temperament far beyond his 24 years, and continues to mount a strong case to be considered the nation's next-in-line Test batsman.
Ferguson's career-best innings of 71 not out from 75 deliveries at The Oval on Friday was case in point. Upon arriving at the crease with Australia at 111 for three and suffering a recurrence of their Oval run-out curse, he patiently navigated his way through testing spells from Adil Rashid and Paul Collingwood - he required seven balls to get off the mark - before charging in the final 10 overs. The innings advanced his career average and strike-rate to 56.12 and 86.67 respectively, and prompted his captain, Michael Clarke, to note the "beauty" of his batting.
But perhaps the best assessment of Ferguson's game was delivered by a man who, prior to Friday, had never before seen him on a playing field. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, was suitably impressed by Ferguson's Man-of-the-Match performance, which delivered Australia to a competitive, and ultimately victorious, total in his first international innings on English soil.
"With Ferguson, I haven't seen him play much before but it was just a very calm and composed innings," Strauss said. "He took a little time to get himself in and just manoeuvred it around nicely and played some nice shots in the Powerplay at the end."
Though young, Ferguson has already displayed an impressive ability to adapt to various pitch conditions. Prior to The Oval encounter, he had posted half centuries at the Gabba, Newlands and Centurion and batted consistently against Pakistan on the dry wickets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Similarly, he has displayed few difficulties in repelling the accurate bowling of New Zealand, the pace of South Africa and the spin of Pakistan. He appears very much the complete package.
Strong off his pads and through the off-side, Ferguson also revealed an ability to improvise with a late reverse sweep to the boundary off Collingwood. He required 46 deliveries to strike his first four, but in a perfectly-timed assault, took the attack James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Collingwood in the death overs.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo