Australia A v England XI, Hobart, 1st day November 17, 2010

Smith fights but England on top

England XI 1 for 22 trail Australia A 230 (O'Keefe 66, Smith 59, Tremlett 4-54, Shahzad 3-57) by 208 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Australia's plans for the first Ashes Test are in a mess after a woeful day on which eight specialist batsmen in their Test squad failed in three matches around the country. Steven Smith was one of only two men in the 17-man group for the Gabba who shone with the bat, making 59 against England's second-string attack in Hobart, but he is unlikely to make the starting line-up next Thursday.

Smith and his fellow spin-bowling allrounder Steve O'Keefe rebuilt Australia A's innings at Bellerive Oval, where they pushed the total to 230 with some lower-order fighting. England lost Andrew Strauss early in the reply for 10, caught by O'Keefe at gully off Mark Cameron, and at stumps they were 1 for 22 with Alastair Cook on 10 and the nightwatchman Monty Panesar on 2.

Most significant was the failure of Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson, who were named in the squad for the Gabba Test but struggled on a green-top under cloudy skies. They were not alone. At the MCG, Michael Hussey was caught at slip by his brother David for an 18-ball duck, and his Western Australia team-mate Marcus North also departed cheaply for 17, but Mitchell Johnson finished unbeaten on 82.

Further north in Sydney, Simon Katich, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin all failed to get past 10, as New South Wales were demolished by Tasmania in their first innings for 97 on a horribly difficult SCG surface. When Tasmania replied, Ricky Ponting came in for the third ball of the innings and managed only 7. Michael Clarke must be thankful that his sore back ruled him out of that match.

It was the worst possible warm-up for Australia's batsmen eight days out from the first Test, especially as the selectors wanted to use these games to settle on a starting line-up. Hussey is the most vulnerable, but neither Khawaja nor Ferguson grasped their opportunities at Bellerive Oval, where it took Smith and O'Keefe to rebuild with half-centuries.

England sent their frontline bowlers to Brisbane early to prepare for the Test, but the weakened attack had no trouble causing problems for the top order in helpful conditions. Chris Tremlett finished with 4 for 54 and Ajmal Shahzad, who was flown in from the performance squad to bolster the group, bowled very well for his 3 for 57.

Khawaja was caught behind for 13 off a thin edge when Shahzad's persistent fullish length and angle finally paid off, and Ferguson followed soon afterwards for 7. He was caught behind off Tim Bresnan (2 for 65), and soon the home team was struggling at 5 for 66. Smith and Tim Paine (27) began the rebuilding process until Paine edged behind while trying to hook Tremlett down leg side.

But Smith, renowned as a dasher, continued to play sensibly with just the occasional moment of aggression thrown in to satisfy his urges. A hook for six off Bresnan looked more like a forehand smash, and he also pulled confidently in front of square. Smith eventually played on to Shahzad, but O'Keefe pushed on to get the total past 200.

O'Keefe was the last man out, caught by Matt Prior when he skied a swipe against Tremlett, and it was a decent recovery given Australia A's early wobbles. Tremlett backed Andrew Strauss's decision to send the hosts in by having Phillip Hughes caught behind for 2 in the third over. Tremlett also accounted for Cameron White, who was bowled for 5 attempting an aggressive drive.

The only man who looked comfortable early in the challenging conditions was the local opener Ed Cowan, who worked hard for 31, only to see the improbable sight of Monty Panesar hurling himself in the air to take a stunning one-handed catch at midwicket. When Panesar pulls that off, you know it's not your day. And nor was it Australia's day anywhere around the nation.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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