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December 10, 2010
He required four lifelines, including a first-ball reprieve off Chris Tremlett, but Victoria's rookie opener Michael Hill nevertheless achieved a feat that none of his counterparts in the Test team could manage in Adelaide last week, and scored a century against the English tourists. At the age of 22, and in his eighth first-class appearance, Hill made 105 not out, his highest first-class score, to hand Victoria the spoils on the opening day of their three-day fixture at the MCG.
The day's main focus, however, was on another Michael from Victoria - Michael Beer. His surprise call-up to the Australia Test squad after only five first-class outings for his new state, Western Australia, left Beer, his former team-mate and club-level rival, surprised and delighted at the speed of his ascent.
"It's an interesting story, because two years ago he was running around for St Kilda," said Hill, who himself plays for their biggest local rivals, Melbourne. "He's been a great club bowler for the past three or four years - I wouldn't be surprised if he's got 50 wickets a year or close enough to that - and they've seen something in him, so they're giving him a go. If he plays I'll definitely be sending him a text. In fact, I'll go and do it now!"
Two seasons ago, the pair were occasional team-mates in Victoria's second XI. Now, after a switch of state and five wickets in England's opening match of their Ashes campaign, he's set to become the tenth spinner since Shane Warne to don the Baggy Green. "Every time Frosty goes out to play, he plays with 100% and all his heart," Hill said. "If he plays, he'll play no different than that."
Hill's performance may have shown how it is possible to thrive against this touring England side, but afterwards he confessed how tough he had found the latter stages of his innings, when the pressure of his maiden first-class century resulted in him offering up his fourth and final chance on 92.
"I think they call them the nervous nineties for a reason, and I think I know all about them now," Hill said. "But I had a really good friend in David Hussey up the other end, who got me through some tough times. He kept saying, don't worry, it'll come, but I thought 'Jeez, will it come soon, because I don't want to stay here too long'.
"I was really excited this morning, I woke up thinking how cool it would be to get a few runs," he added. "You need a bit of luck in this game and I had my fair share, but I was over the moon. This is a small stepping stone, but hopefully there can be more to come. The calibre of the players we are playing against is phenomenal."
Having faced up to all three of the England seamers who are vying for selection at Perth, Hill reckoned the man who deserved to play was the same bowler who might have had him caught at slip first-ball. "I'd go for [Chris] Tremlett," he said. "Just for his big height, especially at the WACA. He extracted a lot of bounce out of a wicket that wasn't giving the bowlers much, and he bowled a terrific spell of reverse swing just before tea.
"It's hard facing him," he added of England's 6'8" seamer. "It looks like his arm is coming over the top of the MCG roof, which is pretty hard to do. It is intimidating watching him coming down, and he bowled some terrific spells today. In fact they all bowled well. Early on they realised the wicket would be quite flat, and with the reverse swing they were trying to get as full as possible, so there weren't a heap of effort balls going in."
The pick of England's seamers was Tim Bresnan, whose application on sluggish decks in Bangladesh back in March had taught him how best to perform in such inhospitable conditions. "You can only bowl on what you get given, and I feel we did that as a unit," Bresnan said. "You've billed it as a shoot-out, or a bowl-off, but we can't see it like that. We've got a job to do, and a game to win, and we've gone in with that philosophy."
As for Beer's selection for the Test match, Bresnan recalled his performance in the WACA warm-up, but had little time for the theory that, as a left-arm spinner, he had been selected to probe one of the flaws in Kevin Pietersen's game. "It's obviously not a weakness any more, is it?" said Bresnan, after watching the way he dispatched Xavier Doherty during his double-century in Adelaide. "We'll view that selection closer to the time. But it doesn't matter what they do in their team selection, we'll do the same due diligence on whoever plays."
Meanwhile, Hill's excitement at reaching three figures for the first time was quite enough to be getting on with for now, even though the Australian selectors are clearly in the market for young cricketers with the temperament to succeed at the highest level. "I don't like to try to think too far ahead," he said of the possibility of himself being called into the squad at some stage. "That's my first first-class hundred, so I'm looking forward to getting out in the second innings against the Poms and seeing how I go."
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