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November 6, 2013
England XI 0 for 318 (Cook 154*, Carberry 153*) v Australia A
'Spare a thought for Bairstow'
Shiny, space-age in design and emblazoned with a racing stripe, Michael Carberry's batting helmet seems less appropriate headgear for an Ashes tour match than Olympic track cycling. There was something of the road race about day one in Hobart, however, as Carberry and his captain Alastair Cook tested out an alternative opening combination to impressive effect against Australia A on a pristine Bellerive Oval pitch.
His choice of headgear was the only jarring thing about Carberry, who otherwise looked entirely at ease alongside Cook and made a persuasive case for his inclusion at the top of the order in Brisbane. Joe Root, who had opened across the earlier Ashes encounter in England, was left to watch from the boundary's edge from his new post at No. 5, and must now be pondering a middle-order commission across the five Tests. By the close Carberry and Cook had pushed on to the highest opening stand ever seen at Bellerive.
Equally welcome for England alongside Carberry's appearance of certainty was Cook slipping comfortably into the prolific batting groove he occupied on the last tour in 2010-11. Helped by Australia A bowling that was often too short and too straight, he had little trouble scoring freely around the ground, and showed no signs of the back stiffness that had ruled him out of the opening tour fixture in Perth.
For the Australia A captain Moises Henriques and his somewhat uneven XI - far stronger in batting than bowling - it was a day of unrequited toil. Unable to take early wickets when the pitch offered the mildest hint of life, the hosts were sentenced to a day devoid of joy, coming closest to a wicket in the evening when a snick by Carberry from Ben Cutting on 135 landed short of Trent Copeland in the gully. They face further hard labour on the 'morrow.
Upon choosing to bat on a surface far less verdant than those prepared in Hobart this time last summer, Cook revealed that his opening partner would not be Root but Carberry. He had hinted as much on match eve, but it remained notable to glimpse Cook walking to the middle accompanied by the very same man Shane Warne had recommended as a better option at the top in Australia than Root.
There was some semblance of early life in the pitch, and neither Cook nor Carberry looked completely at ease in the early overs, nudging runs here and there while being beaten often by balls that zipped away from them. Most often these were bowled by Copeland, demonstrating the seam-up skill that made him a valued recruit for Northamptonshire earlier in the year. It was the jetlagged Henriques who made the first appeal of the morning, striking Cook on the pads in the vicinity of off stump but not finding any response to his shout.
Those early alarms safely negotiated, Cook and Carberry were able to settle in. Nothing could be found in the pitch for either of the spinners Jon Holland and Glenn Maxwell, while Cutting's line and length were not quite consistent enough to create the desired pressure. Cook reached his 50 just before lunch, and Carberry joined him soon after.
Closely watched by the team director Andy Flower and the batting coach Graham Gooch, Carberry played neatly enough, seeing off several periods of slow scoring without growing too frustrated. He snicked numerous deliveries going across him towards the slips when attempting come forward and drive, but was otherwise able to sit on the back foot in defence and attack, suggesting that Australia A's bowlers too often dropped short of the ideal zone.
Cook meanwhile offered his familiar mixture of sound judgment, efficient strokeplay and deep reserves of concentration, able to work the ball off his hip consistently to rotate strike and frustrate the local attack. Both batsmen enjoyed themselves against the spinners, Holland treated with particular brusqueness in his short spells and shielded for much of the day while Henriques hoped for the wicket that would bring a right-hander to the crease.
It was not to arrive, however. Cook was 97 at tea and reached his century shortly after the resumption, marking it with a low key celebration that recognised the innings as a sound building block for the tour to come but nothing more. Carberry was understandably more demonstrative when he crested three figures, rejoicing an innings that will go a long way towards earning him a place in the Test team for Brisbane.
Carberry's exuberance contrasted with the mounting fatigue of Australia A's bowlers on a surface offering very little help at all beyond the first half hour. Some of the fielding was also poor, the lack of energy or intensity on display unlikely to have impressed the selector Rod Marsh as he watched from the stands. The new ball brought hope of renewed life as the shadows lengthened, but when Cutting drew another edge from Carberry with a delivery of decent pace and zip, it fell tantalisingly short of Copeland.
England's openers were thus left to reach the close unparted and largely unhindered, setting down a very fine platform indeed for their likely pairing across the Ashes series. In doing so they also provided Australia's bowlers with a reminder that anything less than their best offerings may result in grim days to rival those of four summers ago. They may be seeing a lot more of the Carberry helmet.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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