Root, Bairstow encourage England
CA Invitational XI 304 and 153 for 4 (Finch 59) lead England XI 418 (Trott 84, Cook 81, Root 75, Pietersen 57) by 39 runs
For an hour or so, Joe Root's little finger was of almost as much interest to England on day three of the tour match in Sydney as Kevin Pietersen's knee and Matt Prior's calf have been for most of the week. During an innings of 75 in which he reacquainted himself with the No. 6 position following a demotion from the top of the order, Root was struck a stinging blow on the glove by Josh Lalor and after his dismissal was sent to hospital for scans.
He returned soon after to field, however, and looked on happily enough from the slips as Jonny Bairstow completed a neat day with the bat and the gloves as he weighs up his chances of filling the same role in Brisbane next week. Bairstow's partnership with Root provided a glimpse of what may be an important middle-order alliance, should Prior not be fit, and they added 106 together before an expansive stroke sent the wicketkeeper back to the pavilion.
Afterwards Bairstow refused to admit to even the slightest hint of enthusiasm for an unfavourable injury report on Prior, though that news would return him to the Test team as the gloveman only one match after he was dropped as a batsman for the final match of the earlier Ashes encounter in England. Confident in his glovework under the tutelage of Bruce French, Bairstow acknowledged the location of big scores was the major obstacle to his development thus far.
"Everyone's hoping Matt's fit for English cricket - who wouldn't want him to be fit and taking the stage for the Gabba in that first Test?" Bairstow said. "But if that isn't the case it's an opportunity to go out there and play for your country. Over the last couple of days I've been happy with the performance I've put in behind the stumps with the gloves and if that is the case then so be it.
"It's obviously important after you make starts and go on and get that big one. That is something I didn't necessarily do in the summer and if I do get the opportunity to play that will be something I will be looking to do in this series. But it was good, tough cricket playing in the summer against Australia, the first time I'd played against them. It was a very enjoyable experience and something I'll look back on very fondly."
England's innings was wrapped up quite quickly on a wearing surface after Root's exit, the 20-year-old legspinner James Muirhead scooping four wickets for the innings to maintain the glimpses of promise he showed against Ian Bell and Pietersen on day two. That meant England's lead was only 114, and it soon dwindled as Aaron Finch set about the bowling in his preferred aggressive manner while accompanied by the more obstinate Ed Cowan.
Their stand of 81 was ended when Finch aimed one too many hearty blows at Graeme Swann, who gained some spin while dropping on to an increasingly precise length, and skied a catch to backward point. A more muted passage of play followed, as Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn both put in decent spells in their final opportunity to convince the team director, Andy Flower, of their worth as the third seamer behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
While he was again expensive, Finn gained some appreciable reverse swing as a rain-interrupted day drew toward its close and bowled Callum Ferguson between bat and pad with perhaps the ball of the match. Rankin was less visibly able to move the ball, but was again the more economical paceman. Bairstow acknowledged that movement with the old ball would be of major importance to the outcome of the series.
Finch's innings was what he hopes will be the first step towards bringing his brazen limited-overs style to the first-class arena, where he has struggled for some time with an approach muddled by orthodoxy when his primary skill is to play with instinct, flair and little time for steady accumulation. He was unfussed about ending the innings on a somewhat ungainly note, stating that he was now resolved to following that approach come what may.
"I've tried to curb my aggression for probably two years now and I've made about eight runs," Finch said. "I thought I'd keep going, it wasn't to be unfortunately but I still thought it was the right shot to play. I wasn't too disappointed about it. If that goes for six, who knows. I'm comfortable with myself doing that, if I try to block them I get angry at myself, so if I get out every now and then hitting one straight up I can wear that.
"It's just about assessing conditions, the stage of the game, we were a bit behind in the game and it wasn't going to be a long session so I thought it was a good opportunity to play some shots and try to put them on the back foot a little bit. It is risk/reward when you play like that and sometimes you're going to look like a bit of a goose, but I got away with it for a little while today."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here