Watson responds to Lehmann regime
Stumps Australians 266 for 4 (Watson 90, Clarke 45, Hughes 44*, Haddin 38*) trail Somerset 320 (Jones 130, Compton 81, Starc 4-33) by 54 runs
Shane Watson followed James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc in providing a tantalising glimpse of the destructive power to be found within this Australian side as they warmed up against Somerset. In sending Watson up to open the innings and promising he will stay there, the new coach, Darren Lehmann, appeared to bring an immediate change to the allrounder's previously drifting game.
An innings of 90, on a blameless pitch against presentable bowling, does not quite indicate that Watson is to regain the Test match effectiveness that won him two Allan Border Medals, and had him named as Michael Clarke's deputy in 2011. In fact the score itself was emblematic of Watson's career aversion to making Test hundreds. But the clarity of his stroke production and the ease of his rapid scoring was exactly what Lehmann will hope for against Jimmy Anderson and company.
It was a marked contrast from Watson's previous innings, a brief affair against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy when one cover drive was followed by a horrid attempt to cut in line of the stumps. Wasteful dismissals such as these have been a significant factor in the failure of Watson to deliver on a promise that has hung in the air around him for a decade now, but there was nothing muddled about the way he opened up at Taunton, driving when the bowlers overpitched, pulling or glancing when short, and leaving most in between.
Michael Clarke also offered a promising cameo, finding touch in his first innings of any kind for three months before rain brought an early end to day two. A pair of low scores for Ed Cowan and Usman Khawaja did not enhance either left-hander's chances of winning a place in the XI for the first Investec Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. As the others proved, these were ideal conditions for batting.
Phillip Hughes and Brad Haddin were easing their way towards useful tallies when the showers arrived. Haddin lofted George Dockrell down the ground with typical flourish to have the ball pounding off the scorers' window in the Taunton press box. When the match resumes, Hughes should have the opportunity to press his case for retention after Cowan and Khawaja had failed to capitalise on their precedence in the batting order.
Watson ran up a huge percentage of his runs in boundaries, his straight drives a particular delight. He also took full advantage whenever Craig Meschede angled into the pads, flicking with wristy power between midwicket and mid on. He briefly threatened to collar a century before lunch, but a front edge from the bowling of the slippery Craig Overton ended a stay that lasted only 94 balls, 20 of which reached the rope.
Clarke's start was a little less forthright, as could be expected for someone who had not batted since the Mohali Test match against India in March, when the suspension of four players for failing to follow instructions was followed by the flaring up of his chronic back condition. But he punched a couple of drives through cover off the back foot to get going, and showed familiar balance and footwork against Dockrell's left-arm spin. It took a precisely-pitched away swinger from Meschede to dislodge Clarke, although by then he had probably given his back enough of a work out.
Cowan, whose odds of playing in Nottingham were lengthened somewhat by the coach Darren Lehmann's declaration that Watson would definitely open, fell in the very first over of the morning when he was deemed to have touched a Gemaal Hussain delivery on its way through to the wicketkeeper Alex Barrow. The dismissal had Cowan pointing agitatedly towards his trouser or pocket, but whatever the merits of the decision it now means one less opportunity to make the runs that would shore up his place, which may need to be earned again to some extent under Lehmann.
Khawaja survived somewhat longer for his 27, but it was a scratchy effort with numerous angled deliveries troubling him outside off stump. He was struck on the body when trying to pull Overton, who was slippery, and fell in an unsurprising manner by wafting at Meschede to be pouched in the slips. Hughes had time to snick one streaky boundary before the morning session concluded.
Minus Watson, the afternoon's scoring was more sedate, but Clarke's lack of discomfort was a welcome sign that his back has settled, and Hughes worked the ball around effectively with only the occasional flirt through the slips. He remained a little more hesitant against spin, but at least managed to get off the strike every now and then, which represented progress from India. Like Watson, a fresh start may be about to do him some good.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here