Sussex v Australians, Tour match, Hove, 1st day July 26, 2013

Top-order Australians fail to convert


Australians 354 for 5 (Smith 98*, Hughes 84, Cowan 66) v Sussex

A quick glance at the scorecard tells only half the story of Australia's first day against Sussex. At stumps they were 354 for 5, which in a Test match would have set them up soundly. Steven Smith was on 98 and there were contributions all the way down the order; except for Matthew Wade, who failed to score, the batsmen all spent valuable time in the middle. But it was also a day that could have been so much more, a day of missed opportunities. And the men who missed them know that David Warner didn't waste his chance in Pretoria this week.

Warner's 193 against a quality South Africa A attack featuring Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange might have been placed in perspective by the way the South Africans batted on the same pitch: Dean Elgar, who had made a pair on Test debut at the WACA last summer posted a lazy 268. But there were plenty of reasons for Australia's batsmen to relish the conditions at Hove as well: a benign surface, a quick outfield, a tiny square boundary and a weakened attack. That Smith was the only man still in the market for a century by stumps was a disappointing outcome.

He was a little shaky early and survived two tight lbw calls against the inswing of the left-armer Lewis Hatchett, including one off a no-ball. But Smith persevered and rotated the strike, he found the boundary when possible - which by the time the second new ball came late in the afternoon was often, including three from consecutive deliveries against Chris Liddle. It helped that on the pavilion side the dimensions were so tiny that the square-leg umpire was two-thirds of the way to the fence.

Smith and James Faulkner put on 131 for the fifth wicket, which fell shortly before stumps when Faulkner was bowled for 48 trying to slog-sweep Monty Panesar. By the close of play, Smith had been joined by Ashton Agar, yet to score in his new position of No.7, having starting his Test career at No.11. The only other entry on the scorecard that was not double-figures was that of Wade, who cut Panesar to point for a sixth-ball duck, ending any hope he had of forcing his way into the Test side as a specialist batsman.

The day started encouragingly for the Australians, whose stand-in captain Ed Cowan won the toss and chose to bat. Although there was some movement early and plenty of thick edges evaded the slips, the conditions were generally favourable. Cowan and Phillip Hughes put on 150 for the opening wicket and both men looked like centuries were there for the taking.

However, soon after the break Cowan fell on 66 when he clipped Hatchett uppishly to square leg and was caught by a diving James Taylor. It was a frustrating end for Cowan, who is in his 21st first-class match since his one and only Test century, which also happens to be the most recent time he has reached triple figures in a first-class innings. That hundred came in November, around the time Usman Khawaja also made his last first-class ton. Here, Khawaja looked good until on 40 he edged Panesar to slip.

But perhaps the batsman with the most to lose was Hughes, who until Faulkner was dismissed late in the day was leading the averages during the first-class matches on this tour. It is easy to forget the contribution Hughes made in the first Test at Trent Bridge, where his unbeaten 81 was overshadowed by Ashton Agar's 98. But at Lord's, Hughes struggled significantly and Warner's near double-century piled up the pressure on him as much as anyone.

Hughes was dropped on 22 when he edged Chris Jordan, the leader of the attack in the absence of Steve Magoffin and James Anyon, to Chris Nash at slip, and it was one of very many early edges off Hughes' bat. As his innings wore on, Hughes played some impressive back-foot drives and appeared much more at ease against Panesar, spinning the ball in, than he had in the Tests against Graeme Swann, turning it away from him.

Hughes brought up his half-century from 62 deliveries and not surprisingly outpaced Cowan comfortably. But Hughes is becoming the Hall and Oates of cricket: big in the 80s but can't crack the 90s. Since the tour of South Africa in late 2011, Hughes' highest Test scores have been 88, 87, 86 and 81 not out, and in the tour match against Worcestershire he added another 86 to his tally. Here, he edged behind on 84 when Hatchett moved a delivery away.

It was a good innings but whether it compares favourably enough with Smith's potential century and Warner's 193 remains to be seen. And with rain forecast for the second day at Hove, the selectors might not have another innings on which to base their decisions before the Old Trafford Test.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Martin on July 28, 2013, 1:23 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha - yeah - you're right of course people are trashing it. It's just the attitude - I'm surprised. I've been coming here on and off for over 20 years and I haven't seen Aussies write off their team like this before. People here seem to have given up with Australia atm. I must go out and get a Sun Herald this morning and see what they make of it.

  • H on July 28, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha it's not that Warner's innings doesn't count, it's that some people have totally blown it out of all proportion. Glenn Maxwell scored 155 not out in the same innings, on the same pitch, against the same attack.

    Yes, Warner scored more, but Warner also faced more balls. The strike rates were almost identical. Yet I don't hear anyone suggesting Maxwell should be back in the side. And arguably there's a better case for his selection rather than Warner's.

    Maxwell's 155* was his highest First Class innings, only his second ever First Class hundred. His bowling's better than Warner's too.

    I'm not saying Maxwell should be picked, or that he's a better batsman than Warner (I'd have to be crazy to suggest that) but if Warner is picked, it won't be because of the innings in South Africa, but because of his track record. The innings will just be a case of having had some time in the middle.

    He's a very good batsman, imho, but that innings in South Africa proved nothing.

  • James on July 27, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    @5wombats far from building up 5/350, everyone is trashing it. Read the headline. No matter what the players do it is not good enough. Short of hitting a double ton, I doubt anything would make an impression here. Just look at Warners' innings in SA. Everyone saying it doesn't count because of the pitch and the bowlers. How on earth is anyone supposed to "succeed" with such absurdly impossible criteria for success in these games?

  • Saransh on July 27, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    Sussex might be without their top bowlers, but it's always nice to get some runs and confidence under your belt, so that's good for Smith, especially reaching three figures. This is the first tour in which he is getting a realistic chance to play and perform and I'm pretty sure he will prove the selectors right after the 5 match series. Now, can we please have DAVID WARNER back in the side. I mean, the fans have had enough nonsense to deal with on the India tour after Mr.Arthur decided it was best for the team to suspend four players when the side is 2-0, so that they could be WHITE WASHED and the confidence in the camp would be SKY HIGH before the Ashes. James Faulkner has played all the possible warm up games, and now that James Pattinson is injured (bad news for AUS) Jimmy deserves his chance. Agar is in their cuz he can bat. OZ like to play a spinner cuz the bowler "claimed" he is a spinner. : Warner, Rogers, Khwaja, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Faulkner, Agar, Siddle, Harris.

  • Who Cares About IPL on July 27, 2013, 7:47 GMT

    The calls for Warner remind me very much of the many India fans calling for Sehwag to be recalled in Summer 2011. He was going to score 300 and put England to the sword. Result: a king pair! It is very rare that one player can change the fortunes of a losing side and to criticise Rogers who has a solid first class record seems unfair.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    It really is an almost impossible dillemma for the selectors but I guess when in doubt they should not change. My rationale is that if you discard anyone too early such as Phil Hughes; you might prematurely end their careers and waste their talent which is something Oz cannot afford to do. The fact that Hughes has been through many ups and downs in his career is a plus IMO because he has had to fight his way back through the Shield. He probably has the most determination out of any of the young guns (Warner included). His very important knock in the first innings of the first test has been the grittiest so far of any of the Aussies and warrants 1 more chance at coming good. Warner's 193 has had the desired effect of putting external performance pressure on all the batsmen and there is no doubt at least in my mind that he is the most talented batsmen Australia has so his time will come though I just dont think it should be at the expense of any of the top 6 at present.

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2013, 7:01 GMT

    Warner will play in place of Khawaja. Calling it now. They gave him a game, he did ok. They can't be called racist for never picking him. They even have a perfect excuse - Hughes scored more on tour, Warner scored nearly 200. Ussy scored a worried 60 in the 2nd test.

    I bet this is how it goes.

    Watson, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Warner, Haddin is your top 7 for the third test.

  • John on July 27, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    @poms: It's not far off a C squad, though, is it? Abbot (who is not a kid, he's 26) and De Lange have played 1 and 2 tests respectively. The SA test bowlers are Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis and either Peterson or Tahir, The ODI bowlers preferred to Abbot and De Lange are Morkel, McLaren and Tsotsobe and Kleinveldt was also in the CT squad. That's a lot of bowlers ahead of those in this game.

    @VivGilchrist: Well, this might be an Australian C squad in terms of quality, but all the players you mention were available for selection but just not picked, so presumably in the selectors' minds those currently playing are better. Whether you agree with the selectors or not is another issue.

  • James on July 27, 2013, 4:15 GMT

    Again, it's not as if this warmup match is the SOLE criteria for selection in the next test...I would be very surprised if Warner is picked for the next test. We already know what Warner can do at this level, leave him out. The series is gone (Technically not, but i don't see us winning 3 in a row).

    It's time to find out who of Rogers, Khawaja, Smith and Hughes have what it takes at this level once and for all, then stick with that team indefinitely.