Taylor and Bird make Test auditions
Sussex 228 for 5 (Hamilton-Brown 73, Taylor 64*, Bird 2-33) trail Australians 366 for 5 dec (Smith 102*, Hughes 84, Cowan 66, Panesar 3-70) by 138 runs
If the second day in Hove was a Test audition, Jackson Bird and James Taylor would be expecting call-backs, while the casting directors for the Old Trafford Test would be worried about the range displayed by James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. Matthew Wade would be resigned to watching from the audience. By stumps on a rain-affected day, Taylor was unbeaten on 64 and Bird had collected two wickets, though he was unlucky not to have more, and Sussex had moved along to 228 for 5.
Taylor could have, and should have, been a third victim for Bird, when his edge was put down by Steven Smith at second slip; it was a low chance, but one that a fieldsman of Smith's capability should have taken. The life allowed Taylor to compile an otherwise calm half-century full of nudges and prods, and featuring few truly memorable strokes, but he knows that his hopes of playing at Old Trafford rest more on Kevin Pietersen's fitness than his own runs.
"He was a bit scratchy at times but he dug in there and he dug in there quite well," Bird said. "He nicked a few balls through the slips and got dropped once but he is still at the crease. He tries to make you come to him and he puts the bad balls away and I thought he batted quite well."
When an early stumps was called at 5.38pm due to bad light and subsequent rain, Taylor was well positioned to push for a century and he had a capable partner with him at the crease, Chris Jordan on 23. Jordan had also been put down at second slip by Smith, a far easier chance at head height off the bowling of Faulkner, who struggled for line in his early spell but found a slightly better rhythm later in the day and picked up the wicket of Matt Machan, who top-edged a catch to midwicket for 16.
Like Faulkner, Starc was initially wayward, especially with the swinging new ball, and while his figures appeared to show his economy, as much as anything that was a reflection of the batsmen being unwilling to chase wide balls. Starc also claimed a wicket to a top-edged hook when Michael Yardy was taken at fine leg for a duck, and like Faulkner he bowled better as they day wore on, although both men were comfortably outperformed by Bird.
Bird's efforts must have moved him towards favouritism to replace in Pattinson at in the third Investec Test at Old Trafford, especially given that he also impressed during the tour match against Worcestershire before the first Test. Bird claimed the first wicket when Luke Wells played the wrong line to a fullish, straight delivery that took out the middle stump, and against the right-handers he was nagging outside off. His accuracy was a notable point of difference with Starc failing to control the ball at the other end.
At times, Bird was moving the ball too much - three successive deliveries whistled past the outside edge of Chris Nash's bat - but eventually he had his reward when Nash edged low to Smith at second slip. Bird ended his first spell with 2 for 16 from seven overs and when he returned after lunch he was again a handful for the batsmen, drawing the edge of Taylor that was put down.
Like Bird, Ashton Agar had opportunities missed off his bowling: an edge from Rory Hamilton-Brown that tickled Wade's thigh and wasn't grasped by Smith at slip, and a missed stumping down leg side when Wade couldn't grab the ball cleanly to catch Machan short. Overall it was a miserable day for Wade, who on a number of occasions failed to glove the ball cleanly, and combined with his duck in the first innings, he has failed to put any pressure on Brad Haddin to hold his place for Manchester.
Wade did, however, take a catch when Hamilton-Brown edged behind for 73 off Agar, who finished with 1 for 48 from eight overs. Agar leaked plenty of runs but so did his rival for a spin place at Old Trafford, Lyon, who was targeted by Hamilton-Brown during a blitz before lunch. Hamilton-Brown reached his half-century from 34 deliveries, which included 23 off seven consecutive balls from Lyon, against whom he advanced and clipped through gaps with ease.
Hamilton-Brown also lofted Lyon for a pair of sixes over long-off and long-on, although Lyon did improve his bowling as the afternoon wore on. Following a 90-minute rain break, Lyon found a little more dip and flight, and asked a few questions of the batsmen, though none that they were unable to answer. The chances of a twin-spin attack at Old Trafford may yet depend on the pitch, but neither Lyon nor Agar would have been truly happy with their efforts in Hove.
Earlier, Smith had been the focus when he resumed on 98, in search of the third first-class century by an Australian on this tour, and he reached it with a late cut for four off Monty Panesar. Immediately the Australians declared with Smith on 102 and Agar on 8, having added 12 runs to their overnight score to finish at 366 for 5. They batted only 2.4 overs on the second morning, but the batsmen may yet have another chance to impress on the third day.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here