Australians 349 for 7 (Haddin 69, Hauritz 65*) v Sussex
Australia recovered from an unconvincing start to their Ashes preparations against Sussex at Hove, as the South African-born journeyman, Pepler Sandri, scalped their top-order with three prime wickets. Australia slumped to 114 for 5 shortly after lunch on the opening day, before Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke revived their fortunes with a counterattacking sixth-wicket stand of 114. Both men fell in the space of three balls, but Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz carried their side through to the close against a tiring attack with an unbeaten alliance of 117.
It was an arduous day's work in an idyllic setting for Australia. They won the toss and chose to bat in front of a packed house and beneath clear blue skies, and when Phil Hughes marked his return to four-day batting with three fours in the first over from James Kirtley, it seemed as though their unscheduled training camp in Leicester during the World Twenty20 had served to sharpen their focus.
But when Hughes mowed ambitiously across the line and lost his middle stump to a Sandri yorker, the complexion of the innings changed in an instant. Ricky Ponting punched a brace of fours off the back foot, but was never allowed to settle as Sussex's second-string attack ploughed a tight furrow outside off. He soon became the second big wicket of the morning when Luke Wright found the edge of a back-foot drive, and the keeper Andy Hodd sent him on his way for 8.
Mike Hussey entered the fray at No. 4, a man in desperate need of runs after a tally of just 85 in three Tests during Australia's victory against South Africa in March. He and his fellow left-hander, Simon Katich, carried the score along to 90 for 2 at lunch in an eventual stand of 65, but after the break both men lost concentration and departed in the space of three deliveries. Katich fell one short of his half-century, as he steered a wide half-volley from Sandri into Michael Yardy's midriff at gully, before Hussey was trapped half-way out of his crease by Kirtley, and adjudged lbw for 32.
Australia's wobble then became a full-blown collapse of 3 for 1 in ten deliveries when Marcus North, so crucial to the balance of their Test side at No. 6, prodded flat-footedly outside off to Sandri, and snicked a simple catch through to Hodd for 1. In the last month, Sandri - who capitalised on his EU passport to sign for the county in March - has failed to claim a single wicket in nearly 27 overs spread over three matches for his Sussex Premier League side, Hastings. All of a sudden he had three in nine overs against the mighty Australians. Go figure.
Sandri, whose father emigrated from Piedmonte in Italy to South Africa as a 19-year-old, only heard he was playing in this match on Monday, having passed a fitness test on an abdominal strain the previous day. "The final place was between me and a spinner, so I'm glad it was 12 a side," he said. "I must say that was first prize to play today, and fortunately it happened and I took the opportunity."
This was only his third game of an injury-interrupted season, and his first for the first team. "It was quite a contrast, but my rhythm was good this morning so I was very happy with that. I thought Hussey was in good nick, and Katich was very circumspect, but my favourite wicket was the first one - the young guy, Hughes, played a lot of shots. He's a very attacking batsman."
Australia so nearly lost their sixth wicket when Clarke, on 6, edged Kirtley to second slip, but Ed Joyce spilled the opportunity, and sure enough Sussex were made to pay for the let-off. Haddin made the running with a cultured 69, including a sweet straight six off the spinner Ollie Rayner, followed by two more in the same over from Will Beer - the second a flat pull over midwicket that brought up his half-century from 108 balls.
But with a century on the cards, Haddin miscued another big hit down the ground from Rayner and chipped a simple leading edge to Sandri at mid-on, and then three balls later, Rayner struck again to extract Clarke for 45 from 78 balls. At 232 for 7, Sussex's thoughts doubtless drifted towards the prospect of batting before the close, but Lee and Hauritz repelled them with arguably the most comfortable stand of the day.
"I think the purpose of the day was to get some competitive match practice and play under a bit of pressure, so it was a good day," Haddin said at the close. "You get out of it what you need, so we're not too fussed at all. It can get pretty tedious just hitting the ball out of the nets all the time, so the main point of this game was blowing some cobwebs out."
By the end of the day, even Sandri had been tamed, as Hauritz drove him exquisitely down the ground to move along to his half-century with his ninth four in 62 deliveries. At the other end, Lee provided a timely reminder of the valuable second-string to his bow - in 2005, his batting at No. 9 in the order proved invaluable, not least in the valiant run-chase at Edgbaston, and on this evidence it could well do so again. He was unbeaten on 47 at the close, after 80 balls of unyielding composure. Now it is all down to his bowling.