England endure worrying toil as Sangha shows his promise
England almost went wicketless on their final day of action before the first Ashes Test as Jason Sangha and Matthew Short hit maiden centuries
Cricket Australia XI 250 (Short 51, Woakes 6-57) and 4 for 364 (Short 134*, Sangha 133) drew with England XI 515 (Stoneman 111, Malan 109, Root 83, Cook 70, Short 4-103)
Jason Sangha has become the youngest Australian to make a first-class century against England and provided a sobering reality check for the tourists just a few days ahead of the first Ashes Test.
As two men with a combined age of 40 - and the combined experience of five first-class matches before this game - added 263 runs for the CA XI's fourth-wicket, we were reminded that, if flat pitches are prepared in the Ashes, England are going to face a desperately tough fight to take 20 wickets. They took just one wicket on the final day of this warm-up match and, having started the day pushing for an innings victory, had to settle for a draw.
Sangha, aged 18 years and 71 days, became not only the youngest first-class centurion in Australia since Ricky Ponting (18 years and 39 days) made one for Tasmania against New South Wales in 1992-93 - a game in which a certain Trevor Bayliss was on the opposition and in which Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist made their first-class debuts - but also became the second youngest man in history to record a first-class century against England. The youngest? A certain Sachin Tendulkar who was 17 and 107 days when he made a Test century against them in 1990.
Matt Short provided increasingly impressive support in an unbeaten innings of 134. It was a maiden first-class century for both men and, in Short's case, followed an innings of 51 in the first innings and four England wickets the previous day. Had the game had a Man of the Match award…
It is true the pitch was flat. And it is true that the pitch was slow. So slow that, at one stage, Stuart Broad bowled with three men in a ring between short mid-off and short extra cover and another a short mid-on.
But it was the same pitch on which England lost 5 for 38 the previous day to two spinners who, a week ago, had one first-class wicket between them. It's hard to excuse the batsmen and the bowlers.
There are other caveats. For a start, England were keen not to over-bowl Broad or Chris Woakes and, while it would be wrong to suggest they were going through the motions, there were times it appeared they had something in reserve. They bowled fewer than a quarter of the overs in the innings.
Equally, James Anderson was absent. Instead he and Jake Ball bowled in the nets - Ball also spent much of the day on the field as a substitute fielder - while Craig Overton was again pressed into service as an 'enforcer' with two men out for the hook, a short leg and leg gully. His figures suffered as a result and Ball proved again that the old adage about players becoming better in their absence true. He looks to be ahead of Overton in the race for Gabba selection now. The wicket of Moeen Ali, bowled, in middle practice that followed play will have done Ball's prospects no harm.
England did not bowl badly. Broad and Woakes, in particular, probed and demanded. While the result is not ideal, the workout will not have displeased them. It would not be wise to read too much into the day's play or the game's result.
But it is unavoidable to conclude that, in such conditions, England lack the pace to take the pitch out of the equation. They can look for movement and they can look to build pressure with frugality. But they can't realistically hope to regularly beat batsmen for pace with yorkers or bouncers and the worry for them is that in Mitchell Starc, in particular, Australia have a bowler who can.
There were also a couple more missed opportunities. Sangha was missed both on 41, when Mark Stoneman out down a sharp chance at cover off Mason Crane full toss, and on 94, when Jonny Bairstow failed to get a hand on a low edge offered off Joe Root. Crane, who had three chances missed during the match, appeared enormously frustrated but showed that despite the odd loose ball - he is a 20-year-old legspinner, after all - he remains a viable option even in these conditions, while Moeen was tighter and will have improved for the outing. He is not, however, quite at his most potent with the ball or most fluent with the bat at the moment.
Most of all, Sangha and Short played very well. While Sangha had looked some way off the pace in his previous innings (3, 5 and 0), he has long been seen as one of the brightest batting prospects in Australia. At 13 he made his debut in Newcastle's first-grade competition, at 16 he became the youngest man ever signed by NSW - and scored a century on his Under-19 ODI debut against Pakistan - and has been described by Greg Chappell as "an elegant stroke-maker with a touch of class that is the hallmark of the very best players."
Some onlookers rate him the best Australian batting prospect since Ponting and, ahead of these matches, Nick Warren - the former Warwickshire seamer who has played with Sangha at Randwick Petersham (the club in Coogee, Sydney) told ESPNcricinfo that he was an even better player than Ian Bell at the same age. Those are strong words but, as Sangha withstood a barrage of short balls, a good new ball spell from two fine seamers and looked capable of scoring off front and back foot, he pretty much vindicated them. We're going to be hearing a lot more about him.
On days like this - and you imagine there may be a few in the weeks ahead - you wonder if the evenings might see Root, alone in his hotel room, listening to Nothing Compares to You on repeat play as he looks longingly at picture of Ben Stokes.
It would be simplistic to suggest that Stokes might have made all the difference here. This pitch would still have been flat and the batting still would have been impressive; he might have been as frustrated as his colleagues.
But he would have improved the fielding, he would have improved the energy in the side, he would have offered the possibility of swing - reverse or conventional - and he would have offered his captain somewhere to turn. For a while on Saturday afternoon, Root looked worryingly short of options.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo