Australia Tour of England - Men's
Bowlers dominate as 17 wickets fall in a day
Australia's intra-squad match saw 17 wickets fall for 201 runs on the first day in Southampton with Pat Cummins claiming three
Andrew Ramsey at the Rose Bowl, Southampton
24 July 2019, 10:00 AM AEST
While the first phase of Australia's pre-Ashes warm-up fixture delivered some notable insights, it's fair to suggest they were not the answers most had expected to reveal themselves.
Faced with a bowler-friendly pitch for the grudgingly friendly practice game at the Rose Bowl, it was players on the periphery of the anticipated 16-man Ashes squad who shone brightest in the glaring Hampshire sunshine.
By day's end the Graeme Hick XII found themselves at 7-96, still nine runs in arrears of the Brad Haddin XII's 105 all out in 42.5 overs.
Whether the bowling efforts of seamers Michael Neser (4-18) and Jackson Bird (3-28) and the lone-hand batting exploits of Marnus Labuschagne (41) sway selectors won't be known until the Ashes squad is named on Friday.
But in addition to that trio's supposedly peripheral standing amid the accepted Ashes pecking order, their commonality came from the recent experience they have shared playing red-ball cricket in England.
It's a truism that might help explain the struggles endured by so many of their teammates-turned rivals who have been engaged in limited-overs cricket since February and raise expectations they will fare better in the four-day game's second innings.
Whether it was as part of the Australia A series against county opponents and the England Lions, or within the county scene itself, the skillset Neser, Bird and Labuschagne have developed with and against the Dukes ball stood out like the day's sapping heat.
Neser and Bird had carried a hefty workload through the latter portion of the Australia A campaign in past weeks and took no time to hit their strides today, while Labuschagne has been in dominant form for Welsh county Glamorgan.
Of the players inked-in for the five-Test Ashes series that begins at Edgbaston next week, Pat Cummins was a stand-out with three wickets including the scalp of former skipper Steve Smith in an much-awaited individual battle.
Although Smith played a significant part in his own downfall when, two balls after he stroked Cummins effortlessly to the cover boundary, he aimed another forcing drive that instead grabbed an inside edge and crashed into his stumps.
Smith's dismissal for nine (from 18 balls) highlighted the difficulty for even the most accomplished and prepared batters, with all of them battling to find fluency on a pitch that enabled the seamers to gain late and disconcerting movement.
Even Matthew Wade, the batter who has arguably shown the pre-eminent form in all formats over the past six months, found rhythm and timing a challenge and was dismissed for 10 (although he appeared unimpressed with his caught behind decision).
The complementary reality that all-but one of the 17 wickets to fall on a testing day were players caught either on the crease or behind the wicket also highlighted the difficulty batters faced against an array of the world's foremost bowlers.
The challenges presented by the freshly prepared pitch – which sported a healthy mat of grass atop a rock-hard surface – were immediately, and uncomfortably obvious to both sets of openers.
Likely Test pair David Warner and Marcus Harris got first look at the track, after Tim Paine opted to unleash his six-pronged bowling attack upon winning the toss.
And while they were forced to fend away brutal balls from rival quicks Neser and James Pattinson, it was Ashes aspirant Cameron Bancroft who wore the most eye-watering blow when his team batted later in the day.
The first delivery that Bancroft received from Josh Hazlewood jagged back at him off the brand new seam and struck the opener a sickening thud in the groin which prompted a delay of several minutes while he received medical treatment.
Fears of serious damage were allayed when Bancroft resumed batting and scored a dogged 17, before he and Burns fell within an over of each other.
But the impact that the swinging and seaming Dukes ball might have upon Australia's Test top-order won't be fully known until the Tests begin on August 1.
It's safe to assume that while coach Justin Langer hoped the unprecedented four-day intra-squad warm-up game would provide Test-match style intensity and competition, he would have preferred to see a bit more of an even contest.
From the moment that Warner fell in the day's third over, the batting frailties against the moving ball that have come to define Australia's past four unsuccessful Ashes campaigns in the UK once more materialised.
After an hour's play, the Brad Haddin XII was reduced to 3-21 with all three wickets being likely Test inclusions – Warner, Harris and vice-captain Travis Head – for scores of four, six and one respectively.
By lunch, the score was only marginally more healthy at 5-64 after Kurtis Patterson (two) and Will Pucovski (four) succumbed to the moving ball.
And an hour and a bit into the afternoon session, the powerful line-up was bowled out for 105 with only Labuschagne (41 from 81 balls) finding a way to survive and occasionally prosper.
The 25-year-old remains sixth on the county division two batting averages with 1114 runs at 65.53, with five centuries and as many half-centuries from 10 first-class matches for Glamorgan
Labuschagne repeatedly ventured out of his crease when batting against the rival seamers, in a bid to reduce risk of late swing and having witnessed – from his vantage point at the far end of the pitch – his teammates getting pinned in front of the stumps.
Of the first five wickets to fall, Harris and Patterson were judged lbw when trapped on the crease line while Head fell when trying to cut a delivery from Bird that was too close to his body and yielded a sharp catch to second slip.
Indeed, the only batter not to be bowled, lbw or caught behind was Warner who was undone by a delivery from Neser that seemed to hold in the pitch and which flew from his hefty bat to the right of Wade at mid-off.
Any doubts as to whether this fixture constituted a serious contest or a glorified training session were answered in that moment, 11 minutes into day one, when Wade hurled himself full-length to his right to snare the chance.
The celebration that followed, as he leaped to his feet and hurled the ball into the air, also set the tone for what was to follow.
If the paucity of runs suggested some inadequacies in the batting, then the discipline and execution of bowlers in conditions they clearly revelled must have brought a smile to Langer and his coaching staff.
Particularly because the stand-out performers with the ball for the Hick XII were players pushing for inclusion in the final Ashes squad, rather than those whose places are virtually assured.
From his opening over, Neser consistently landed the ball on that in-between length that batters like least, and let the grass on the pitch and the movement in the air do the rest.
His final figures of 4-18 from 10 overs illustrated the command he held, and Jackson Bird (who is widely tipped to be in a duel with Peter Siddle for the fifth seam-bowling vacancy in the Ashes squad) was equally impressive.
The first few deliveries that Bird bowled at rival skipper Head had the left-hander searching for answers, and it was the pressure built that led to the left-hander's downfall.
In addition, James Pattinson bowled with intimidating pace and similarly suffocating control, and although he was rewarded with a solitary wicket – the important scalp of Labuschagne – his innings return of 1-16 from 10 overs was self-explanatory.
Labuschagne was furious with himself when he aimed a drive at a full delivery and nicked off to Paine, but the 41 he scored from 81 deliveries would have been worth at least double that against second-tier county attacks.
By the time Hick's team began their innings, the Southampton sun was blazing above 30C and the early life in the pitch was beginning to subdue, although there was still plenty on offer for the Test-standard attack.
Bancroft's body blow and the crack that his opening partner Joe Burns took to his left hand from a spiteful Mitchell Starc lifter aside, the auxiliary opening pair battled doggedly to survive the initial new-ball examination.
When they fell within an over of each other – Burns trapped in front by Peter Siddle and Bancroft edging behind off Pat Cummins – they had weathered the storm for more than an hour in the most productive partnership of a tough batting day.
Hick XII: Joe Burns, Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (c, wk), Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Chris Tremain, Nathan Lyon
Haddin XII: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Kurtis Patterson, Travis Head (c), Marnus Labuschagne, Will Pucovski, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland.
There will be no live stream or broadcast of this match, but you can follow live scores and get the latest news and video highlights on cricket.com.au and the CA Live app
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Tour match: Hick XII v Haddin XII, July 23-26
First Test: Edgbaston, August 1-5
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: Lord's, August 14-18
Third Test: Headingley, August 22-26
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: Old Trafford, September 4-8
Fifth Test: The Oval, September 12-16