Australia Tour of England - Men's
Harris, Hazlewood shine brightest in tour match
Marcus Harris hit an unbeaten half-century while Josh Hazlewood collected 3-34 from 15 potent overs on day two of Ashes tour game
Andrew Ramsey at New Road, Worcester
9 August 2019, 07:18 AM AEST
A hard-fought half-century from opener-in-waiting Marcus Harris completed a worthwhile, if unexpectedly frustrating, second day of Australia's tour game against Worcestershire.
Harris survived a confident appeal for a catch behind early in his knock that brought him an unbeaten 62 from 78 balls at stumps, with Australia 1-92 and 157 runs ahead.
However, the match position is largely irrelevant given the likely loss of the third day to the changeable Midlands weather and nothing more than bragging rights on offer to the winner.
The prospect of a full day's play on Friday appears grim, with heavy rain expected in Worcester overnight and further showers likely as the following day progresses.
However, with Harris making a statement while the sun shone and allrounder Mitchell Marsh 22 not out enjoying his promotion to three in the second innings batting order, Australia could claim to have earned a dividend from the first two days.
Pace pair Josh Hazlewood (3-34 from 15 potent overs) and Mitchell Starc (2-56 from 15.5) showed enough to suggest they could slot comfortably into a Test role if needed at Lord's next week.
And back-up bowlers Michael Neser (2-32) and Marnus Labuschagne (2-37) sent down sufficient overs to show readiness should an unexpected opportunity arise, as per coach Justin Langer's mantra to the entire squad.
The only box left unticked was a big score to incumbent Test opener Cameron Bancroft, who was dismissed for seven in the second innings, chiselled from a 48-minute, 40-ball stay against the new ball that continued to pose challenges on the New Road pitch.
The right-hander missed out in both innings of the Edgbaston Test and looked solid in making 33 from 78 balls before being bowled on Wednesday, but was disappointed not to have stayed with Harris on a languid late afternoon.
Bancroft also missed a couple of chances in the slips cordon during Australia's bowling innings, but Langer had spoken encouragingly of his contribution in the opening Test and it seems unlikely selectors will make a change at the top despite Harris' score today.
On balance, Australia's interim brains trust (in Langer's absence) would have been pleased to get two full days of competitive match practice as preparation for the second Test starting next Wednesday, before the expected wet weather arrives.
The fact that Worcestershire were able to declare their innings closed at 9-201, and within sight of Australia's 5(dec)-266, appeared unthinkable shortly before lunch on Thursday.
That was when the home team had plunged to 8-75 in the face of some accurate and occasionally hostile Australia bowling, and only reserve keeper Alex Milton and a couple of young tail-enders remained.
However, as was the case in the first Ashes Test (during Australia and England's respective first innings), those final couple of wickets were among the hardest to claim once the ball had lost its hardness and sheen.
Having lost three wickets in a handful of overs before stumps on day one, it was another Australia batter – one-time Test player Callum Ferguson – who carried the heaviest burden of responsibility upon the resumption.
But when the South Australia veteran edged a sharp, rising delivery from Starc high to the left of Labuschagne at second slip in the morning's second over, the sizeable Worcester crowd sensed a rout.
Riki Wessels also nicked-off to Labuschagne from Josh Hazelwood's bowling, and a dire situation would have become worse if Bancroft had held a low chance at third slip off the luckless Marsh.
Marsh had bowled with good pace and nagging economy (his first spell yielded 0-8 from five overs), but the fortune that eluded him landed squarely with his fellow auxiliary seamer, Neser.
In the over that followed George Rhodes' escape off Marsh, Neser had the Worcestershire allrounder pinned squarely lbw and then followed with the wicket of rival skipper Joe Leach who fended a catch to keeper Matt Wade for a four-ball duck.
At 7-72 and still 196 runs in arrears, the fear of Friday's play being lost to rain became something of a moot talking point given Worcestershire seemed destined not to reach the follow-on target of 150.
Not that Australia were likely to have applied that humiliation, given they were eyeing extra batting for their openers and others rather than getting additional overs into their fit and firing quicks.
But a single overstep soon after lunch proved a pivotal moment in the unfolding of the day, and raised the spirits of the Worcestershire faithful who have witnessed all-too-many batting disasters throughout a difficult first-class season to date.
With their team almost on the canvas at 8-95, Starc scattered the stumps of opposition seamer Charlie Morris with a scorching full-length ball fired in from around the wicket.
No sooner had an audible groan percolated around New Road than it gave way to a raucous cheer at the sight of umpire Neil Mallender, a former England pace bowler, with his right arm extended to signal no-ball.
If the indiscretion served to fire-up Starc – he struck Morris twice on the helmet with fearsome bouncers in the ensuing overs – it also emboldened Worcestershire's number 10 whose previous highest score in 56 first-class matches had been 33 not out.
With diminutive keeper Alex Milton slowly unveiling an increasing array of strokes, the ninth-wicket pair pushed the total past 100 and then beyond 150.
As Milton posted his first fifty for the county's first team, the many who had queued for the famous array of home-made cakes that are a daily highlight in the Worcestershire Ladies Pavilion put down their cream sponges and mugs of tea to applaud.
Milton eventually fell for 74 to Labuschagne's leg spin, well caught at deep mid-wicket by Starc, but the frustration for Australia's bowlers continued under the warming sun.
Morris and last man Adam Finch withstood the pace of Australia's recent Test quicks as the total crested 200, and Morris recached his maiden first-class half-century with a deft late-cut through backward point off Starc.
It was at that moment that Leach decided to call in his batters with the deficit reduced to 65.
And what had loomed as a day of batting disaster for the locals became something of a moral victory, which allowed the second-bottom team in the County Championship's second division to boast they had successfully defied a Test-strength Australia attack without being bowled out.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (wk), Michael Neser, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
Worcestershire XI: Tom Fell, Josh Dell, Callum Ferguson, Jack Haynes, Riki Wessels, George Rhodes, Alex Milton (wk), Joe Leach (c), Josh Tongue, Charlie Morris, Adam Finch.
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval