George Bailey was the only Australia player who walked off the SCG last night without casting at least one eye towards the heavyweight series in South Africa next month.
Australia will hit the Ashes finish line hard in the next day or so after another clinical display on a Sydney pitch starting to show more signs of its limited preparation.
A domestic Twenty20 match a week ago robbed the groundsman of several days’ work, which played into the hands of the irrepressible Australian attack.
Maintaining a considerably fuller length than James Anderson and his cohorts on the first day, the local seamers made mincemeat of England’s top-order on a surface with variable pace and bounce and enough purchase to allow the ball to spit and jump.
Several old-timers described the ball as “nibbling about” but they might have said the same of a school of piranhas hopping into their breakfast.
England’s batting coach Graham Gooch was at a University of NSW cricket club breakfast in the morning where he said Australia’s first-innings 326 was a target too far away and that he doubted whether England would get close to it.
How right he was as Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, in particular, probed away at off stump and were rewarded with three wickets apiece. None of the England top five managed more than seven runs during the initial bloodbath.
Bailey’s claim to a more permanent berth came late in the day after Anderson and Stuart Broad had gone to school on their opposite numbers to clean up an Australia top-order in which the key members – Michael Clarke and David Warner – have waned considerably after their prolific early endeavours. Clarke has not passed 24 since his Adelaide ton while Warner has been quiet in the past two Tests.
Bailey was 20 not out but had done little more than confirm the suggestions from Adelaide and Perth that he was a neat and busy player comfortable in the relatively low-pressure environment of a second-innings touch-up.
Internal competition provides splendid motivation, and Bailey, lucid, genial and astute, would have had little trouble reading the tea leaves after reserve batsman Alex Doolan was ordered to stay in Sydney throughout the match rather than return to his T20 franchise, basically to examine the cut of Doolan’s jib with the South Africa series in mind.
Bailey did nothing in the first innings to indicate that he would keep Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander at bay. He was dismissed in familiar fashion, poking at a lifting delivery to edge into the slips, leaving him with the modest return of 137 runs at 22.83 in the series. His only half-century came in the Second Test when he had a licence to hit out as Australia chased quick runs.
Former Test batsman Tom Moody said the selectors had missed an opportunity to blood Doolan in Sydney and that Bailey had been exposed as a batsman short of Test class.
“Missed opportunity for Bailey & Doolan,” he tweeted as Bailey succumbed. “The later [sic] should be making his debut today! Bailey selection only failure this summer!” Bailey is likely to travel to South Africa – but as Twenty20 captain for the three games against the Proteas before travelling to Bangladesh for the T20 World Cup.
Doolan is poised to be the next addition to the top-order.He would have played at the SCG had No 3 Shane Watson not recovered from a groin strain, and he has been under close watch by the national selector John Inverarity since the start of last season.
Doolan has scored only 391 runs at 39.10 for Tasmania this year but Inverarity considers his cool temperament and correct and upright technique make him a strong chance for Test success.