Australians regain familiar swagger at Taunton
Somerset 320 & 260 Australians 321-5dec & 263-4 (Australia win by six wickets): Instant transformation of tourists with the arrival of Lehmann as coach
Australia will be content. This is not a state of mind in which they have found themselves often lately but a week in cricket, as in politics, is a long time.
The tourists headed for Worcester last night for their second and final practice match before the Ashes with a six-wicket win against Somerset in the bag. It fitted the bill perfectly: respectable but not formidable opponents; an authentic but not taxing first-class match; and proper time in the middle for almost all, whether batsmen or bowlers.
Suddenly, it appears, out of chaos has come order. Australia are exhibiting the countenance of a team at peace with each other and the world, ready now for what the world can throw at them. This has been achieved by the over-throw of Mickey Arthur last Monday and the start of the Darren Lehmann era.
There is a clear difference between these two coaches. Arthur is intense, serious, technical, friendly; Lehmann is relaxed, enthusiastic, technical, friendly. Arthur is South African, Lehmann could only be Australian. There is a feeling that the team and the country feel more at home, as it were, with the Australian. Indeed, they feel they have recaptured in a trice the Australian way.
It may be that the change has merely created a brittle carapace which will be shattered when the real business starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday next week. But for now the team believe that what has taken place will do the trick.
This opening fixture of their official tour provided genuine, hard practice for five bowlers and six batsmen, which is a full house. Ed Cowan, who is likely to open the batting in the Tests with Shane Watson, did the hard work yesterday before flashing outside off stump to be caught behind.
Usman Khawaja, the favourite not to feature, reminded the selectors that he is here to play a part with a well-ordered 73, and Phil Hughes scored his second half-century of the match. Above all their captain, Michael Clarke, came through the game unscathed after his back injury, moving with an unexpected fleetness of foot.
Hughes opened the innings on the tour four years ago and was bounced repeatedly by the England bowlers. He could not cope and was eventually dropped. He did not want to dwell on that – "It's a long while ago, I'm a lot more compact player" – but he did let slip how things might have already changed under "Boof" Lehmann.
"It's about keeping the game moving and playing that aggressive way," he said. "Boof has mentioned that a number of times and that's the way we like playing, the Australian way is to push the game on and play attacking cricket."
The match was testament to the continuing worth of tourists' matches. It was competitive, fun, exciting and played before more or less a full house on all four days. It also showed to a slightly wider audience an exciting 19-year-old talent.
Jamie Overton did not take the field yesterday because of tendinitis but he had already bowled fast enough to demonstrate that he has an international future. Somerset's captain, Marcus Trescothick, was in no doubt.
"He's very exciting," said Trescothick. "He has naturally raw pace and is learning the skills of bowling. They [the Australians] commented on him and said what a prospect he was.
"He's still a young kid, he acts well, he looks after himself in the gym, he performs how a 25- or 26-year-old would who has played a lot of cricket. He is a great character.
"If you want a mould of a fast bowler he would be it. He works hard on his strength and his training brilliantly. He has also that little bit of something inside him, that little bit of animal that a fast bowler needs.
"I have no doubt he will go a long way in the game. It is just a matter of time before he does, really, whether it's in the next six months or the next two years. I think the winter ahead will be a big part of his destiny."
Fast bowlers emerge quickly, and Australia may just have caught sight of one who will torment them this winter and for the next decade.
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