If Brett Lee's alarming dip in form and latterly anxiety over his fitness had sent a frisson or two of apprehension through Australian supporters' ranks they can relax. There is a perfectly good replacement straining at the leash.
Damien Fleming topped and tailed the Somerset innings, returning 6 for 59 and staking a claim for a Test place at Lord's. It has been labelled the Vodafone Challenge, but the biggest challenge seemed to be working out who was missing on each side.
Disgruntled Somerset members were overheard asking where their county's finest were. There was no captain Jamie Cox, the batsman Mark Lathwell was absent, and the strike bowlers Richard Johnson and Steffan Jones and the off-spinner Keith Dutch were all missing. Aamir Sohail and Shoaib Akhtar were regarded as a necessary evil to attract spectators, but at a reported fee of £10,000 each that sounds like a costly top draw.
As for Australia, when the rain finally let up and allowed play to commence at 1.45, they took the field having first declared on their overnight 348 for 3 without Michael Slater, who had received a nasty blow on the left wrist the day before off a short ball by Shoaib. He had apparently received intensive treatment and was later described as "resting" by the tour management.
Slater's replacement on the field was the fast bowler Lee, who is reported to have a side strain and last turned his arm in the first Test at Edgbaston, when he sent down a total of 19 overs in both innings. Since then he has not even had a net, thus fuelling speculation that the injury might be worse than at first thought.
At least he had a grandstand view of Fleming, who looked sharper as the afternoon wore on. Had his luck been slightly better, he might well have had a seventh, but Aamir, the former Pakistani Test batsman, was dropped on six and went on to reach fifty.
Aamir was eventually caught in the gully to give Ashley Noffke Pura Cup final man-of-the-match his first wicket for Australia, in what is only his seventh first-class match. This game is at least serving to reassure Australian fans that there is still more talent pushing through.Reuse content