Good old Middlesex. There were those who thought the county was being disloyal by employing Phil Hughes at the start of an Ashes summer, thereby giving the young Australian a chance to sample English conditions for the first time in his life. But not a bit of it, you see.
Inviting Hughes to score three centuries and two 50s in five championship knocks against Second Division attacks turns out to have been all part of a master plan to seduce the 20-year-old into thinking that plundering runs over here was child's play. Then along comes a mean and moody Steve Harmison intent on knocking his block off.
Well, it's a theory. The fact of the matter is that Hughes has been found, over the course of two uncomfortable innings at New Road, to have a problem against balls rearing up at his chest – especially balls delivered by a tall fast bowler who is determined to prove that reports on the death of his England career have been greatly exaggerated.
The battles between Hughes and Harmison, although brief, have been a treat to watch, at least for English eyes. On Wednesday, Harmison smacked the youngster on the side of his helmet before producing an even better bouncer that flew to gully via bat handle. Yesterday, he allowed him a couple of boundaries, then went around the wicket to deliver a snorter that cut back into the left-hander and was gloved to second slip.
Among those in the crowd enjoying take two of "Hughes tamed by the Lions" was England's national selector, Geoff Miller, who must now decide – along with the likes of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower – whether Harmison has done enough to restart a Test career which stalled, yet again, in the Caribbean just a few months ago. The feeling is that if he makes the squad for next Wednesday's first Ashes Test in Cardiff it will be to keep all options open, but playing on a quicker, bouncier pitch at Lord's the following week looks a real possibility.
Hughes was not alone in having his series preparations curtailed, well ahead of schedule, by Harmison yesterday.
Like Australia's new opener, captain Ricky Ponting will head for Wales with three failures in four innings behind him after warm-up matches against Sussex and the Lions. Out for one playing a careless back-foot shot two days earlier, Ponting perished early this time to a firm-footed cover drive against Harmison which produced an edged catch to gully.
Although Harmison found further reward hard to come by after those two new-ball successes, it was not for want of trying. Marcus North became top of his hit list – and hit him he did, on the upper arm – once Australia's likely Ashes No 6 was promoted a couple of places to find some form, but the left-hander who has played for five different counties came through his examination to give the tourists a welcome chunk of good news.
Having made only 13 runs in his three previous innings, North was close to being run out for 14 yesterday. But thereafter, without ever exciting anyone very much, he moved sedately to a century and shared a stand of 170 with Michael Clarke following the spectacular demise of Simon Katich.
Hughes' opening partner probably thought he had clipped leg-spinner Adil Rashid for four, even though the ball flicked the top of his pad on its way out. Instead, he had to wander off after Stephen Moore showed stunning reactions at short leg to hold a terrific catch above his head.
That take contrasted with the one-handed chance which Australian keeper Brad Haddin dropped earlier, off Harmison's outside edge, to deny Brett Lee a seventh wicket. Up and down times, indeed, for the tourists.
Worcester force: Who's hot & who's not
*Firing on all cylinders
Steve Harmison A lukewarm effort in Worcester could have ended Harmy's international career. Instead, he showed the fire of 2005 and the Aussies would love not to cross his path again this summer.
Brett Lee Move over Mitchell Johnson, the old leader of the attack is back. Lee has a poor Test record over here (29 wickets at 45) but he has been a champion at New Road.
Ian Bell A first-baller is never good, is it? But the now former England batsman has been in good nick generally and should make tomorrow's squad if 13 or even 14 are named.
Phillip Hughes Plenty to think about before Cardiff. And, if it helps, we reckon England might send the odd short ball in your direction next week, Phillip. Just a hunch.Reuse content