Australia's big-shot opener Phil Hughes last night promised that the tough-talking tourists were going to carry on sledging. A survey of spectators Down Under by the Aussie game's rulers Cricket Australia has revealed that the things the home crowds least like about their Baggy Green heroes is spitting, swearing and sledging.
So the CA passed this information on to the team, perhaps to serve as a warning to the players to tone things down. But last night the 20-year-old Hughes, who top-scored with 78 for the tourists as they ground their way into a substantial 418-run lead over Sussex, vowed: "We will play hard and fair. It's how we have always played."
Hughes himself appeared subdued, spending almost three hours at the crease, but he also felt he was playing his way. "It was a slow pitch. I just went out there to play my game." He was adamant that the tourists have approached this match seriously. "You get a fair bit out of these games, and for me it was nice to get a few runs so close to the start of the Ashes series."
He was eventually bowled, middle stump, for the second time in the match by debutant Sussex bowler Pepler Sandri, having hit 11 glorious boundaries off 127 balls. The slowness of the pitch added to a lazy day in the sun. And at least Hughes passed fifty in his lengthy stay. Simon Katich found runs hard to find, or the effort too great, occupying the crease for 104 minutes for his painstaking 40.
And if Katich was sluggish with his run-scoring, Mike Hussey positively crawled along for an identical score, which occupied more than two hours. And as for Marcus North, having taken 22 balls to get off the mark (Katich had required one fewer), he dug in for almost an hour for a return of just 11 runs. Maybe their captain Ricky Ponting wanted to see patience not pyrotechnics. He certainly got that.
Ponting made up for the tortoise-like progress with a delightful innings of 71 that revealed the Tasmanian to be in decent form. It was a shame his attempted pull of a James Kirtley delivery was top-edged to mid-on, but it still called for a fine running catch by Luke Wright. Ponting scored at almost a run-a-ball, smacking ten fours and a six in the 76 deliveries faced. It was a vast improvement on his first innings showing, when he did not even manage to reach double figures.
Late in the day a half-century from the in-form Michael Clarke, which contained half a dozen fours and a six, and another useful knock from Brett Lee helped to pick up the pace a little as the pair put together an engaging 100-run seventh wicket partnership off 19 overs – comfortably the fastest stand of the day.