If the England selectors were looking for a tall, muscular batsman who could replicate, rather than simply replace, Kevin Pietersen at Old Trafford, they found one in a Sussex top order rejigged in the national interest.
Unfortunately for Geoff Miller and his consiglieri, that Pietersen clone was not the guest player installed at No 4 to reconnoitre the Australian attack before the Third Test. While James Taylor eked out 64 turgid runs in 146 balls of hard toil that enhanced the suspicion that his opponents endorsed his bid as a potential Pietersen replacement, Rory Hamilton-Brown produced a damp day's most eye-catching performance.
The Australians batted on only long enough for Steve Smith to slash the boundary that brought up his seventh first-class century.
Soon after, despite giving Taylor a three-over start, Hamilton-Brown was doing his best Pietersen impersonation, racing to a half-century while the England prospect was still in single figures. And Taylor had advanced to only 28 when Hamilton-Brown departed for 73, scored from just 51 deliveries with 11 fours and two sixes.
As Australian quicks Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc jousted for the right to replace the stricken James Pattinson, Hamilton-Brown provided the visitors with a further dilemma over the identity of their third Test spinner. Nathan Lyon is bidding to join or replace Ashton Agar at Old Trafford on Thursday but Hamilton-Brown did little to clarify the pecking order by treating both bowlers with equal disdain.
The right-hander faced just three Lyon overs but clattered them for 35, including two sweet drives on to corporate tents at the sea end. He was barely less hostile to Agar, though the teenager finally got his reward during a remarkable over in which a booming straight drive threatened the sightscreen slats while two edges burst through wicketkeeper Matthew Wade before he grasped a third.
Back at Sussex after three seasons at Surrey, Hamilton-Brown confronted an Australian team who were mostly wayward with the ball and sloppy in the field. The exception was Bird, whose splendid new-ball spell snared both openers, Chris Nash and Luke Wells. Nash was beaten by three consecutive leg-cutters before a low edge carried to slip, while Wells was undone by a slower ball that evaded his probing bat to scatter his stumps.
Conventional wisdom would suggest Starc, with his ability to gain reverse swing, might be favoured for Old Trafford, but Bird's control and movement has provided a compelling case for a third bowler of a feather alongside Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. The ground was parched and brown but not even 40 overs were bowled in the day before rain drenched it with its first moisture in many weeks.
Smith is less frenetic in his movements and approach these days than when he burst into the Test side on promise and an ill-conceived youth policy. He has quietly eased his way back into the middle order while the spotlight has beamed on to more flamboyant colleagues such as David Warner and Phil Hughes.
Smith is unlikely to be promoted to No 4 should Hughes make way for Warner at Old Trafford, but his energy and versatility indicate a player whose career is on the rise.
His potential was apparent as a 20-year-old when he scored four centuries in nine Sheffield Shield innings for New South Wales. The road has been more barren since as the diverse challenges of honing his talents for Test cricket were buffeted by limited-overs demands.
Smith's versatility and hitting power, brilliant fielding and occasional leg-spin have made him a regular on the global 20-over circuit without ever cementing his status in the format's upper echelon.
Claiming four wickets at Lord's was a reminder that Smith was once selected as Australia's main spinner, even if that speculative promotion merely continued the pick-and-mix approach that marked the vacuum left by Shane Warne's exit.
Still, Smith's 3 for 18 in the first innings at Lord's was his best bowling display in nearly three years in any form of the game, and the confidence he gained from that has transferred to his work with the bat.
More Warner woe
David Warner was embroiled in an on-field row with Thami Tsolekile while batting for Australia A against South Africa A in Pretoria yesterday. The umpires halted the game while they spoke to the pair. It was the latest in a list of misdemeanours involving Warner, who hopes to be recalled to Australia's senior side for the Third Test.
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