Michael Clarke helps tourists bat away familiar criticism

Somerset 320 Australians 266-4


Australia's batting is deemed to be their weaker suit. If, for instance, a skilled advocate could make a case for their bowling attack as the best in the world he might, while he was about it, try to demonstrate that their batting line-up is the worst.

Its members have a lot of runs to score on this Ashes tour to repel the perception of their fallibility. They did not quite manage it on the second day of their warm-up match against Somerset, though a total of 266 for 4 before it rained at tea was rather more than adequate this early in the piece.

There are exceptions, of whom the outstanding one is Michael Clarke, with an average of 66 as captain. This may not be quite Bradmanesque since The Don averaged 101.52 when he led Australia, but for a man with a chronically bad back it is phenomenal.

Clarke, in his first innings since he and his team arrived in late May, was diligent and all but untroubled in making 45 from 95 balls until the seamer Craig Meschede persuaded him to follow one moving away. Meschede took his first first-class wicket on this ground two years ago. Then it was Sachin Tendulkar, who was also caught behind, edging one that shaped away. Last week he had Shivnarine Chanderpaul out in similar fashion at Derby. When you have taken only 20 wickets in all, these are prizes beyond measure.

The other obvious example of an Australian batsman who has an authentic Test record is Shane Watson. It has been announced by the new management that Watson will return to opening in the Ashes series.

He has played nine Tests since being dispatched down the order upon returning to the side following injury, watching his replacements compile one century partnership and 10 below 50. Watson marked his return to No 1 (or 2) with a blistering innings in the morning when he briefly threatened to reach a hundred before lunch.

There were 20 fours in his innings of 90 from 94 balls, driven down the ground, clubbed through the on side with a permanent air of authority. He was harsh on most of the bowlers, including the 19-year-old speedster, Jamie Overton. But Overton also bowled some searing deliveries and displayed a mean bouncer. He was far too expensive but it was easy to see why he is talked of in future international terms. Tall, strapping fast bowlers usually are.

He was rewarded with the wicket of Watson, who edged him to second slip. It fell apart for him a little afterwards and he was clearly angry with himself. There is plenty to work on here, Somerset should look after him.

Phil Hughes and Brad Haddin took the tourists to the premature close. The county have fielded a strong side for this match. Worcestershire seem ready to do similarly next week and have agreed to have Nick Compton as a guest player at England's request.

This shows that Compton, while disappointed at almost certainly being replaced by Joe Root in the first Test, remains in the selectors' thoughts. He may indeed be the spare batsman now, not simply the reserve opener.

Geoff Miller, the national selector, said: "We were very keen to give Nick first-class practice, that's why we have arranged for him to play for Worcestershire against the Australians. He is by no means out of the picture."

It remains possible that England will ask Worcestershire to find room for another player in their thinking, if not yet their team. Australia are not being allowed to have it easy.


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