Ponting heads to Lord's with a spring
Leicestershire 217 The Australians 582-7
Even a full-strength Leicestershire, third from the bottom of Division Two of the County Championship, could not compete. In fact, they are playing with six first-team players absent, and if they do intend this performance to be a "Taste of Things to Come", holders of treasured tickets for Ashes Tests ought to put them up for sale on eBay promptly.
What has happened at Leicester is that an Australian team, who looked short of confidence 10 days ago, have recovered it. The cockiness among the team and their loyal journalists is near traditionally high levels. The official spokesman asserts that the team began to settle before the tied NatWest Series final, and has been refreshed by the arrival of Test players such as Justin Langer.
Morale has been boosted here by easy hundreds for Langer, in his first game for four months, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn. Four wickets for Brett Lee on Friday confirmed his position in Australia's front line. As a "Taste of Things to Come", this performance is more ominous for England than Australia. As for the quality of the opposition, Langer wasn't bothered. "It's about preparation for the Test match," he said.
In Australia, they do not go out of their way to place the visitors in a comfort zone immediately before the First Test. In November 2002, when England played Queensland in Brisbane, Martin Love scored 250 in two minutes over nine hours while Queensland kept England in the field for 10 and a half hours.
If this was intended to instil a feeling of uncertainty, it seemed to have succeeded because Nasser Hussain bizarrely put Australia in to bat at the Gabba, and they won by 384 runs on the third day.
Fate played a part in sending Australia to Leicester for the second time on this tour - they started it with a one-day game here. Had Sussex not won their Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy quarter-final, the tourists would have been at Hove against more rigorous opposition. But the ECB have finally accepted that it might help their Test team if the tourists are required to face more robust opposition. From next summer, these first-class fixtures will be played by an England A team.
When Australia took the field at Grace Road after two crushing wins against England at Lord's and The Oval, the only unanswered question was the name of the seamer who would take the last place in the Test team. The only absentees here who are sure to play at Lord's on Thursday are Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
Stuart MacGill will be replaced by Warne; the last place will go to either Jason Gillespie or Michael Kasprowicz - unless the selectors have a rush of blood to the head and pick Shaun Tait, although 18 overs for Durham last summer went for 176 runs. Kasprowicz is more likely to get movement at Lord's and Gillespie is still in search of good form.
These thoughts seemed more pressing than what was happening in the middle. Entertainments were provided to take spectators' minds off the relentless accumulation of runs, interrupted only occasionally by the fall of a wicket. The haunting sound of didgeridoos came from players whose T-shirts advertised the Northamptonshire Didgeridoo Festival 2006 (no kidding), and the club's new commercial management offered a £1,000 prize to the spectator who bowled most accurately (not many could).
Among Australia's top six, the only ones who failed to emerge from single figures were Michael Clarke, who played across a ball from John Maunders on Friday night, and Simon Katich, who played and missed against David Masters, having scored the four that brought up the 450.
Langer quickly removed any rust. Only a couple of edges blemished his hundred (off 135 balls) before he mishit a high drive and was caught at deep mid-off. Ponting was not flawless (a caught and bowled chance was missed on 65), but his hundred came up with two long straight sixes in 143 balls. Martyn edged a couple near the keeper before his own hundred came up in 127 balls. Each of them benefited from a good spell in the middle, and would have slept better last night than two weeks ago.
A rare good moment for Leicestershire was the dismissal of Adam Gilchrist for only 26, bowled off an inside edge. Five hundred was up when Lee spooned a catch to short midwicket.
The only positive construction that can be placed on this fixture is that Leicestershire were chosen to lull Australia into a false sense of well-being.
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