These Australian tourists may not be of the finest vintage but they can still draw a crowd. Despite cold, blustery conditions, there were few empty seats here. It is a tradition, too, for the Australians to win this game with a bit of a swagger, which may well be the outcome this time.
Their dominance of the first day owed much to the immediate success enjoyed by Shane Watson with Chris Rogers at the top of the batting order, putting on 150 before lunch with hardly a hint they might be parted, Watson’s brutal hitting balanced by the steady assuredness of his partner, whose anticipation of his first Test appearance for more than five years at Trent Bridge next week will be keener than ever.
Worcestershire’s bowling improved as the day unfolded but without Alan Richardson, who is rested, their attack is modest, nonetheless, with the debutant Charlie Morris taking the new ball. There was not much in the way of swing, but Watson was impressive enough, batting with the same gusto that the Somerset crowd witnessed last week. So far, so good for the new partnership. “Facing the quicker bowlers with the new ball is what I enjoy the most and a job I’m well equipped for now,” he said. “It was great to be able to bat with Chris, who has a lot of experience and was able to give me quite a few pointers at various times. It was a good start and something we would hope to continue.”
Watson added his name to those of Don Bradman, Keith Miller and others in an illustrious roll call of Australian centurions on this ground in a mere 94 deliveries, seven minutes ahead of the first interval. He timed his shots sweetly, gathering 14 fours and twice clearing the rope, the first time with a clip over the mid-wicket boundary off Gareth Andrew before driving one into the top deck of the New Road stand off Jack Shantry.
There was no such extravagance from Rogers but Australia will expect none, demanding of him that he accumulates runs as he has for Middlesex, with authority but without fuss. After Watson had been caught at deep square leg, sweeping the spinner, Moeen Ali, Rogers looked good to celebrate his re-incarnation with a hundred of his own but mistimed a ball from Shantry to be caught at extra cover, off a leading edge.
If their places are inked in, others have something to prove, not least Ed Cowan, replaced along with David Warner at the top of the order. Given that Michael Clarke fills one slot and Phil Hughes probably booked another with his two half-centuries at Taunton, Cowan seems to have Warner, Usman Khawaja and perhaps Steve Smith to fight for such vacancies that may be left in the middle.
Warner remains suspended and Khawaja, who made 73 against Somerset, was left out. Cowan, with the experience of English conditions and Trent Bridge in particular after his stint with Nottinghamshire, reinforced his claim with a typically solid 58 before he was run out after slipping over in mid-run, an unfortunate end although one with a touch of karma given that his call for a tight single had run Clarke out.
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