Tait and Kasprowicz sharpen their claws after poor Dizzy spell

The Australians 374-6 dec Northamptonshire 29-2
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The Independent Online

The fourth-wicket pair shared 206 runs of the Australians' 374 for six to signal some form ahead of the fourth Ashes Test. Prior to their stand, in fact, the innings had taken an all too familiar look with the three wickets lost all to loose strokes. A collective inability to turn starts into substantial contributions has plagued their campaign against England to date with Hayden and Clarke as culpable as any of their colleagues but they made sure their side made the most of an 'arranged' toss to score at four-an-over throughout their stand.

Left-handed opener Hayden, who captained Northants to the Division Two title in the 2000 County Championship, reached his landmark from 157 deliveries when he swept left-armer Monty Panesar for four. Clarke got to three figures in more brutal fashion, however, as a pulled six - one of nine the duo struck between them, careered into the stands at midwicket. It took a horrible hoik at off-spinner Jason Brown for Hayden to be removed while Clarke picked out the fielder at long-off to hand Panesar a solitary reward.

Justin Langer, captaining his country for the first time in the absence of both Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist, succumbed to Ben Phillips' first ball of the morning when he sliced low to gully. A similar dismissal, this time off Steffan Jones, accounted for Simon Katich while Damien Martyn breezed into the 20s before misjudging a pull off Jones to loop a catch to wicketkeeper Riki Wessels. That left the Australians 69 for three but Clarke's fleet of foot against the slow bowlers and Hayden's power realigned the innings for Australia to take tea on 337 for five.

Meanwhile, Jason Gillespie's Test place came under greater scrutiny after his omission from the 12 named to take part in this match. Fast bowler Gillespie endured three woeful Ashes appearances in which he claimed only three wickets at 100 runs apiece. It now appears extremely unlikely he will feature in Thursday's fourth Test at Trent Bridge which effectively means Michael Kasprowicz and the uncapped Shaun Tait were involved in a bowl-out at Wantage Road.

But the prolific McGrath and Lee were entrusted with the new ball and each struck in the 12 overs before the close. Former England Under-19 batsman Bilal Shafayat was enticed into a nick by McGrath while Lee's searing pace produced a throat ball which was guided into the slips from the splice of Rob White's bat. Usman Afzaal, a member of England's 2001 Ashes campaign, thrashed Lee through the covers to announce his arrival at the crease as Northants closed on 29 for two. As well as extending the playing time by one hour each day, the county adhered to Australia's request to accommodate an extra bowler, who would not bat.

Originally they announced Stuart MacGill would be the chosen individual only for that to be voided a couple of hours later when Cricket Australia revealed his short-term move to Somerset. However, as a player has to be released fully from a tour to play for a county and spend a minimum of three weeks with his new employers, MacGill set off to Taunton to prepare for tomorrow's one-day contest with Durham only to for his journey to be aborted.