Mon, Jul 06, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Aussies upbeat going into first Ashes Test

REUTERS AND AFP , LONDON AND WORCESTER, ENGLAND

Australia’s Marcus North plays a shot during the match against the England Lions at Worcester in England on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Australia coach Tim Nielsen said his side are in the best possible shape ahead of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff this week.

The tourists drew their final warm-up match after the England Lions were set 445 runs to win from 60 overs before reaching 162 for four by the close of play on the fourth and final day. Despite it being the tourists’ second successive draw, the match answered many of Australia’s questions before they start their Ashes defense on Wednesday.

“The whole three weeks we’ve been here have been just about spot on. It couldn’t have been better,” Nielsen said after stumps. “We’ve pretty much given all our blokes a run and feel as though the time they’ve had in the nets and the middle, we can pick from our full squad whatever the conditions.”

“There was no point being at our absolute best a week-and-a-half ago. I’m really pleased with where it’s at,” he said.

Marcus North, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and Mike Hussey all performed with the bat while on Saturday Mitchell Johnson joined Brett Lee in bowling in excess of 145kmh, with Australia’s premier quick striking twice in the afternoon session.

First innings centurion Stephen Moore was snapped up at second slip by Ricky Ponting for 16 and Joe Denly was caught behind for 36 as Johnson ratcheted up the pace from the first innings.

He was expensive, but the left-armer showed glimpses of the reverse swing which booked Lee’s berth in the Test line-up at Sophia Gardens. Lee finished with seven wickets for the match after bowling Vikram Solanki with an inswinging yorker. During the afternoon, Ponting turned to part-time spinner North ahead of the out-of-touch Nathan Hauritz, who is looking increasingly unlikely to make his Ashes debut this week. But the specialist off-spinner eventually came on 15 minutes before the tea interval and struck in his third over to remove Ian Bell.

The Warwickshire No. 3 never really got going, scoring a slow-going 20 in 63 balls before being caught at short leg by Katich.

However, his failure didn’t stop him making the England squad for the first Test, which was named yesterday.

Pace bowler Graham Onions won selection ahead of Durham teammate Steve Harmison while left-arm spinner Monty Panesar was picked ahead of leg-spinner Adil Rashid.

Harmison displayed genuine pace and disconcerting bounce in the match that finished on Saturday, dismissing exciting new opener Phillip Hughes cheaply in both innings and taking six wickets overall.

However, he paid the price for his frustrating inconsistency in Test cricket while Onions has reaped the reward of a fine first series against West Indies this year on debut.

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