Phil Hughes top-scored on his return to Australia’s Test team, hitting 86 as the hosts finished opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka on 299-4 yesterdat.
Brought back after a year’s absence to replace the retired Ricky Ponting at No. 3, Hughes was even on course for his first Test century on home soil until Chanaka Welegedara bowled him for 86 in the second over after tea.
Captain Michael Clarke then continued his stellar form for this year with 70 not out in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 101 with Mike Hussey (37).
Welegedara was the most expensive bowler at Bellerive Oval, but also the most dangerous, finishing with 3-99 after removing Ed Cowan in the morning session and Shane Watson after lunch.
Cowan failed to convince and fellow opener David Warner was needlessly run out, but Clarke and Hussey maintained Australia’s hopes of a commanding total.
Clarke was limping at the close after a blow to the knee, but still moved to 1,428 runs for this year with his 22nd career half century.
“He does have a big limp but he’ll get a bit of treatment and I’m sure he’ll continue on tomorrow,” Hughes said.
Clarke dominated more than Hughes, but the latter did enough against a largely disciplined but unthreatening Sri Lanka seam attack to suggest his third stint in the side could be longer than the previous two.
“There were a few nerves but really I was quite calm,” Hughes said. “Overall, it was more excitement. To get a few runs behind me, the confidence is quite high now.”
Hughes has three Test centuries, but had never previously scored heavily at home.
The 24-year-old former opener came to the crease at 18-1 after Clarke had won the toss, and withstood patient probing of his reworked technique until hitting out midway through the second session.
Hughes scored at almost a run a ball off Welegedara and plundered a huge six down the ground off spinner Rangana Herath, who was far less dangerous than his recent form had hinted.
Hughes had a reprieve while on 77 — caught behind by Prasanna Jayawardene when Welegedara was no-balled for overstepping — but fell to the fifth ball he faced after tea.
Welegedara bowled him via an inside edge for what could still be a crucial breakthrough for Sri Lanka, who have never won a Test match in Australia.
Cowan was the first man out yesterday, scoring four in an eventful cameo.
He nearly fell to the first ball he faced — edging just short of Angelo Mathews’ dive across second slip — scored four from his next ball and was then dismissed in search of runs following 11 scoreless deliveries.
Cowan tried to pull Welegedara but got to the ball late and top-edged to Shaminda Eranga for an easy catch at mid-on.
Warner, who scored an unbeaten century on the same ground a year ago, made 57 from 89 balls before a needless run out.
Warner changed his mind about a quick single on the last ball of the morning session, but Hughes continued his charge down the wicket to leave his teammate well short at the non-striker’s end and Australia wobbling slightly at 97-2.
Watson steadied things with 30 in an 86-run partnership with Hughes before falling to a sensational full-length, one-handed catch by veteran captain Mahela Jayawardene at second slip.