• Sussex v Australians, Hove, 1st day

A better day for Australia's batsmen

Brydon Coverdale in Hove
July 26, 2013
Australians 354 for 5 (Smith 98*, Hughes 84, Cowan 66) v Sussex

Steven Smith was two runs short of a century at the close © Getty Images

A quick glance at the scorecard tells only half the story of Australia's first day against Sussex. At stumps they were 354 for 5, which in a Test match would have set them up soundly. Steven Smith was on 98 and there were contributions all the way down the order; except for Matthew Wade, who failed to score, the batsmen all spent valuable time in the middle. But it was also a day that could have been so much more, a day of missed opportunities. And the men who missed them know that David Warner didn't waste his chance in Pretoria this week.

Warner's 193 against a quality South Africa A attack featuring Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange might have been placed in perspective by the way the South Africans batted on the same pitch: Dean Elgar, who had made a pair on Test debut at the WACA last summer posted a lazy 268. But there were plenty of reasons for Australia's batsmen to relish the conditions at Hove as well: a benign surface, a quick outfield, a tiny square boundary and a weakened attack. That Smith was the only man still in the market for a century by stumps was a disappointing outcome.

He was a little shaky early and survived two tight lbw calls against the inswing of the left-armer Lewis Hatchett, including one off a no-ball. But Smith persevered and rotated the strike, he found the boundary when possible - which by the time the second new ball came late in the afternoon was often, including three from consecutive deliveries against Chris Liddle. It helped that on the pavilion side the dimensions were so tiny that the square-leg umpire was two-thirds of the way to the fence.

Smith and James Faulkner put on 131 for the fifth wicket, which fell shortly before stumps when Faulkner was bowled for 48 trying to slog-sweep Monty Panesar. By the close of play, Smith had been joined by Ashton Agar, yet to score in his new position of No.7, having starting his Test career at No.11. The only other entry on the scorecard that was not double-figures was that of Wade, who cut Panesar to point for a sixth-ball duck, ending any hope he had of forcing his way into the Test side as a specialist batsman.

The day started encouragingly for the Australians, whose stand-in captain Ed Cowan won the toss and chose to bat. Although there was some movement early and plenty of thick edges evaded the slips, the conditions were generally favourable. Cowan and Phillip Hughes put on 150 for the opening wicket and both men looked like centuries were there for the taking.

However, soon after the break Cowan fell on 66 when he clipped Hatchett uppishly to square leg and was caught by a diving James Taylor. It was a frustrating end for Cowan, who is in his 21st first-class match since his one and only Test century, which also happens to be the most recent time he has reached triple figures in a first-class innings. That hundred came in November, around the time Usman Khawaja also made his last first-class ton. Here, Khawaja looked good until on 40 he edged Panesar to slip.

But perhaps the batsman with the most to lose was Hughes, who until Faulkner was dismissed late in the day was leading the averages during the first-class matches on this tour. It is easy to forget the contribution Hughes made in the first Test at Trent Bridge, where his unbeaten 81 was overshadowed by Ashton Agar's 98. But at Lord's, Hughes struggled significantly and Warner's near double-century piled up the pressure on him as much as anyone.

Hughes was dropped on 22 when he edged Chris Jordan, the leader of the attack in the absence of Steve Magoffin and James Anyon, to Chris Nash at slip, and it was one of very many early edges off Hughes' bat. As his innings wore on, Hughes played some impressive back-foot drives and appeared much more at ease against Panesar, spinning the ball in, than he had in the Tests against Graeme Swann, turning it away from him.

Hughes brought up his half-century from 62 deliveries and not surprisingly outpaced Cowan comfortably. But Hughes is becoming the Hall and Oates of cricket: big in the 80s but can't crack the 90s. Since the tour of South Africa in late 2011, Hughes' highest Test scores have been 88, 87, 86 and 81 not out, and in the tour match against Worcestershire he added another 86 to his tally. Here, he edged behind on 84 when Hatchett moved a delivery away.

It was a good innings but whether it compares favourably enough with Smith's potential century and Warner's 193 remains to be seen. And with rain forecast for the second day at Hove, the selectors might not have another innings on which to base their decisions before the Old Trafford Test.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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