• Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 1st day

Clarke in the runs again for solid Australia

The Report by Brydon Coverdale
December 14, 2012 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
Australia 299 for 4 (Hughes 86, Clarke 70*, Warner 57, Welegedara 3-99) v Sri Lanka
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Phillip Hughes enjoyed his return to Test cricket © Getty Images
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Australian spectators have been spoiled over the past few weeks. In Adelaide, Australia piled on 482 runs on the first day against South Africa, and at the WACA the following week 12 wickets fell on the opening day. But the start of the series against Sri Lanka took a much more meandering course, as first Phillip Hughes and David Warner, then Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey steered the Australians through the day safely to reach stumps at 299 for 4. It was a good day for the Australians, but by the standards set in the South African series, a somewhat muted one.

Apart from the occasional arresting moment - Mahela Jayawardene's leaping catch to dismiss Shane Watson, for example - nearly everything about the day was subdued. The pitch didn't offer the bowlers a lot of assistance, although the Sri Lankans didn't have the pace and bounce to make best use of what was there; the batsmen accumulated rather than obliterated; and even the crowd of 6,221 was lacklustre, given that there was a special lunchtime farewell for Tasmania's finest, Ricky Ponting.

But that's Test cricket. Nearly 300 in a day was a fine outcome for Australia, and Sri Lanka need to find some sort of spark to ensure they are not gradually chiselled out of the match. Quick wickets on the second day would do it, but by the end of the first, Clarke and Hussey were rarely looking troubled. At stumps, Clarke was on 70, continuing his outstanding summer, and Hussey was on 37, and the only hint of discomfort was Clarke's hobbling after being struck a painful blow on the thigh by a delivery from Shaminda Eranga.

The Clarke-Hussey partnership reached triple figures in the final over of the day and as they have so often, the two men were constructing a middle-order fortress. At least this time, they had a solid base to work from, having come together at 198 for 4. Their partnership began when Hughes missed the chance to mark his return to Test cricket with a century. On 86, he was bowled when Chanaka Welegedara rolled the fingers on an offcutter and tickled the ball off the inside edge of the bat and on to the stumps.

It was an opportunity missed for Hughes, but his comeback was still very encouraging, and not since Shaun Marsh scored a hundred on debut had an Australian No. 3 made as many in an innings. Hughes had been powerful through the off side, with his trademark cuts and also some crisp cover-drives, but he was also able to pick up singles through the leg-side using his off-stump stance.

He cleared the boundary once, when he came down the pitch to Rangana Herath and smashed him over long-on, and his half-century came up from his 121st delivery with a square-drive for three. He was lucky to survive on 77 when he slashed at Welegedara, the only bowler to take a wicket on the first day, and was caught behind off a no-ball. The reprieve wasn't too costly for the Sri Lankans, but it typified a disappointing day for them.

Hughes and David Warner had both played well in the first session until a mix-up in the last over before lunch ended Warner's hopes of a second Hobart hundred after his innings against New Zealand last year. Warner pushed Tillakaratne Dilshan to short cover and took off before stopping, only to see Hughes run through and complete the run while Angelo Mathews threw to the bowler's end.

It ended Warner's innings for 57 from 89 deliveries. He had struck eight boundaries and was especially strong through the off side, driving through cover when the seamers overpitched. Warner and Hughes had come together after Ed Cowan, on 4, skied a catch to mid-on when he tried to pull Welegedara. That left Australia at 18 for 1, hardly the start Clarke hoped for when he chose to bat on a pitch with some green patches.

The Sri Lankan seamers found the occasional edge, including one in the first over when Cowan was nearly taken low to the ground at slip off Nuwan Kulasekara, and a couple of others that whizzed past the stumps. But it wasn't until later in the day when Shane Watson, in his first innings at No. 4, drove at Welegedara that an edge produced a result for Sri Lanka.

Watson was done by the angle across him and his thick edge flew to the vacant third slip region, but from second slip Jayawardene hurled himself to his right and plucked a one-handed take that must have been close to the finest of his 190 Test catches. It was the kind of spark that Sri Lanka required. They finished the day needing something special to lift them again.

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

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