- Somerset v Australians, Taunton, 1st day
Australian bowlers hit back after Jones century
For five hours of a sun-kissed day at Taunton, Michael Clarke's Australians looked less like a team enjoying the first playing day of an Ashes tour than a collective still dazed by the dramatic shunting of their coach only three days before. Chris Jones, generally deemed surplus to Somerset in a first-class career that had reaped him a sickly average of 17.31, did not have too much trouble compiling 130, and the sometime England opener Nick Compton still less while striking a composed 81.
The danger posed by Australia's bowlers, noted so enthusiastically by Mickey Arthur a few days before his violent exit, was exceedingly well hidden. But as the shadows grew longer at the County Ground that all changed. James Faulkner, a gradual improver across the day, coaxed a sliced drive from Jones, then Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson made the second new ball swing and prance so effectively that Somerset lost a startling six wickets without addition in the space of 28 balls, part of a crash dive from 304 for 2 to 320 all out.
That passage placed the day, and the bowlers, in a fresh context. Compton's runs at the top of the order gained significantly in currency, particularly as a batsman's pitch offered a little more to Starc, Pattinson and Peter Siddle in the morning. His defiance was rewarded with the news that the ECB has arranged for him to play for Worcestershire in their tour match against Australia in a further audition for his Ashes spot. And Jones' display offered the promise that the first-class university degree he was awarded on the day will have to compete with first-class cricket as his pathway in life.
But the swiftness with which Starc and Pattinson disposed of Somerset's batting rump and tail provided the best on-field news the Australians have had so far on tour. Pattinson's speed and movement was pronounced enough to pierce the defence of a well set James Hildreth, before Starc's inswing was utterly confounding for new batsmen. Five ducks gave Somerset's scorecard the ring of those compiled by England at home against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis 21 years ago.
"It's exciting. We hope to do it earlier on in the innings but when it comes it comes so that's the way they are, those types of bowlers can influence the game quite quickly," the new coach Darren Lehmann said of Starc and Pattinson. "We've got to get that happening more consistently and get it happening earlier in the innings."
Lyon also offered encouraging tidings, though Siddle's lack of control and consistency was of greater concern. The captain Michael Clarke even resorted to a speculative over from Usman Khawaja while Watson was held in reserve. His elevation to partner Ed Cowan in this match was a significant development in Australia's series planning, granting him a position he has coveted ever since being demoted to Nos. 3 and 4 by the opening combination of David Warner and Cowan.
Warner's suspension offered Clarke and Lehmann a chance to try something different, and the coach later confirmed Watson will now reclaim the place in which he has made each of his two increasingly distant Test centuries. Watson last opened in a Test in South Africa in 2011 but recently did so for Australia's three-day tour match in Chennai immediately before the India series. He clattered 84 and 60 before contributing nothing of value with the bat during a series in which he was suspended for failing to follow the instructions of the now-sacked coach, Mickey Arthur.
Watson strode to field at first slip after Marcus Trescothick had won the toss on a morning when the sun peeked through clouds over the County Ground. Pattinson's first spell mixed the unplayable with the mediocre, as he swung the ball at considerable pace and turned Compton front on several times with deliveries angling in then curling away. It was Trescothick who fell, however, hooking at a well-directed Pattinson bouncer and sending a swirling top edge to fine leg, where Starc claimed a fine catch lunging forward as the ball died.
Compton grew in poise, tucking boundaries away to square leg and also driving with certainty. Lyon demonstrated a more vigorous body action when introduced in the final half-hour before lunch, and twice had vociferous lbw appeals denied by the umpire David Millns. The first, against Jones, appeared tight but the second, to Compton when not offering a shot, drew exasperated and exaggerated reactions from the tourists - it is perhaps a little early in a long campaign to be revealing such frustrations.
The afternoon session progressed more or less as the last hour before lunch had done, Compton punching out his runs with surety and Jones scratching around in the kind of manner long-known to infuriate Australian touring teams if wickets cannot be procured. Starc was economical but lacking bite in his first long-form fixture since the India Tests and Siddle and Faulkner remained expensive, leaving Pattinson and Lyon to do most of the heavy lifting.
Lyon gained some spin and bounce, and it was a ball that did not turn so much that accounted for Compton, who played from the crease and edged the half chance that Clarke would dive to his left and ultimately grasp at the third attempt, sprawling behind Brad Haddin. Hildreth was soon into stride, and his repeated cracking of Lyon through the off side had the score mounting rapidly.
But Faulkner's defeat of Jones opened up an end, and Pattinson charged through in Starc's company. Watson and Cowan played out a vestigial final over, after their bowlers had offered hope of getting them in to bat far sooner than occurred during the last Ashes series.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here