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  • Worcestershire v Australians, New Road, 1st day

Watson and Rogers make positive start

The Report by Daniel Brettig at New Road
July 2, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Australians 340 for 4 (Watson 109, Rogers 75, Clarke 62, Cowan 58) v Worcestershire
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Shane Watson and Chris Rogers put on 170 opening the batting together for the first time © Getty Images
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Australia's last great opening pair of Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden were unearthed only when Michael Slater was dropped for a combination of poor form and wayward behaviour. Twelve years later, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers have been thrown together as the most visible on-field consequence of David Warner's suspension and Darren Lehmann's arrival as coach. On the evidence of their opening union at New Road, this might just become another triumph out of the chaos.

Even if the modesty of Worcestershire's attack is accounted for, Watson made batting look easy during his domineering century before lunch and Rogers provided an immediately reassuring sight at the other end. Their first stand tallied 170 in all, precisely half of the Australians' 340 before rain brought an early conclusion to a chilly day. Fluency came less easily to Ed Cowan and the captain Michael Clarke, though both passed 50 before falling prey to run-outs.

Having wrought similar destruction in his first match restored to the top of the batting order against Somerset, Watson crashed the Worcs bowlers to all parts of the ground without ever looking like he was taking undue risks. Tellingly, it was Watson's first hundred at first-class level since his most recent Test century, against India at Mohali in October 2010. The confidence imbued by Lehmann's decision to publicly announce him as an Ashes opener as early as last week in Taunton has returned Watson to something like his imperious best.

Rogers played with far less extravagance, but appeared an ideal partner, rotating the strike and leaving the ball with precision. Their unbeaten stand meant that Cowan, made redundant as an opening batsman after 18 months in the job, remained padded up in the tourists' viewing area for the whole of the morning.

When he did appear following Watson's exit, Cowan found the going altogether more difficult, confirming the impression that he will struggle to impose himself on a bowling attack, a skill usually expected of a No. 3. Any hard decisions about the shape of Australia's batting line-up can be expected to be made this week. Along with Lehmann and Rod Marsh, the national selector John Inverarity is also in Worcester, ready to submit his casting vote if required.

A correct call at the toss by Clarke had given the visitors first use of a friendly, even-paced surface. This allowed Rogers and Watson to commence the opening partnership identified by Clarke and Lehmann as Australia's best means by which to blunt England's new-ball battery next week at Nottingham and beyond.

Wearing the Australia coat of arms for the first time since his one Test match in 2008, Rogers began a little nervously. He was perilously close to falling lbw to Charles Morris, making his first-class debut for Worcs, and his first few runs were snicked rather than struck. But Australia have employed Rogers for his record of making consistent runs, not the manner in which they arrive, and he was soon finding his stride, scoring at a steady trot with the occasional edge here and there.

Watson had not taken part in the Australians' second innings against Somerset, following a brazen 90 on day two that expressed his joy at returning to the top of the order more succinctly than any interview could. He continued on his merry way, gliding the first ball of the match to the backward point boundary and thereafter playing his shots with complete conviction, bordering on disdain.

Several of Watson's drives scorched through fields that did not have time to move, while the left-armer Jack Shantry had one delivery deposited beyond the sight screen with rare crispness - his preference for around the wicket provided Watson with an amiable angle by which to flick through the leg side. It was with one such stroke that Watson reached three figures, drawing strong applause from a plentiful crowd and warm congratulations from his new batting partner.

The afternoon did not quite find Watson in the same flowing form of the morning, and he added only another seven runs to his lunch tally before swinging an offbreak by Moeen Ali to deep-backward square leg. Rogers reached 50 and continued on with increasing certainty, making it a surprise when he popped an off-side catch from a leading edge off Shantry.

Cowan clattered one six off Moeen but was otherwise circumspect, while Clarke negotiated his first ball with a thick inside edge and had trouble locating the middle of his bat for some time. Together they negotiated 38 balls without a run during the hour before tea. The sequence was broken by a fortunate Clarke boundary, edged wide of the slip cordon, but both batsmen would fall short of the substantial scores they desired.

Clarke was short of his ground when the stumps were hit from square leg by Alexei Kervezee. It appeared Cowan's call, and Clarke looked notably miffed to depart in such a manner. Cowan followed his captain to the pavilion a little more than five overs later, stumbling in mid-pitch to turn a tight-ish run into an ignominious exit.

Steve Smith and Phillip Hughes did not have much time to get established before the showers arrived, but they were batting in such a comfortable scenario because Watson and Rogers had excelled in the morning. England will be taking note.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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