• Worcestershire v Australians, New Road, 2nd day

Bird makes his case after Compton's fight

Daniel Brettig at New Road
July 3, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Worcestershire 246 for 7 (Compton 79, Mitchell 65, Bird 4-38) trail Australians 396 for 4 dec (Watson 109, Rogers 75, Smith 68*, Clarke 62, Cowan 58) by 150 runs
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Jackson Bird's late burst put the Australians on course for a strong lead © Getty Images
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New Road is the sort of ground where instead of posting the sold out sign, the club sends a kindly request over the Tannoy for spectators on benches to bunch up a little closer. Shrugging off the unfamiliar crest on his helmet to compile 79 for Worcestershire against the Australians, Nick Compton did his best to ensure England's bench for Trent Bridge is similarly crowded. Either side of that innings, Steve Smith and Jackson Bird likewise swelled the tourists' options with bursts of runs and wickets.

Each of the Worcestershire-for-a-week Compton, Bird and Smith were in need of something eye-catching to force their way into the first Test plans of their respective teams, and all would provide something to recommend them for inclusion. Ryan Harris was less successful in his quest for the stuff that would vault him into the Test XI, dropping short of the length most likely to reap wickets.

Bird had found the going equally barren in his early spells, but after tea struck four times in as many overs to illustrate why he may yet be a pivotal Ashes contributor. Moving the ball a tad either way while maintaining a relentless line has worked on plenty of occasions for Bird, and there was a pleasing look for the tour selectors Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann in a scorecard that showed two men pouched at slip, one lbw and another taken behind, albeit down the legside.

These wickets removed some shine from Compton's earlier work. He had taken the Australians for 81 with Somerset last week and, parachuted in to Worcestershire's midst by the ECB, he acknowledged his half-century with a somewhat sheepish wave of the bat towards the home dressing room. Nonetheless he remained determined and focused until the moment of his exit, thus keeping his name in front of England's selectors much as Smith had done for Australia's panel in the morning.

Smith dominated an unbroken stand of 74 with Phillip Hughes, ostensibly ahead of his fellow New South Welshman in the queue for Trent Bridge batting spots but less certain here than he had appeared at Taunton last week. Whether that was out of respect for his former teammates at Worcestershire cannot be certain, but it was clear the hosts had a fair idea of how to keep Hughes corralled.

By contrast Smith gathered momentum with every over, and looked bound for an attractive century by the time the captain Michael Clarke called him in. In 2010-11, Smith was called up alongside Hughes for the third Test of the series in Perth, and both would look out of their depth in the three matches that followed.

Back then Smith appeared confused about his role, juggling a personal preference for batting with expectation that his embryonic leg breaks would develop fast enough to merit a place on their own. But two years on he is most definitely a swashbuckling middle order batsman, and would be capable of occupying the No. 5 or 6 spots, where his comfort against spin may come in handy.

The closure offered Harris and Bird the chance to get the better of Compton, but neither would manage to do so before the interval. Harris moved the ball a touch and swung one tempter past Compton as he reached out to drive, while Bird was typically straight and narrow, maintaining a line just outside off stump that did not encourage free scoring.

Clarke tried Ashton Agar and James Faulkner before the end of the session, meaning of three preparatory innings so far only the first against Somerset - Marcus Trescothick hooking to fine leg from the bowling of James Pattinson - reaped a new ball wicket for the opening bowlers in their initial spells.

Bird and Harris both improved upon resumption, and Compton was fortunate when the sound of an inside edge strangled Bird's appeal for lbw not long into the afternoon. He lost Matthew Pardoe for 16, slicing Faulkner to gully, and Moeen Ali could manage only 10 before some turn from Agar drew a low edge and a catch by Clarke that was confirmed after the umpires consulted.

Shane Watson delivered a brief, cobweb-shedding spell, but posed few problems as Compton pushed gravely past tea. He looked good for a century in the evening, but Bird defeated him with a ball of decent line and subtle movement. Alexei Kervezee was pinned in front of the stumps five balls later, then Tom Fell edged to slip and Daryl Mitchell's busy innings was ended by a glance too fine to evade a diving Brad Haddin. It had been a precision spell to undo the hosts, causing New Road's benches to clear where once they had been packed.

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

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