Smith and O'Keefe stall England
England’s second string bowling attack encountered stubborn lower-order resistance from Australia A on the opening day of the last tour match before the Ashes.
This four-day encounter in Hobart provided Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad, Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar with a chance to press their case for Ashes inclusion with the first-choice attack heading to Brisbane today to prepare for the first Test.
The seamers did so in splendid fashion during a stunning morning session, reducing Australia A to 66 for five in admittedly favourable conditions, but any notion they had of spending the afternoon with their feet up in the dressing room was banished by a doughty rearguard that saw the hosts eventually bowled out 230.
England lost captain Andrew Strauss in reaching 22 for one by the close, a late hiccup on a day which represented a sterner examination of their resolve than any of the previous six on this tour.
Tremlett nevertheless finished with 4-54, Shahzad 3-57 and Bresnan 2-65, while Panesar bowled tidily but fruitlessly during a 20-over spell interrupted only by tea.
If Tim Paine set the Australia A recovery in motion by making 27 and Steven Smith supplied further impetus with a fine 59, the most entertaining strokeplay came from the bat of Steven O’Keefe, who was last man out for 66.
They were the key figures in stands of 52 for the sixth wicket, 59 for the seventh and 45 for the ninth, which helped Australia A to a respectable total that looked beyond them after England’s blistering new-ball burst.
A green pitch and overhead cloud cover provided considerable assistance to England’s quicker bowlers early on, but they struggled to make the same impact once the shine had gone off the ball.
While they demonstrated commendable perseverance in the face of some unorthodox - and occasionally fortuitous - strokeplay from the two Steves, a couple of dropped catches and a less than faultless fielding display provide grounds for improvement.
Strauss’ decision to bowl first had reaped almost immediate dividends, Tremlett atoning for a wayward opening over by removing Phil Hughes in his next. Drawn into pushing at a delivery that was angled across him, the left-hander edged to Strauss at first slip.
Shahzad, whose adherence to a fuller length and ability to move the ball off the seam appreciably marked him out as England’s most threatening bowler, gained reward in the form of Usman Khawaja’s wicket - courtesy of a leg-cutter and outside edge to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Callum Ferguson was caught behind eight balls later, squared up by one from Bresnan that left him off the seam, although the same bowler was fortunate to see left-handed opener Ed Cowan, who made a gritty 31, pull a long hop to midwicket, where Panesar took a wonderful one-handed catch leaping to his right.
Tremlett returned to bowl a leaden-footed Cameron White through the gate, but Smith combined forthright defence with the occasional front-footed pull - most memorably swatting Bresnan over long-leg for six - in stalling England’s charge alongside Paine.
They had batted for almost 22 overs when Paine, the wicketkeeper, gloved a pull off Tremlett down the leg side, and Smith went to a 106-ball fifty before he was bowled by Shahzad via inside edge.
Clint McKay was taken at short-leg off Tremlett two deliveries after a bat-pad appeal had been turned down, but O’Keefe frustrated England either side of seeing Ian Bell drop a simple chance at mid-off. Paul Collingwood spilled a diving chance at third slip to reprieve Cowan early in the day.
O’Keefe, whose first-class average of 52 belies his position at number eight in the order, generally favoured the off side until he hooked Bresnan out of the ground
Mark Cameron, who survived 43 balls for his nine, edged a drive at Collingwood’s medium pace, and the arrival of Peter George at the crease prompted O’Keefe to top edge a cross-batted swipe at Tremlett to Prior. He had batted for more than two hours and faced 116 balls.
Strauss’ dismissal for 10 - slicing a drive off Cameron to gully, where O’Keefe held the catch at the second attempt - served as a further fillip to an Australia A side that demonstrated many of the fabled qualities of their senior colleagues.