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Runs come easy at Chelmsford

Investec Test Series
Matthew Hayden

Opening batsman Matthew Hayden went on the offensive at Chelmsford © Getty Images

Australia took full advantage of a docile wicket and fast outfield at Chelmsford, batting throughout the day to score 561 for six in the drawn two-day match with Essex.

Five batsmen reached half-centuries, with Matthew Hayden and Brad Hodge progressing into sizeable hundreds as the tourists spent valuable time in the middle to enjoy maximum batting opportunities ahead of next week's Ashes Test showdown.

Hayden has struggled this summer in the Ashes series, having accumulated only 180 runs in eight innings with a top score of 36, but he bounced back to form with an outstanding 150 before retiring “out” at lunch.

Another telling contribution came from Hodge, who has yet to make the starting line-up against England this summer, and he gave the selectors food for thought by scoring 166 to press his claims to be included on Thursday.

Justin Langer

Jutsin Langer combined well with Hayden at the top of the order © Getty Images

With Essex having declared on their overnight 502 for four, Hayden and fellow left-hander Justin Langer began the day in imposing fashion against an attack for whom only Andre Nel offered any threat.

The South African Test quickie showed admirable line and length control against an opening pair who had gathered 17 runs from Tony Palladino's first over.

Nel occasionally switched to bowling round the wicket to vary his line to focus the batsmen's’ thoughts but failed to find the breakthrough as the runs flowed from the opposite end.

When he was withdrawn from the attack after an opening five-over stint that had yielded just 12, runs became plentiful from both ends as none of his colleagues could match his economy.

Playing fluently, the opening pair executed a series of delightful drives on both sides of the wicket together with robust pulls to stamp their authority on the game.

Matthew Hayden

Hayden recaptured his best form © Getty Images

Having reached his half-century from 55 balls, Hayden needed just another 45 deliveries to move into three figures having struck 18 boundaries that included two sixes.

Langer also showed aggressive tendencies as he joined Hayden in an opening stand worth 213 in 33 overs, but with his century beckoning he was caught for 87 when pushing forward to off-spinner James Middlebrook and was picked up by Alastair Cook at second slip.

Hayden continued in fine form and by now was playing in carefree fashion that saw him dropped on two occasions, firstly on 125 and then again on 134, both times on the boundary edge although he survived to reach lunch with his wicket intact.

He had scored 150 in the two-and-a-half-hour morning session, having faced 118 balls from which he struck seven sixes and 18 other boundaries before opting to retire at the interval with the total on 244.

His withdrawal failed to offer the Essex bowlers any respite at Simon Katich and Hodge took over the mantle of domination to offer a commanding presence at the crease.

Brad Hodge

Brad Hodge pressed his claims for a place in the Test side © Getty Images

They had added 134 runs in 26 overs for the third wicket, with Katich on 72 when he flirted with a wide delivery outside off stump to offer replacement wicket-keeper Mark Pettini a catch off the bowling of Graham Napier.

That allowed Adam Gilchrist the chance to rediscover some form but he was the only batsman to spurn the opportunity, facing 10 balls from which he struck two boundaries before a reckless pull saw him top-edge the ball to midwicket that gave Middlebrook a second victim.

Hodge remained commendably selective, mixing the robust with carefully crafted strokes and with effortless timing to reach his century from 119 balls that included 18 boundaries, which included a six.

He survived a straightforward caught and bowled chance to Napier when he had scored 74 but the bowler's error allowed Hodge to prosper to give the fielders further punishment.

The dropped chance was the only brief encouragement for a wilting Essex attack as Brad Haddin joined Hodge in a brisk and breezy fifth-wicket stand worth 161 in 25 overs as the tourists passed the Essex score.

Having reached 150, Hodge moved into overdrive by blasting off-spinner Tim Phillips for successive sixes but he perished when attempting a third by picking out James Foster at long off.

Haddin followed in the same over when smartly stumped for 59 by Pettini.

Proceedings drew to a close when both Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie found the boundary ropes.

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