Aussie batsmen make hay at Hove
Half-centuries from Ricky Ponting, Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke - coupled with forties by Simon Katich and Michael Hussey - ensured Australia’s batsmen shared useful preparation for the Ashes.
The tourists took their time to reach 379 for seven declared at Hove, setting Sussex an unlikely 418 to win on the final day of the 33rd meeting between the sides.
Despite short boundaries and a parched, rapid outfield, the tourists were prepared to idle along at under four an over for much of the day against a county attack shorn of its three principle seamers - Yasir Arafat, Dwayne Smith and Jason Lewry - all of whom were rested for this game.
Resuming on their overnight score of 18 without loss, Katich and Hughes - Australia’s probable opening partnership for the Ashes - set out their stall to bat all morning and would have done so but for one rash shot by Katich.
They had put on 93 for the first wicket when all-rounder Robin Martin- Jenkins hit the pitch hard just short of a length, forcing Katich, who made 40, into a late pull that skied to mid-on.
Hughes and skipper Ponting added 63 in 16 overs either side of lunch, Hughes reaching an 85-ball fifty containing eight fours.
The 20-year-old had made 73 when Michael Yardy spilled a sharp slip chance from an edged cut off off-spinner Ollie Rayner, but five runs later Hughes flayed across the line to lose his middle stump to Pepler Sandri for the second time in the match.
Ponting also enjoyed a life on 36 on his way to a 59-ball half-century when Rayner spilled a tough, one-handed catch at second slip off Sandri.
Ponting’s 76-ball 71, including 10 fours and a six, ended when he aimed over long-on against James Kirtley, only to find Luke Wright at mid-off courtesy of a leading edge.
The tourists added 11 runs in nine painstaking overs thereafter as Marcus North took 26 minutes to get off the mark.
He finally scored his first boundary after 45 balls but his dreary, 50-ball innings ended on the stroke of tea for 11 when a missed sweep saw him go leg before to Rayner.
Left-hander Hussey missed out on his fifty when, after batting over two hours for 40, he allowed leg-spinner Will Beer to turn one through the gate and peg back leg stump.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin tried to up the tempo with a lusty six off Rayner, but a miscued sweep picked out Rory Hamilton-Brown, diving forward at midwicket.
There was enough time left for Clarke to post the third fifty of the innings from 89 balls, as the right-hander teamed up with Brett Lee to add 100 in 19 overs in the brightest partnership of the day.
Lee was bowled by Beer for 33 with 11 balls remaining, prompting Ponting’s declaration.