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All aboard! Next stop - the Ashes

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

We pretend we don't like them much but there is no denying that Australia are the hottest ticket in town.

They might have performed disastrously in the World Twenty20 and lost a batch of marquee players, but it did not stop thousands of curious spectators from filing through the turnstiles at Hove on Wednesday for the tour match with Sussex.

Almost 6,000 camped around the parched outfield to see if Australia had benefited from two weeks in Leicester and another 15,000 are expected to watch the remaining three days.

It was standing-room only in a packed press box forcing the overflow facility to be opened - a double decker bus at the foot of the ground.

Sitting on the top deck allowed an excellent view of the first day's play and shelter from the scorching sun. The breeze was welcome too. Unfortunately the day's action took a while to get out of third gear.

Australia batted first and spectators might have expected the tourists, pride wounded, to come out blazing in a 'we'll show you' statement.

The much-talked about Phillip Hughes looked set to show what the hullabaloo was all about with three boundaries in the first over bowled by James Kirtley.

But, like the thousands of warm pints in the stands, it suddenly all got rather stale and the expected run-feast melted in the summer sun.

Hughes was bowled, Ricky Ponting came and went, left-handers Simon Katich and Mike Hussey scratched around and Marcus North, a centurion on Test debut, made just one as Australia slipped to 114 for five just after lunch.

I will whisper it quietly but I wanted to see Ponting get a few runs. Not too many, mind, but a nice little 40 or so. Not enough for him to feel as if he could take apart Anderson and co next month, but enough to see him unfurl a few trademark drives and pulls.

It needed Michael Clarke, the understudy to Ponting's lead role, to undertake a repair job with Brad Haddin and order was soon restored.


Almost 6,000 fans crammed into Hove on Wednesday to get a glimpse of the Australians ahead of the Ashes

Haddin must be getting bored with being compared to Adam Gilchrist but the wicketkeeper showed he can bat a bit by cracking Ollie Rayner for a huge six that sailed over the Arthur Gilligan stand.

Sky Sports News presenter Tim Abraham had to take cover as he prepared another live update.

Being a true Australian Haddin took a liking to Beer (the legspinner William, not the drink) and planted two sixes into the pavilion as the partnership went past the 100-run mark.

Both Haddin and Clarke went in quick succession to Rayner leaving Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee to mount another recovery.

While question marks lie over one’s fitness and the other’s ability as a spinner, both showed they are useful with a bat in their hand too as they racked up a 100-run partnership as Australia closed on 349 for seven.

My day on the bus concluded when my opposite number for Cricket Australia popped in to ask if he could borrow a cable as Troy Cooley - remember that name? - had asked him to download some material he filmed at training. Happy to help...

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