Hughes struggles continue
Phil Hughes suffered another failure as Australia reached 231-3 on a rain-affected opening day against Northants.
Last Updated: 25/07/09 7:58pm
Australia 231-3 (S R Watson 84, M E K Hussey 75 no) v Northamptonshire
Out-of-form opener Phil Hughes suffered another failure as Australia reached 231-3 on a rain-affected opening day against Northamptonshire.
One potential replacement for Hughes at the top of Australia's order for the third Ashes Test, Shane Watson, staked his claim with an aggressive innings of 84.
Intermittent showers took 30 overs out of the day's play but Watson, making his first appearance since June's World Twenty20 due to a thigh injury, seized his chance to muddy the tourists' selection plans for Edgbaston (Jul 30-Aug 3).
Given his chance at number three after Hughes had gone cheaply to David Wigley, he did not necessarily need the defensive technique of a prospective Test opener against a largely second-string Northamptonshire seam attack.
But it still seems more likely, if Watson gets the call at all for Birmingham, it will be as an extra batsman lower down the order - and he duly displayed the handsome range of shot for which he is already known.
His 15 fours and a six contained a clutch of punishing pulls and helped him dominate a 99-run third-wicket partnership with stand-in captain Mike Hussey (75no).
By the time he edged behind, attempting to dab runs from an arm ball to give slow left-armer Graeme White his only first-class wicket of the summer, Watson's stock had certainly risen.
The regret for Australia is that the same could not be said of Hughes, the obvious concern being not only his dismissal for just 10 but the manner of it as he again showed vulnerability to bounce outside off-stump.
After Hussey had chosen to bat first on an initially bright morning, Hughes was under way with a cover-drive for four off Wigley from the first ball of the match - and was soon crashing another off-side boundary against David Lucas at the pavilion end.
But he was still only just into double figures when Wigley made his 27th delivery his last, surprising the left-hander from short of a length and round the wicket - with Hughes able only to loop a catch to gully off the splice.
Watson had a little extra pressure to deal with after left-armer David Willey got one to leave Simon Katich and take the edge for a routine caught behind.
Hussey then just missed an immediate action replay, facing his first ball. But with forecast rain eventually bringing an early lunch, Watson had already twice cashed in with crashing pulls for four when debutant seamer Jack Brooks dropped short.
The remainder of the day was stop-start, but Watson was not put off on his way to and beyond a half-century brought up with a resounding off-drive for four off Wigley.
His only misdemeanour came with a ridiculous call for a single which would have seen Hussey run out on 12 out of 107 for two, had Brooks' throw from his follow-through trickled into rather than past the stumps.
Watson appeared to have been waiting for Lucas' second spell when he dispatched the left-arm seamer for 18 runs in boundaries from one over.
But his fun stopped with the introduction of White, making his first appearance at this level since last summer's tour match here against New Zealand. Marcus North, realistically more likely than Hughes to need runs to keep Watson out of the Test reckoning after his double failure from number six at Lord's, was Hussey's new partner.
The latter, so prolific in his three years at Northants at the start of the century, reminded the hosts of his class with 10 fours in an 85-ball 50 - and North proved himself no slouch either as 84 unbroken runs were added.