June 2009
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Sam Collins: Life a beach for Australia in Hove

June 23rd, 2009 by Sam Collins in The Ashes

If Australia were fazed by their premature exit from the World Twenty20, you would not have sensed it when they faced the media at Hove on Monday. Admittedly it is difficult to be fazed by anything at the County Ground when the sun is shining, with the possible exception of a Piyush Chawla leg-break, set as it is just a couple of blocks back from the sea. With the written press packed into the pavilion, casting envious glances as the broadcast boys basked outside, Punter’s boys sidled in as though they had made the short walk from the beach rather than a training session.

With each player allocated his own table for a half-hour spot, the media’s main targets were predictable: Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson and Phillip Hughes swamped from the off. Interest in some of the lesser-known players, of which there are a fair few in the Australian 16, was rather less pronounced, making for good opportunities for extended conversation.  Graham Manou, captain of South Australia, and the squad’s reserve wicketkeeper, cut a lonely figure for most of what must have been a long half hour. Yet for the ten minutes TWC snatched with him, he was an engaging interviewee clearly thrilled by his late arrival, at 30, into the Test fold, with that excitement undimmed by the threat of seeing little action on tour.

His good humour was in direct contrast to some of his colleagues. Ben Hilfenhaus, the least likely of Australia’s seamers to feature in the first Test, confessed that he hated media sessions like this because he had “nothing to say”. After five minutes with him, it was clear he wasn’t lying. His quick-bowling colleague Peter Siddle was better value, giving a colourful account of his treatment from the South African crowd over the winter. Turns out they love to bait a fast bowler, but Siddle’s big grin was that of a man who relished the confrontation – Headingley beware. Talking about colour, Andrew McDonald confessed that he too had copped a bit in South Africa, for rather more obvious reasons.

One thing that they all agreed on was that they had no idea of the balance of the Australian side for the first Test in Cardiff. With two allrounders in Shane Watson and McDonald, two batsmen who spin it in Michael Clark and Marcus North to provide alternatives to Nathan Hauritz and a five-strong pace attack with only one certainty in Mitchell Johnson, Ponting cannot complain of a lack of options. Rarely can a touring Australian side have approached the first Test with at least 15 of their squad genuinely in contention for a first-team place. Their two warm-up matches will make for interesting observation indeed.

Sam Collins is web editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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