Australia suffered a minor scare as their bowling, led by the impressive duo of spinner Ashton Agar and Andrew Tye, rescued a 57-run win against Sussex at Hove in brand new coach Justin Langer’s first game in charge.
This was Australia’s first game since the final Test against South Africa in early April. A game that was played under the cloud of “Sandpapergate” – an incident which has since seen year long bans for captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, a nine-month ban for Cameron Bancroft and the resignation of head coach Darren Lehmann.
Australia are preparing to play a five game One Day International series against England which begins on 13th June at the Oval and this was the first of two warm-up games.
Sussex captain Ben Brown won the toss and elected to bowl first, hoping to make use of the good bowling conditions and the hosts restricted Australia well to 277/9.
Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis starred for Australia, striking 78 and 110 respectively but the middle order failed to contribute, with 21 being the next highest score.
Sussex bowled with discipline and stuck to their plans, particularly in the middle-overs as spinners Danny Briggs and Luke Wells took 2-42 and 2-44 respectively. They tied down an explosive middle order containing the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head effectively, taking three of their scalps in the space of 3.5 overs for the cost of just 10 runs.
The innings was finished off well by the Caribbean duo of Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer who took four wickets between them as they recovered from the early Finch and Stoinis onslaught to finish with figures of 1-64 and 3-62 respectively.
Clearly disappointed with their total, Australia came out with a point to prove and immediately put Sussex on the back foot as Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson bowled back-to-back maidens.
Australia were then gifted the coveted wicket of Wells in comic circumstances thanks to a run-out. Wells and partner Phil Salt had successfully run a single before Wells turned to complete a second and Salt did not. This meant they both ended up at the same end in a ludicrous turn of events and Kane Richardson calmly completed the run-out.
With Sussex on the back-foot and Salt under pressure to capitalise following Wells’ dismissal, D’Arcy Short promptly dropped the 21-year-old, much to the delight of the Sussex faithful, and the Welshman then began to accelerate.
After a slow start, he rocketed to 62, crashing four sixes and seven fours, ably supported by Harry Finch who made 45 but their inability to convert their starts to centuries – a problem which has plagued them in their disappointing Royal London One Day Cup campaign – would go on to cost them a win.
When Salt and Finch were at the crease, Sussex were 92-1 at one point and well ahead of the run rate. However, Salt was bowled by a vicious Kane Richardson yorker and when Finch departed in the 24th over, caught and bowled by Agar, Australia’s true quality began to show.
Much like in the first innings it was spin and pace off the ball which did the damage. Agar took 3-64 in his 10 overs and the subtle variations of Tye conceded a miserly 28 off his eight overs and accounted for one wicket.
The experienced Laurie Evans did his best to marshal the chase after the top-order departures but he was very much a one man army.
Evans struck some lusty blows but the rest of the middle order fell around him with Michael Burgess, Brown and David Wiese contributing just 26 runs between them.
When Evans was stumped off Agar for 57 in the 38th over it pretty much signaled game over for Sussex and it took just 5.1 overs for Australia to take the remaining three wickets to bowl the hosts out for 220 and complete a 57-run victory.
Although it wasn’t the result they were hoping for, Sussex can be very proud of their performance – particularly in the bowling department – as a relatively young side which was missing top performers like Luke Wright showed that they can hang with one of the best in the world.
For Australia, it was a useful experience for them as they look to plug Warner and Smith sized gaps in their team. While their bowling still looked dangerous and penetrative even without the three big guns of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, their batting still needs some work with certain places in the side still up for grabs ahead of the first ODI against England.