Worcestershire vs. Australia: Day 3 Review
Worcestershire: 284 (Compton 79, Mitchell 65, Bird 4-48) and 64-1 require 393 to beat the Australians: 396-4 declared (Watson 109, Smith 68) and 341-5 declared (Clarke 124, Hughes 86).
A domineering century from Australian captain Michael Clarke has put Australia in a position of enormous strength against a Worcestershire side posing little threat to the Ashes visitors.
The Pears require a merely nominal 393 runs for victory on Day 4 of this warm-up match, and Clarke's men will be hopeful of taking the remaining nine wickets to wrap up what should be a comfortable victory.
Clarke Puts a Month of Demons Behind Him
Michael Clarke's first month in England couldn't have been much more difficult than the one he has had to face.
Australia struggled terribly in the Champions Trophy, exiting the tournament as probably the weakest side on display. Clarke himself was injured for the majority of the campaign and genuine questions were being asked regarding his Ashes availability.
David Warner then threw a punch at Joe Root, blowing open a Pandora's Box of debate about the "toxic" culture in Australian cricket.
This all before coach Mickey Arthur was sacked by Cricket Australia amid a significant coaching restructure and Darren Lehmann's ascension to head coach.
Thus today's expertly constructed century against Worcestershire, Clarke's first serious impression on the field since landing in England more than a month ago, will have been particularly sweet. It comes at a time when Australia are belatedly beginning to look like a smoothly functioning international cricket team.
Clarke has displayed a remarkable aptitude for scoring runs when his side most needs them since being Australian captain.
Granted these runs, in what is becoming a very low-intensity affair, won't go down as his most important or hardest runs in Australian colours, but they further demonstrate his uncanny knack for letting his cricket bat do the talking.
Australia desperately need an in-form, fully fit, Clarke in the Ashes. Today's innings will give Australian fans cause for optimism in this regard.
Hughes Confirms Test Slot
Phil Hughes' 86 today will have ended any remaining doubts surrounding his place in the Test side for the First Ashes Test next week.
Questions will remain over Hughes' technique, reliability and sturdiness as a Test cricketer, but like four years ago for the 2009 Ashes, Hughes will start the series in the team and again have a chance to prove his flashy talent can succeed in five-day cricket.
Hughes can play breathtaking cricket shots and has the power to take matches away from the opposition. Although England have in the past appeared to have the method to unpick his vulnerable technique, they will remain wary of the destructive left-hander.
Cowan's Pain Intensifies
Ed Cowan will most probably play in the first Ashes Test match, but another failure to convert a start into a significant score will have critics sharpening their knives.
Cowan was dropped early on in his innings today and failed to make the most of his good fortune. The left-hander has faced questions over his ability at Test level ever since his debut. He missed a precious chance to buy himself more breathing space in the Test team with a substantial score against weak opposition today.
Cowan's nose-to-the-grindstone method is similar to discarded England opener Nick Compton. Whether Cowan's grit, determination and fight will see him score runs against a potent England bowling attack in the Ashes is questionable.
He will count himself lucky that there's a dearth of other options for the visitors.
Final Rites Not Pleasant for Compton
Yesterday evening, Nick Compton, all but officially dropped from England's Test squad, hit out at the England selectors for the way they have handled him; an act of a frustrated and bitterly disappointed man. Whether he scored 200 in Worcestershire's second innings or zero, he wouldn't have made the squad.
Thus it must have been enormously difficult for him to gee himself up for his second innings of the match in today's evening session.
His first innings vigil was a final dash for unlikely glory, his comments yesterday an admission of defeat and the hangover was today's innings. Like a man who has to drag himself out of bed for work after a heavy night out, Compton's innings today could not have been easy.
When he fell for just 26, it would've taken a cold man not to feel his pain.
Compton hasn't done much wrong since being told he had to "go away and score some runs" by England's head coach Andy Flower. But England regularly pick players based on mentality and attitude, guts and heart.
Whilst no one is doubting Compton's determination, it's difficult to not feel that the selectors just don't feel Compton is an international cricketer who can deliver runs when the pressure is on.
Just Too Easy for Australia
This match has helped Australia further establish what their starting XI is for the Ashes, but to describe it as a "warm-up" would be generous.
Worcestershire have hardly tested the visitors, and Clarke's men may find themselves short of high-intensity cricket when they are thrown into the cauldron of a Trent Bridge Test match next week.