Having narrowly lost the one-day series, Australia now embarked on two First Class matches as preparation for the First Test at Headingley. Their three FC matches so far had produced mixed results with a defeat to Worcestershire, a draw at Somerset and finally a win against Middlesex.
The test series was to start in ten day’s time and before that there were two more First-Class matches to encounter. The first stop was at Edgbaston where they took on Warwickshire. This was the side before Woolmer and Reeve arrived, but they were captained by Andy Lloyd and included Andy Moles, Asif Din, Jason Ratcliffe, Geoff Humpage and Tim Munton. Australia reverted to their more familiar FC side as Taylor, Hohns, Hughes and Campbell returned along with Zoehrer. Border won the toss and elected to bat first. Boon and Taylor opened and faced Warwickshire’s two West Indian-born opening bowlers, Tony Merrick and Joey Benjamin. Antiguan-born Merrick opened up and trapped Boon lbw with the first ball of the match. Mark Taylor was joined by Dean Jones and the two soon found their form, adding 95 for the second wicket. That was as good as it got for the home side as Jones and Moody put on 349 for the third wicket. Jones was eventually out caught off the part-time bowling of Asif Din for 248 which came off 284 balls with 19 fours and an incredible 12 sixes. Moody was not out on 144, having hit 13 fours and 2 sixes off 196 balls. It was Jones first outing in a First-Class match on the tour and it was just the sort of performance the tourists were looking for in preparation for the test series and Border declared in time for his bowlers to have a good go at the home batting.
There was just time to get through 13 overs before the close of play and more than enough time to nick a couple of wickets as both openers fell to Merv Hughes with just 23 on the board. Next morning Campbell got Pierson early but then Andy Lloyd and Asif Din put on 64 before the Warwicks skipper was out to Lawson for 22. Asif Din reached his 50 before Trevor Hohns bowled him and then Humpage top scored with 58. Warwickshire were eventually all out for 235, still 211 behind. Hohns had been the most successful of the bowlers with 4-87 with Campbell taking 3-41.
Border elected to bat again and sent in Zoehrer to open with Taylor. With Healy’s injury he may be called upon to keep in the First Test and had only batted in three innings on the tour. He hardly pressed his claim as Benjamin had him lbw in the second over without scoring. Taylor and Border then took the tourists to 112-1 at the close, a lead of 323. Taylor was then out for 67 to Tim Munton with Border soon following for 69. Hohns, Hughes and Campbell all got a bat as Border then declared on 195-4. Hughes had hit some lusty blows with 2 fours and 2 sixes off 29 balls. This left the home side needing an unlikely 405 to win. There were only 37 overs possible to be bowled before the end of the game and Australia picked up three wickets as the match was drawn. Campbell, Lawson and Hohns took one each, but the match will always be remembered for Jones heroics on the first day.
The Australians final match before the First Test was a Derby where they were up against the pace attack of Ian Bishop, Devon Malcolm and Ole Mortensen. Derbyshire were captained by Kim Barnett and also included John Morris. Was this to be the line-up for the First Test? Well, Healy had recovered from injury and replaced Zoehrer with Steve Waugh coming in for Jones. It seemed difficult to imagine Jones would miss the test after his double century at Edgbaston but Waugh hadn’t play a First-Class game since their trip to Worcester. Campbell and Alderman came in for Hughes and Lawson.
Barnett won the toss and put the tourists in to bat and soon had Taylor removed by Malcolm for 5. Boon and Marsh put on 56 but then they stuttered slightly. Boon and Marsh fell victim to Simon Base and when Waugh and Moody fell within a run of each other Australia were 93-5. Base had picked up his third wicket with Moody and then made if four when he bowled Border for 17. Malcolm bowled Hohns for 11 and at 137-7 this was far from satisfactory. Healy and Campbell gave them some hope but they were eventually all out for 200. Mortensen picked up the last three wickets to join Base with four in the innings. Derbyshire weren’t going too well in the County Championship but they’d bowled superbly here to skittle them out inside 52 overs.
The tourists made a good start when Alderman had Bowler lbw for 4, but then Barnett and Maher set about reducing the arrears. Barnett was very fluent but he succumbed to Campbell for 76, out of a score of 106, having hit 12 fours off 85 balls. Maher soon followed for 17 having faced four more balls than Barnett and there was enough time for Morris to be caught behind by Rackemann. Derby were 153-4 at the close of play needing another couple of good innings to build a decent lead. Goldsmith and Roberts then took the score to within twenty of their opponents but then Goldsmith nicked Campbell behind before Roberts was run out. Alderman then got Bishop and Mortensen and Derby had lost 4-17 and were still behind. The tail managed to wag enough to give the home side a lead as they were finally out for 228. Alderman had been the best bowler on show with 3-38, giving him 16 wks in the three FC games he’d played on the tour.
For their second innings they got off to a better start but then Marsh and Boon fell quickly with 47 on the board. Base then took the wickets of Taylor and Waugh and when Border fell to Mortensen they were reduced to 78-5, with all five wickets falling for just 36 runs. Healy again was one of the more productive as he and Moody put on 70 but then Bishop took two quick wickets. They were eventually all out for 180, another disappointing performance when they really should’ve been filling their boots. Malcolm took 4-68 with Bishop 3-32 and with Healy’s 39 being the top score in either innings for the tourists, things were taking a worrying turn.
Derbyshire only needed 153 to win but the Aussies were determined not to lose. Barnett was again in good form scoring 23 out of 31 before Campbell bowled him. Maher lasted just five balls before Alderman had him caught by Taylor. Derby were 64-5 at the end of the second day as Alderman and Campbell shared the wickets. The two teams turned up the following morning with Derby only needing 89 runs but the Aussies only needed five wickets. Morris and Sharma appeared quite comfortable taking the score to 90 before Morris gave Campbell his third wicket of the innings. When Bishop helped Sharma take the score to 122 they only needed 31 to win, but Alderman grabbed his fourth wicket when he bowled Bishop. Rackemann then came back on to whittle the final three wickets out and Australia had won by 11 runs.
After two really poor batting performances, which had followed the excellent one against Warwickshire, they had produced a brilliant bowling performance to restore confidence. Now the main part of the tour would start in earnest.
Selection for First Test
Now to the selection for the First Test starting at Headingley on 8th June. Of the batsmen, only Marsh, Jones and Moody has scored centuries in three-day matches, with Marsh and Boon hitting 3 one-day tons, with Jones also passing three figures in the shorter format. Taylor had first come in during the West Indies series in January to split up the Marsh/Boon partnership. Taylor had been poor in the one-day matches but three half-centuries in the longer form would probably see him keep his place. The main decision was probably whether Moody offered more than Waugh, but Moody was uncapped at that stage and so Waugh experience would probably get him the nod. Healy was considered a better gloveman than Zoehrer and so was expected to keep wicket and so the selectors needed to consider the make-up of their attack. Alderman had taken 20 wkts so far in just three matches and with Lawson and Rackemann also taking 13 each they were making their case for inclusion. But Hughes had been a favourite of Border’s and was likely to keep his place. Whether to use four fast bowlers or a spinner would be the main choice. Neither May or Hohns had ripped up any trees so far, and Border could always offer an option himself having taken seven West Indian wickets at Sydney the previous December.
Read the previous episodes in this series