Nathan Lyon was one of few shining lights for Australia on the lacklustre first day of the two-day game against England Lions that has showcased another African-raised batsman on the verge of an England call-up.
Lyon claimed three wickets and had three catches dropped during two searching spells as the Lions made the most of their abridged innings.
“I’m feeling pretty good and I am confident in my own skill set to get the job done,” Lyon said.
“I was happy with my performance in Durham but it was important to back it up here.”
Zimbabwe-born Gary Ballance, a stocky hard-hitting left-hander now playing for Yorkshire, reinforced England’s high hopes with a sturdy century that was one of few highlights after rain cost the first three hours of play.
The England second XI finished with 7-279 and can bat on for another six overs tonight.
The top six batsmen were all left-handers and offered the Australian bowlers little parallels to the likely Test line-up next week.
Lyon’s 3-80 from 25 overs on the helpful Wantage Road surface provided solid preparation for the fifth Test but provided few other answers should Australia be contemplating other bowling changes.
Lyon and Ashton Agar were due to have an extended work-out in the match given that only two pacemen were selected.
But if Agar was auditioning to play at The Oval, he did his prospects little good during 16 overs that cost 55 runs.
Agar repeatedly grimaced in his follow-through and rarely troubled the batsmen.A Cricket Australia spokesman said the teenager was ill and had not suffered a recurrence of the hip injury that
affected him at Lord’s.
Steve Smith claimed two wickets, including that of Ballance the ball after he had dispatched a slog-sweep into the crowd to bring up three figures, but neither came from deliveries of any quality.
Jos Buttler tugged a waist-high full-toss into the deep and Ballance was given out LBW as he attempted to wallop another full toss.
“I’m a team player so I am more than happy to see Smudge get a couple of wickets,” Lyon said.
Mitchell Starc rarely extended himself during 17 overs that brought the scalp of Moeen Ali after a breezy 61 while James Faulkner is unlikely to have thrust his name before the selectors after taking the new ball.
Play eventually started after more than three hours were lost to rain with Lyon picking up two early wickets on a pitch that had its green grass shaved off and offered considerable turn.
Agar had to wait his turn while David Warner bowled a spell of modest slow seamers but had little success when he was finally introduced.
Lyon beat the bat repeatedly and forced edges to slip from Alex Lees and Eion Morgan.
Lees and Ballance were also dropped in the cordon as Lyon got the ball to spit and leap while Smith dropped a second chance when he spilled a chip from Jos Buttler.
Coach Darren Lehmann would not speculate on a possible line-up for the fifth Test until he inspected the pitch at The Oval in the next few days but he raised the strong possibility that two spinners would be employed.
“They will get a very decent bowl,” Lehmann said.
“It is a great opportunity to bowl a lot of overs.”
Agar played the first two Tests and made an impression with the bat and his character but claimed only two wickets.
Lyon replaced him at Old Trafford and has since taken eight wickets at the respectable average of 25 while his economy rate of 2.5 runs an over is the best of his career.
Agar has been working with spin coach Steve Rixon to develop a more dynamic action and get better momentum and a stronger follow-through.
One exercise he has been practicing with Rixon is to bowl off one or two steps to create better balance in his delivery stride.
Shane Watson captained Australia in the final Test of the disastrous India tour but was then relieved of the vice-captaincy in the fall-out from his deteriorating relationship with Michael Clarke.
The rehabilitation of their relationship has been so successful that Watson returned in a leadership role.Watson broke down with groin pain during the fourth Test but he is set to play at The Oval with Lehmann suggesting
that the burly all-rounder would be fit enough to bowl.
Batsmen Usman Khawaja and Smith are under immense pressure to hold their places at The Oval after inept displays in Durham while Phil Hughes has batted and trained with extra vigour this week to indicate that he believes he is likely to be recalled.
Lehmann said there would be no restriction on innings times against the Lions with no intention of retiring batsmen to give others a go.“We are not at that stage,” he said. “If someone can bat 100 overs they will do so.”