Aussies upbeat after draw with Lions
WORCESTER: Australia coach Tim Nielsen said his side are in the best possible shape ahead of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff next week.
The tourists drew their final warm-up match after the England Lions were set 445 runs to win from 60 overs before reaching 162 for four by the close of play on the fourth and final day.
Despite it being the tourists' second successive draw, the match answered many of Australia's questions before they start their Ashes defence on Wednesday.
"The whole three weeks we've been here have been just about spot on. It couldn't have been better," said Nielsen after stumps.
"We've pretty much given all our blokes a run and feel as though the time they've had in the nets and the middle, we can pick from our full squad whatever the conditions.
"There was no point being at our absolute best a week-and-a-half ago. I'm really pleased with where it's at."
Marcus North, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and Mike Hussey all performed with the bat while on Saturday Mitchell Johnson joined Brett Lee in bowling in excess of 90mph, with Australia's premier quick striking twice in the afternoon session.
First innings centurion Stephen Moore was snapped up at second slip by Ricky Ponting for 16 and Joe Denly was caught behind for 36 as the athletic Queenslander ratcheted up the pace from the first innings.
Johnson was expensive, but the left-armer showed glimpses of the reverse swing which booked Lee's berth in the Test line-up for the much-anticipated opener at Sophia Gardens.
Lee finished with seven wickets for the match after uprooting Vikram Solanki's leg stump with a vicious inswinging yorker.
During the afternoon, Ponting turned to part-time spinner Marcus North ahead of the out-of-touch Nathan Hauritz, who is looking increasingly unlikely to make his Ashes debut next week.
But the specialist off-spinner eventually came on 15 minutes before the tea interval and struck in his third over to remove Ian Bell.
Bell, the Lions captain, was being watched first-hand by the England selectors and captain Andrew Strauss.
But the Warwickshire No.3 never really got going, scoring a slow-going 20 in 63 balls before being caught at short leg by Katich.
"It would have been nice to score a few more runs in this game, but whatever happens happens," said Bell, ahead of England's squad announcement for the first Test on Sunday.
"If an opportunity comes around I've just to make sure I'm in the best form possible."
Hauritz's main opponent for the final specialist bowling spot, Stuart Clark, was typically miserly in a spell of eight overs costing just 11 runs.
Before lunch, North - who had been doubtful about his place in the side prior to this following a series of low scores - offered a knee-high caught and bowled chance to Stephen Harmison on 120 on the march to an unbeaten 191 in Australia's 438 for four declared.
North has cemented the No.6 position for next week's opener.
Hussey's run-a-ball 62 included a pulled six over backwards square leg off Graham Onions before the batsman retired hurt with a sore ankle.
The Western Australian, who scored 150 in the first innings to dispel any suggestion his test class powers were on the wane, returned to the field 10 minutes after lunch.
Australia's top seven have all posted half-centuries in their two warm-up matches and, Phillip Hughes' troubles with the short ball aside, batted intelligently at New Road against a strong Lions attack and on a flat pitch expected to play similarly to Sophia Gardens next week.
The match ended in unusual circumstances after the players agreed to finish early following a five-minute delay while umpire Jeff Evans was treated after collapsing as he walked towards square leg.
The 54-year-old Welshman walked from the field after paramedics and a doctor had been called.