Then an Australian squad containing just four players who had been on an Ashes tour before touched down in England earlier in the summer, all the talk was of a new left-handed run-machine who was going to take the series by storm. Fortunately for England, Phillip Hughes, the bright young thing of Australian cricket, failed to live up to his billing in Cardiff, but another new southpaw took his chance to announce his Ashes arrival.
Marcus North has been afforded little of the fanfare which has been directed at Hughes in the build up to this Ashes series. Indeed, his name was only finally inked into the starting line-up when he made a century in the warm-up game against England's second string in the week leading up to the first Test. He added another to that yesterday, as he became the 22nd Australian to score a hundred in his first Ashes Test.
North, whose 30th birthday falls between the second and third Tests, has been an international star waiting to happen for years. He was a prodigious scorer in age level cricket when he played for Australia's national junior sides, and an elite academy scholar in 1998. Twelve years ago he made 200 and 134 in the same match in Sheikhupura during an Australian Youth team tour of Pakistan. He took that heavy run-scoring into the professional arena, but his progress was stunted by a degenerative knee condition which once looked like it would cost him further honours.
Now he appears intent on making up for lost time. He was first handed his Baggy Green cap during the tour of South Africa this winter, and marked his elevation with a century then, in the opening Test at the Wanderers. North has plenty of experience of batting conditions in the UK. He has played for five different county sides, including Gloucestershire, who play their home matches just over the Severn Bridge from Cardiff in Bristol.
He looked totally at ease against England's flailing bowlers, rarely indulging in risk, and brought up three figures with a third two in successive deliveries. Earlier, with England on the defensive, he had threaded two fours through the off-side off the bowling of Stuart Broad, even though seven fielders were stationed on that side of the wicket. While Hughes caused a stir with his quirky method, North's style is conventional and England will have their work cut out to find a flaw in his technique by the time the second Test at Lord's on Thursday.
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