Ashes 2015: Clarke and Starc signal improvement
|Tour match, Chelmsford|
|Australia 562 & 212-8|
|Essex trail Australia by 360 runs|
Australia captain Michael Clarke and pace bowler Mitchell Starc showed some form before the Ashes but the tourists did not have things all their own way on day three against Essex.
Clarke, who got a golden duck in the first innings, hit 77, during which he took a painful blow on the hand.
His effort was the mainstay of an Australia second innings that faltered to 212-8, a lead of 360.
Earlier Starc added four more wickets to finish with 6-51 as Essex made 414.
Australia will expect to complete victory on the final day, especially with the pitch showing signs of uneven bounce and the hosts being without injured batsmen Nick Browne and Tom Westley.
But the tourists have not dominated this match in the way they might, given that Essex allowed them to bat at the toss, fielded four bowlers who had played only 28 previous first-class matches between them and have dropped a total of 10 catches.
The performance of Nathan Lyon may also be a concern, with the off-spinner failing to better an expensive second day in returning figures of 0-136 from 22 overs.
Left-arm seamer Starc showed great improvement, however, bowling with greater accuracy and mopping up the tail with quick, in-swinging yorkers.
After Essex resumed on 299-3, captain Ravi Bopara completed a century before Australia began to chip away in an entertaining morning session.
Mitchell Marsh had Jesse Ryder chip to leg gully and Bopara caught behind, with Starc then getting to work.
Ryan ten Doeschate, whose 36 included hitting Lyon out of the ground, was held behind, and James Foster caught at gully, while both Matt Salisbury and Tom Moore had their stumps uprooted.
With a lead of 148, Australia were set for an afternoon of free scoring, only to be shackled by an impressive Essex bowling display.
Left-arm spinner Aron Nijjar particularly caught the eye and, after he trapped Adam Voges lbw and Ten Doeschate did the same to Shane Watson, Australia were wobbling at 76-4.
It was left to Clarke to steady the tourists in the company of Mitchell Marsh. But the partnership was broken when Marsh dragged Salisbury on to his stumps for 37.
Clarke looked in great pain after being hit by a lifting delivery from Salisbury, yet was able to bat on before becoming Nijjar's second lbw victim.
The dismissals of Peter Nevill and Starc brought further cheer to a partisan crowd but, despite sometimes being below their best, Australia are likely to go into Wednesday's first Ashes Test on the back of a victory.
|First Test: Cardiff - 8-12 July|
|Second Test: Lord's - 16-20 July|
|Third Test: Edgbaston - 29 July-2 August|
|Fourth Test: Trent Bridge - 6-10 August|
|Fifth Test: The Oval - 20-24 August|