England narrowly avoided the indignity of going wicketless on the final day of their last Ashes warm-up game against a Cricket Australia XI in Townsville.
Jason Sangha, 18, and Matthew Short – with only seven first-class matches between them – made maiden centuries.
They shared a stand of 263, Sangha falling to leg-spinner Mason Crane before a draw was agreed with the hosts on 364-4 – 99 ahead.
Sangha was dropped by Mark Stoneman on 43, but England created little else.
The tourists were not helped by a placid, unresponsive pitch, but the mitigating circumstances do little to improve damaged morale so close to Thursday’s first Test against Australia in Brisbane.
On Friday, England looked to be heading to the Gabba in good health, especially after the announcement of a surprising Australia squad.
But, at best, this is a setback. At worst, it is an embarrassment.
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England humbled by inexperienced hosts
England comfortably defeated a similar Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide last week and for two days in northern Queensland they looked set to do so again.
However, from 337-3 at the beginning of day three, England lost five wickets for 38 runs and needed a last-wicket stand of 58 between Chris Woakes and Crane to get past 500.
Even then, they reduced the CA XI to 121-3 by the close and led by 144, with the hosts a batsman short because of an injury to Nick Larkin.
But Sangha and Short made the most of the benign conditions to ensure England spent the fourth day toiling in the heat.
The slow surface is unlikely to be similar to what England will encounter at the Gabba, yet the tourists should still have had the tools to dismiss a side with only 75 previous first-class matches between them.
“It’s not really damaging to us,” England coach Trevor Bayliss told BBC Sport. “Obviously we’d like to take 10 wickets for 90 runs in every game, but this is what can happen in cricket.
“A number of guys spent time in the middle with the bat and the bowlers got a lot of overs under their belts. Hopefully everyone now has got their rhythms right and they can come out next week and go from ball one.”
Sangha and Short steal the show
Two weeks ago, Sangha and captain Short, 22, were playing club cricket in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Neither have played a match in the Sheffield Shield.
But they blunted and at times dismissed an England attack that included at least three bowlers who will play in Brisbane.
Sangha, who made his first-class debut last week, was fortunate to be put down when he drilled a Crane full toss to Stoneman at short cover.
With a correct technique, the right-hander regularly scored square of the wicket on the off side.
When he pulled Woakes for four, he became the second youngest man, behind Sachin Tendulkar, to score a first-class hundred against England.
Short, more bottom-handed and with a preference for the leg side, hit one six off Crane that was caught by a diving member of the groundstaff. He reached three figures by pushing Moeen Ali through point for three and ended unbeaten on 134.
Their stand was ended after tea when Sangha top-edged Crane to short fine leg to depart for 133, but by then England had nothing to celebrate.
England do the hard yards
Even allowing for the ideal batting conditions, England showed little penetration, barely beating the bat or hitting the pads.
Stuart Broad was tidy and Woakes used sparingly but fellow pace bowler Craig Overton harmed his chances of a Test debut in Brisbane with a toothless display – his attempts at unsettling Short with bouncers were treated with disdain.
Off-spinner Moeen, in his first game of the tour after recovering from a side injury, has at least bowled 48 overs in the match, while Crane served up too many full tosses.
By the end, England were using part-timers Joe Root and Dawid Malan to protect the frontliners and hasten the finish.
“It was a very flat wicket,” said Bayliss. “It was good to spend some time in the field. I’m sure there will be times during the Test series where we’re out in the field all day.
“There were two young guys out there that batted very, very well. All credit to them. They looked good. It’s good for Australian cricket.”