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May 8, 2008
England Lions 280 (Wright 120, Martin 3-58) v New Zealanders
Most of England's second string didn't do much to enhance their reputations on the first day against the New Zealanders at The Rose Bowl, with the notable exception of Luke Wright, who made a fine rearguard 120 to lift the Lions to 280. However, with a view to the first Test, the visitors had a profitable day as Chris Martin, Jacob Oram and Tim Southee claimed three wickets each.
Almost as much attention was on Old Trafford where Andrew Flintoff made another duck before getting among the wickets but Wright, who yesterday said he'd had interest from the IPL, did his best to ensure another allrounder made the headlines. There was an unusual pattern to the day as the Lions crawled through the opening session at less than two-an-over before losing five wickets between lunch and tea. Wright shored up the lower order with his second hundred of the season, following the 155 he made against MCC at Lord's, and reached three figures off 119 balls with an arrogant slog-sweep-pull off Southee.
"I was just trying to be positive, we were eight down. Luckily it was in my arc, so I closed my eyes and had a little swing at it and it went over the rope. It was my day," he said. "The big thing for me this year is to bat and prove I could score runs in this form of game as well and hopefully, so far, it's been going well."
Wright played responsibly after the Lions had collapsed to 89 for 5. He was dropped by Jamie How at midwicket off Jeetan Patel on 28 - Patel deserved better figures for some teasing offspin - but showed he can build an innings. With just the bowlers for company he opened his shoulders and launched Martin straight down the ground for six before taking an aggressive route against the second new ball, while Matthew Hoggard provided his customary staunchness and regular outside edges as 77 came for the ninth wicket to give the scoreboard a healthier glow for the Lions.
New Zealand's Test attack is probably already decided, including three on show here - Martin, Southee and Oram - alongside Daniel Vettori if his finger heals, and Kyle Mills, whose workload is being monitored, but competition is healthy. Mills bowled nicely at Chelmsford and his place for this match went to Iain O'Brien, who appears to have jumped ahead of Michael Mason despite his seven wickets against Essex last week.
All five bowlers here played their part in keeping the scoring rate down, the Lions only managing to increase the tempo during the final session thanks to Wright. Martin's first seven-over spell cost three runs and Oram began with five consecutive maidens, but when Robert Key and Michael Carberry reached lunch on 48 without loss off 29 overs a clatter of wickets didn't appear on the cards.
However, Key played across the line to Martin shortly after lunch to herald a collapse of 5 for 40. Five wickets in a session is not an unusual occurrence at The Rose Bowl but the pitches are now starting to calm down and this surface was blameless. When Key faced the New Zealanders a couple of weeks ago for Kent the visitors couldn't shift him as he made an unbeaten 178, but after a morning of hard graft he missed the chance to impress national selector Geoff Miller and coach Peter Moores. But so too did the rest of the top-order.
Martin is the closest New Zealand have to a strike bowler now that Shane Bond is no longer in the frame. His second wicket came when Owais Shah played a loose push outside off stump and he compounded the Lions' problems by claiming Matt Prior. It wasn't a great shot from Prior, who has been in sterling form for Sussex, as he almost guided the ball into the hands of How at gully.
Breaking up Martin's impressive trio, Southee removed Ravi Bopara, who dragged the ball into his stumps as he tried to leave. Southee has had a few back problems in the early stages of this tour and appeared slightly laboured during his two spells in the morning session. Brendon McCullum, standing in as captain for Vettori, didn't over bowl him but he looked a little short of Test readiness.
Carberry is known as a dashing opening batsman so his 41-ball 137 was one of the more dour innings he has played. It took him 65 balls to reach double figures, a cover drive in Patel's first over, and he couldn't break the shackles at any point. Frustration could have played a part in a limp dismissal when he chipped O'Brien to mid-on. Judged on this performance, it's no surprise that England's Test top order appears bullet proof.
It fell to two of the allrounders, Wright and Adil Rashid, to begin the recovery process. Wright reined in his ultra-aggressive instincts at the outset although still managed to score more freely than his top-order colleagues. Rashid, whose batting is talked up almost as much as his bowling, was lucky to escape an lbw appeal on 0 but played with a straight bat as they added 81 for the seventh wicket. Oram broke through when Rashid drove low to extra cover and he soon added Graeme Swann with a dubious lbw and Chris Tremlett via a prod to the wicketkeeper. Wright, though, held firm and will have earned an extra tick in the selectors' notebook.
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