Key on Lions draw

Tuesday 10th March 2009

Christchurch, match drawn:

England Lions 346 (Wright 69, Patel 64, Batty 64; Thompson 4-98) &
353-9 dec (Wright 105, Trott 51, Scott 47, Moore 41, Key 38; Franklin
New Zealand A 243 (Young 71, Thompson 60; Davies 4-47, Batty 3-51) &
393-9 (Robertson 107*, Redmond 55, Williamson 48, Flynn 45, Fulton 45; Mahmood 3-118)

By Charles Randall at Lincoln University

ENGLAND Lions drew the two-match international Test series when they were held by New Zealand A against the odds at Lincoln University, ambushed by a 110-ball century from the invisible man.

A local Christchurch player, Iain Robertson, rocked England with an undefeated 107 batting at number eight, having taken no part in the three and a half days leading up to his arrival at the crease. The departure of Ewen Thompson to join the New Zealand one-day squad against India led to his unexpected promotion, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands.

A howling bail-removing north-wester buffeted the Lions, and Robertson blew away their victory chance into the bargain. It was a real setback for Robert Key and his team. "It is slightly hard to take when the 12th man comes on and gets a ton at number eight," Key said. "Of all the games I’ve played I’ve not seen that. He played very well — better than the bloke he replaced would have done, that’s for sure."

As Robertson, 26, had been regarded as no more than a fringe player by Canterbury in the first class domestic championship, the second hundred of his career must have given him immense satisfaction. He did not even merit a place in the pre-match New Zealand A team photograph.
So how could England plan his downfall? They couldn’t.

Robertson took the glory, and the Lions had to be content with a moral victory as a slim reward their persistence and skill, whittling their way through a strong batting line-up until an unexpected brick wall.

With Robertson in charge, supported by Reece Young, the New Zealanders’ seventh wicket added 147 at more than five runs an over.
Just when Key was wondering whether the 457 victory target was in danger, Jonathan Trott stepped up to break the stand with his medium pace, gliding a delivery through Young via the inside edge for 59.

Trott had to pop up again an hour later when he removed tail-ender Brent Arnell, plumb lbw, which left the Lions with 3.2 overs to take the final wicket. Trott lay flat on the ground in joy, mobbed by his colleagues, but Robertson quickly squashed lingering hopes of a Lions victory.

In contrast to the first innings, New Zealand’s Test contingent scored runs, apart from Jamie How, who had been lbw to Mark Davies playing no stroke the previous evening — the same fate that befell Aaron Redmond against Liam Plunkett after completing a nice 55.

Davies bowled only 13 overs due to a sore ankle, which made a difference. Two dropped catches let off Test batsmen Peter Fulton in successive ball when 12 and he went on to 55 before Trott held him neatly at slip driving at off-spinner Gareth Batty.

Fulton had survived a sharp direct hit from Denly at cover. Then he was dropped at square leg by a sprawling Batty and dropped again off his next ball, bowled by Batty, when Denly somehow turfed a regulation midwicket chance, perhaps disorientated by the wind.

Key said: "The new ball was going to be the key, and they came out and threw a counter-attack at us after tea. It got to the stage where we almost had to start worrying about them getting the runs. It was something we didn’t expect and all credit to them, I suppose for the way they played, especially the 12th man. We didn’t know anything about him and he caught us by surprise.

"I don’t think a drawn series was a true reflection of the games, really. They’ve been chasing it more than we have and it took two special innings in each game — from Jamie How at Queenstown and Robertson in this one."

Lions start the two-match one-day series at Palmerston North on Friday.

Picture courtesy of Getty Images.