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Sunday 22nd February 2009

from Charles Randall in Christchurch

ROB KEY had to endure frustration as his England Lions team took thefield for the opening day of their New Zealand tour in Christchurch today after a week spoilt by rain.

Key opted to bowl first against New Zealand Emerging Players XI in their two-day game at Lincoln University on the only sunny day so far.

Whether this decision was connected with the two-day brains trust with the former Australia coach John Buchanan — flown over by the ECB from Brisbane — was not clear, but the pitch proved gentle enough and became gentler.

The New Zealander openers to put on 101 with few scares before the unlikely figure of Jonathan Trott struck three times with his medium-paced seamers. Then it needed a well judged 124 by the Wellington left-hander Josh Brodie to push the score to 321 for seven by the close.

Until Samit Patel, twice, and Luke Wright held regulation catches at slip off Trott, the Lions seam efforts had veered towards embarrassment. Sajid Mahmood was harassed by 10 overstepped no-balls, and the Durham pair of Mark Davies and Liam Plunkett struggled to find the best length.

Trott immediately made inroads with a nagging length and line, and he did not even need help from umpire Chris Gaffaney, a team-mate at Otago a few seasons ago. The home side did recover, and it could almost have been ordained that Brodie, 21, should flourish at Lincoln
because he had impressed in the English version of Lincoln last summer, with Lindum CC.

In the evening Brodie took toll on a tiring attack, once heaving the Test off-spinner Gareth Batty for two sixes in three balls. By then a crowd of spectators — present to watch the India tour party practising nearby before their opening tour match in Christchurch — had long since dispersed.

The Emerging Players side, coach by Mark O’Neill — son of the former Australia Test player Norman — made a solid start. The captain Tim McIntosh, 29, an ultra-obdurate left-hander, had failed to retain his international place after scoring 136 against the West Indies only two months ago in the second of his two Test appearances. While England’s seam attack bowled wide or towards his pads, he proved a devil to dislodge, and Brodie grew in confidence and completed an impressive century in 188-balls.

Buchanan spent time in Christchurch helping the lions in the build-up for the forthcoming second-tier ’Test’ series. Now part of the Indian Premier League with Calcutta Knight Riders, he talked to England’s four-strong coaching staff and held a lively questions and answer session with the players. "We talked a little about the Australian way, but it was really more about the players and where they wanted to go with their cricket," the lanky Queenslander said, though when he strolled away to catch his flight back to Brisbane, the Lions team were enduring frustration.

In the end England restricted the scoring quite well on a bland pitch, and they could even afford to smile at a late-evening Davies lash-up.The batsman Te Ahu David hoisted a skyer off Mark Davies, which was badly dropped by Steven Davies. All the Davies’s were close enough to have caught the ball.

Robbie Joseph is due to arrive from West Indies domestic cricket on Tuesday to replace his Kent team-mate Amjad Khan, required by the senior England squad in the Caribbean with Ravi Bopara. Wicketkeeper Steven Davies travels to the West Indies on Friday, leaving Ben Scott with the gloves. Liam Dawson, Hampshire’s England Under-19 spin all-rounder, is due to replace West Indies-bound Patel in two weeks’ time.

A second two-day match against the New Zealand Emerging Players is due to start at Lincoln on Wednesday.