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Win for the Lions – Denly bags a pair

Thursday 26th February 2009

By Charles Randall in Christchurch

ENGLAND
Lions won their final practice game by one run on first
innings against New Zealand Emerging Players at Christchurch in a
climax of noise and diving batsmen that ended with a satisfying finish
for Rob Key (pictured) as captain.

An improved bowling display at Lincoln University — with four wickets
for Liam Plunkett — left the New Zealanders’ last pair needing 19 to
win. Greg Hay had defied all Key’s complicated attempts to remove him
on his way to 60 not out, and the New Zealanders looked well capable
of reaching the 279 required.

Hay’s final shot into the covers seemed worth comfortable runs, but a
curious misunderstanding with partner Nick Beard amid shouts of yes
and no during the second run led to both batsmen running to the
bowler’s bend to lunge to safety easily enough. And Beard’s sprint and
dive to the other end would have saved the day if Sajid Mahmood’s
throw had not been powerful and accurate to allow wicketkeeper Ben
Scott to whip off the bails.

The only jarring note after this pleasing success was the plight of
Joe Denly. Having missed the first game with a damaged finger, the
Kent opener finished this match with two ducks — bowled in the first
over by the same left-arm bowler with the same delivery.

Hay’s unorthodox use of the open blade had Key and his bowlers tearing
their hair out as well-timed shots scurried through and over the gully
area for runs. The first two balls of his innings, from Plunkett, were
slashed to third man for boundaries.

At one stage Robbie Joseph was bowling with only one man on the leg
side — at fine leg — with the rest of the fielders spread through
the cut-shot segment. It would have made no difference even if Key had
organised a human pyramid, and the experiment was soon abandoned.

Joseph, having finished his long journey from Barbados on Tuesday, was
still feeling the effects of 33 hours sitting in jet planes, but he
picked up his first wicket when Steve Moore dived at third slip to
hold a slick catch.

Plunkett gouged out the top order, including the important wickets of
Josh Brodie — the left-hander added 57 to his undefeated century in
the first match — and Scott Styris, the Test all-rounder trying to
recover from a thumb operation. Brodie nudged a perfect lifter to
slip, and Styris carelessly holed out to long-leg.

Plunkett spoiled the Birmingham League batsman Brad Wilson’s hopes of
proving his first class credentials. Wilson enjoyed a title season
with Walsall last year, where he led the run-makers and averaged more
than 44, but his prospects at North Districts were harmed by his tame
dismissal in the gully, Moore taking the catch.

Luke Wright, the Sussex all-rounder, had been working on developing an
outswinger — his next season in England will be the proof of the
pudding — but no one swung the Kookaburra ball much this week.
However he bowled with pace and energy, surprising the Central
Districts left-hander George Worker with a blow on the shoulder and
inducing false strokes and the occasional edge, all without reward.

In the 20 overs remaining in the fag-end of the match the Lions batted
again for further practice and Denly was clean-bowled second ball,
again by the impressive Mitchell McClenaghan.

Too many batsmen had hustled themselves out with rash shots in the two
practice games, and the Lions coach David Parsons admitted that most
of the batsmen lacked time at the crease before the first four-day
Test against New Zealand at Queenstown on Sunday, but he added: "I
don’t think the batting has been untypical at the start of a tour.

"These guys haven’t played cricket since September. They’re used to
nets of 40 minutes or so and practice in the middle for perhaps an
hour or so. They’re in that time scale and getting themselves back
into the rhythm of two-day or four-day cricket takes a while, so I’m
relatively comfortable because you see this every time you go on tour.

"Obviously I would like our batters to have played that little bit
longer at the crease, but good things have come out of these games. I
think our bowlers have found their rhythm and their tempo, finding the
right length to suit them.

"I am relatively confident that we can keep on improving. We’ve had
good preparation since Christmas and we’ve gelled well as a team. We
would have liked the batsmen to have spent more time at the crease,
but we hope it will come right on the night

Photograph courtesy of Getty Images