Lions boost Aussies by losing late wickets
The England Lions batsmen made only limited progress on the first day of the unofficial Test match against Australia A at Old Trafford and had reached a modest 140 for four off 66 overs at the close of play.
Lions skipper Eoin Morgan made 50 and Nick Compton added 46 after morning rain had wiped out the morning's play at Manchester. But the efforts of the two England batsmen on a slow wicket were particularly well timed given that the full national side's middle order may soon have one or two vacancies available.
Ravi Bopara, who had only been called into the Lions squad on Sunday evening after withdrawing from the Headingley Test match for personal reasons, put his immediate international future in doubt by also withdrawing from this game, saying in an ECB statement that it was "too early" for him to return to action.
The squads for both the World t20 and the two limited-overs series against South Africa are to be announced shortly and it would seem almost certain that Bopara will need to prove his readiness to play cricket before the selectors include him in their considerations.
Given the doubts surrounding Kevin Pietersen's future as an England player after his outburst following the Leeds Test, the sight of Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Nick Compton batting at Old Trafford reinforced the importance of the Lions matches.
However, the England batsmen were given a thorough workout by an Australia A side which, included four players with Test experience. Openers Compton and Joe Root had a torrid time when facing the new-ball pairing of Jackson Bird and Mitchell Johnson, and left-arm seamer Johnson dismissed Root for six with a lifting delivery which the batsman could only glove to Tim Paine.
Compton and Morgan shared a solid partnership which yielded 79 runs in thirty overs before Compton was beaten in the flight by off-spinner Nathan Lyon and gave a simple return catch to the bowler.
Bairstow joined Compton and the Lions skipper reached a patient 50 off 119 balls with a cut off Bird before both batsmen were dismissed in the space of five balls. Having made only eight, Bairstow edged a catch to Paine off Lyon and then Morgan's leading edge off Johnson gave the easiest of catches to Jon Holland at mid-on.
But Craig Kieswetter and Samit Patel made sure the Lions suffered no further loss before close of play. For Australia A Lyon took two for 45 and Johnson finished with two for 23 off 15 overs.
Although slow, the Old Trafford wicket offered none of the excessive turn seen in Lancashire's last championship match on the ground and a meeting of ECB Pitch Consultant Chris Wood with two Liaison Officers, Jack Birkenshaw and Tony Pigott, and groundsman Matt Merchant had been planned for some time and was described as "routine".