England Lions 240 for 5 (Kieswetter 112*) trail Australia A 308 for 9 dec. (Harris 6-102) by 68 runs
Is there a cleaner striker of a ball in English cricket than Craig Kieswetter? Those who watched him make 112 not out on the second day of the England Lions game against Australia A at Edgbaston might find it hard to believe so. Others, of course, might advance the claims of Matt Prior, but that is merely where Kieswetter's problems start if he wants to break into the Test side. Prior's keeping and his ability to bat in the longest format make him something of a mighty oak door barring Kieswetter's way into the dining-room where the world's best cricketers enjoy five-day feasts.
In the meantime, all he can do is bat in the gloriously dominant style he displayed to the pathetically small Birmingham crowd on Thursday afternoon. In company with the redoubtable Chris Woakes he shared an unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 141 in 23 overs as Eoin Morgan's side recovered from 99 for 5 at four o'clock to finish just 68 runs shy of Australia A's first innings score when bad light ended play over an hour early. Indeed, rain and poor light meant that only 57 overs were possible on Thursday but the quality of the cricket on view made the reduction seem almost insignificant.
The excellence of Kieswetter's century was enhanced by the quality of the bowlers whom he ultimately took apart and by the situation of the game when he went in to bat. Replying to Australia's declaration on their overnight 308 for 9, England Lions were 46 for 3 as Kieswetter strode out to join Morgan. When the captain lost his off bail to Nathan Coulter-Nile seven runs later the home side were imperilled by embarrassment, even in a badly rain-affected game.
For the morning session was dominated by the tourists, although it comes as almost a disappointment to discover that Coulter-Nile is merely a Western Australian seamer. He sounds like the sort of character who wrestles tigers for a living and writes books with titles such as Twenty Years Down the Limpopo. In any event, he certainly explored the defensive techniques of some Lions yesterday morning and found them in distinctly under-developed territory. Of no one was this truer than Morgan, whose airy push into the off side was well beaten by Coulter-Nile's nip back off the seam.
he had also begun the clatter of wickets when he induced debutant Varun Chopra to top edge a pull to square leg, where Liam Davis caught the simplest of catches. The only player to bat with much poise in the first session was Joe Root, who hit three felicitous fours before he was caught down the leg side for 24 by wicketkeeper Tim Paine off Mitchell Johnson. That, though, was the second time in three innings that Root has fallen to Johnson in this fashion and it suggests a technical deficiency he must address if he is to make the most of his many talents.
Root's departure with the total on 30 was followed 25 minutes later by that of Samit Patel who was lbw for 2 when pushing half forward to Jackson Bird. All of which left the Lions' looking distinctly woebegone at lunch. It was probably fortuitous for the home side that heavy lunchtime rain delayed the restart by 80 minutes.
Initially, at least, Kieswetter was cautious as the three Australia A seamers continued to pose a threat in the afternoon session. His 46-run stand with Ben Stokes occupied nearly 17 overs, during which Stokes nearly ran himself out and the tourists made increasingly expert use of reverse swing. This latter stratagem was unintentionally kyboshed by Kieswetter straight driving a ball from offspinner Nathan Lyon into a puddle over the rope. The replacement ball did not help the trio of seamers half as much, even though Bird claimed Stokes' wicket when he was caught at the wicket pulling too early.
The rest of the day belonged to Kieswetter and also to Woakes, who once again made a valuable contribution to this short series. By the close, though, even his stylish 47 not out had been overshadowed by the Kieswetter's explosion of strokeplay after he had reached a relatively circumspect fifty off 80 balls. Unbeaten on 71 at tea, Kieswetter drove Bird for two fours and smote him over midwicket for six in the over after the resumption, all off the front foot. Then Coulter-Nile was driven for two boundaries off successive balls, before a flat-batted pull off Bird brought up Kieswetter's century off 116 balls, the second fifty coming up in 36 alarmingly violent deliveries.
The Australian attack's figures, which had looked so impressive at lunch, had taken on a more dismal aspect by the end of the day. Coulter-Nile's 19 overs cost 70 runs while Bird went for 65 in 16. Special treatment was reserved for Lyon on whom the pair of England Lions feasted, taking 47 runs off his eight overs. Some might label such behaviour nothing more than cricketing cannibalism, but it was still magnificent entertainment.