England A 272-2 v The Rest
This was more a two-blanket occasion than a curtain-raiser as April revealed its schizophrenic nature to all those who had left that extra sweater at home. The pitch was scarcely less two-faced either and Mark Ramprakash, having won the toss and inserted England A on what looked to be a greentop, watched aghast as his bowlers conceded 237 runs before taking their first wicket.
In truth, it was not really bowling weather and this was not the terror track England crumbled upon against the West Indies two years ago. But then the Rest's bowlers, for all their potential, are not Ambrose and co, a fact that Mark Butcher and Jason Gallian both appeared to notice as a brace of hundreds were rattled up by mid-afternoon.
Quite what the selectorial trio present were meant to make of this is uncertain, as testing deliveries, nearly all of them bowled by the gangling Alex Tudor, could be counted on one mittened hand. When bad light eventually ended play an hour and a half early, it was the fielding side who looked the more relieved.
Apart from Chris Silverwood, whose line and length did not manage to betray a winter spent on tour with England, the Rest's attack contained three bowlers - Tudor, Dean Cosker and Ben Hollioake - with 13 first-class appearances between them. Mind you, Simon Brown betrayed his superior experience by bowling dross, the lack of swing upsetting his normally aggressive line.
Of the centurions, Butcher looked the more assured and probably has more to play for than Gallian, who has already had an unconvincing stint at the top, although a broken finger limited his appearances on this winter's England A tour of Australia. His opening partner, Butcher, ended that trip as leading scorer, scoring fifties in seven of his 11 innings.
Having begun life as a bowling all-rounder, Butcher, now 24, began to move up the order after injuring his pelvis two seasons ago. These days he is happy to accumulate runs rather than maidens, and with Nick Knight returning from New Zealand with both a smashed finger and a question mark over his suitability as an opener, an early run glut from the Surrey man may well catch the selectorial eye.
Unlike Knight, whose sense of urgency exposes his frailty outside off- stump, Butcher looks unhurried, preferring to get off-side of the ball and tuck it away to leg. Defensively he looks sound, and apart from a few fresh air drives against his county colleague Tudor, his front foot shots were as crisp and crunchy as newly shredded coleslaw.
His back foot shots, too, were scarcely less than certain and he took the junior Hollioake, Ben, down a peg by hoisting him high over mid-wicket into the vast empty quarter of yellow seats. With only 200 spectators braving the Birmingham murk, it hardly felt like a match billed as the modern eqivalent to the old Test trials of the Sixties.
Silverwood fed Gallian's cut shot for most of the morning, but his persistence paid fortunate dividends when the Lancashire player cut another straight to Hollioake in the gully.
But if that success was scarcely deserved, the wicket of Michael Vaughan, whose off-stump was knocked back by Tudor, was just reward for a game effort. Tudor, another of the Surrey stable to have suffered recent injury, was one of the stars of the England Under-19s' tour of Pakistan. With Brendon Julian unavailable at the Oval this season, he will get his opportunities. And on days when the mercury climbs, his wickets too.
n Merv Kitchen, George Sharp, David Shepherd and Peter Willey, England's four representatives on the international panel, have been appointed as umpires for this summer's Ashes Test series.Reuse content