Cricket: Hollioake hits first century

BEN HOLLIOAKE underlined his potential with a carefully compiled and mature 103 to give England A a vital first- innings lead on the second day of their second unofficial Test in Matara yesterday.

The Surrey all-rounder's innings not only rescued the tourists from a perilous position, but also demonstrated he has the discipline and temperament required to add to his one senior Test cap.

Hollioake battled with the Sri Lankan spinners on a turning pitch for nearly four hours to reach his maiden first-class century in his 29th innings. While England's top-line batsmen failed to master the trickery of spin pair Niroshan Bandartilleke and Arshad Juniad, Hollioake showed enormous skill and patience to earn the tourists an 89-run first-innings lead.

"It's hard to compare innings, but this is up there with my best," Hollioake said. "It was hard out there and it needed a lot of concentration because it was turning very sharply.

"I know people go on about me not having made a first-class century, but I have not played that many first-class innings and it is perhaps a bit harsh when I have played so little.

"I liked this innings in particular because we were in a difficult situation when I went in and that is probably the most satisfying thing for me - that I made a century at an important time."

Resuming on 47 for 1 in reply to Sri Lanka A's 171, England lost four wickets for 11 runs in seven overs before Hollioake settled on his game- plan and guided his less gifted but equally determined batting partners towards safety.

He used his feet to great effect against the left-armer Juniad and added 47 with David Nash before the Middlesex wicketkeeper played back to Bandartilleke and was trapped leg before.

Dougie Brown was bowled in the same over to leave Hollioake running out of partners, but Ashley Giles contributed a vital 39 to a 97-run partnership in 34 overs to enable Hollioake to drive Juniad for a straight four to take England into the lead.

Giles' defiance was ended five overs after Sri Lanka took the new ball, trapped lbw by Hemanthu Boteju and Hollioake fell the following over after reaching his deserved century with a driven six off Juniad. However, his 167-ball innings, including two sixes and nine fours, was brought to a halt with the next delivery when Manoj Mendis took a sharp catch at silly point off his glove.

Hollioake's performance had given England a 38-run lead, which increased further with a priceless 41-run last-wicket stand between Dean Cosker and Paul Hutchison.

Their battling display followed England's decision to finish the curtailed tour as planned despite a second bomb blast, this time in Colombo on Friday. Graham Gooch, the England A manager, liaised with the British High Commission, who advised that the tourists would be safe providing they kept out of potential trouble spots like Colombo and Kandy, the scene of the first incident 10 days ago.

England A, currently based in Galle which is four hours' drive from the island's capital, are not due to return to Colombo until their departure on 22 February.

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