Cricket: ImpressiveWard is baffled by England's soft centre

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England A 275-7

v North Island

IAN WARD, England A's top scorer, was at a loss to explain a strange opening day's play here yesterday, as his side failed to build on century partnerships at either end of their line-up.

England closed on 275 for 7, but a strong start and finish were marred by a mid-innings slump which saw six wickets fall for 34 runs in 21 overs.

"After a reasonable start it was not ideal to lose so many wickets so quickly," Ward said. "But I think you have to give the bowlers some credit for plugging away in some tough, windy conditions and keeping their discipline with line and length to reap their rewards."

Michael Gough (48) and Ward (72) shared in an opening stand of 125 after the England captain, Mark Alleyne, won the toss and elected to bat as the tourists started this New Zealand triangular tournament with a match against the conquerors of South Island.

Gough and Ward carried England to 90 without loss at lunch but Gough's departure, caught at square leg, sparked the slump. Ward, looking good value for a century, followed soon after, before Worcestershire's Vikram Solanki and Leicestershire's Aftab Habib followed cheaply.

Gloucestershire's Alleyne and Somerset's Rob Turner were then dismissed as the tourists slumped to 159 for 6, only for Lancashire's Chris Schofield (52) and Northamptonshire's David Sales (65 not out) to steady the ship with a seventh-wicket partnership that added 109 runs.

Sales - dropped at slip when he had scored only one - made the North Island attack suffer, and Schofield's bright innings came to a close shortly after he had reached his second consecutive first-class fifty of the tour when he was caught at slip.

First day for four; England A won toss

ENGLAND A - First Innings

M A Gough c Walmsley b Penn 48

I J Ward b Tuffey 72

V S Solanki c Bell b Penn 4

A Habib lbw b Tuffey 4

*M W Alleyne b Jefferson 10

D J G Sales not out 65

R J Turner lbw b Jefferson 2

C P Schofield c Vincent b Walmsley 52

P J Franks not out 4

Extras (lb4 nb10) 14

Total (for 7, 100 overs) 275

Fall: 1-125 2-125 3-131 4-138 5-151 6-159 7-268.

To bat: R J Kirtley, M K Davies.

Bowling: Penn 24-6-73-2; Walmsley 24-4-75-1; Tuffey 21-5-55-2; Jefferson 27-5-62-2; Pocock 4-1-6-0.

NORTH ISLAND: *B A Pocock, M D Bell, M S Sinclair, L Vincent A J Penn, C J Nevin, B J K Walker, K P Walmsley, D R Tuffey, J A H Marshall, M R Jefferson.

Umpires: D Quested and G Stewart.