MALACHY LOYE yesterday produced just the type of innings Keith Fletcher wants to see from the England A team, but it is hard to imagine he would persuade anyone to watch it with him.
The Northamptonshire youngster, in a prodigious display of concentration and stamina, made 71 in nine minutes short of five hours, batting throughout in the most uncomfortably humid conditions of the tour.
With equally solid assistance from the promoted wicketkeeper Steve Rhodes, Loye added 131 in 66 overs for the fifth wicket, enabling England to reach 229 for 6 at the end of the opening day of their four- day match with Border.
It was as dull as it was valuable but that will not worry the team manager, Phil Neale, who has been emphasising the need for such disciplined batting all tour.
The few South Africans present were, for most of the morning, more interested in their national team's fortunes in the World Series final in Melbourne and play was punctuated by regular cheers at the fall of each Australian wicket.
The mood appeared to affect the batsmen as John Crawley and Hugh Morris opened at five an over against a wayward home attack. When Morris drove Alan Badenhorst for four and pulled him for six in successive balls, Crawley whipped the next ball, from Brenden Fourie, for four. Crawley was opening in the absence of the dropped Mark Lathwell, who would have relished such loose bowling but, with England 35 for 0 in the seventh over, Morris chanced an unnecessary single to cover and was run out by a direct left-arm hit from Peiter Strydom.
Adrian Dale, batting at No 3, was bowled through the gate by an inswinger from Fourie after his quicker ball, watched with interest by England, had struck Crawley on the helmet. The same bowler accounted for Wells leg-before, forcing the batsman to return to a dressing-room where his new haircut is the prime subject of conversation, and England stumbled to lunch at 93 for 3.
One ball later it was four down as Crawley, who, as usual, had batted with impressive command, ferociously pulled Badenhorst into the stomach of Frans Cronje - elder brother of Hansie, the national captain - who just held on.
But Loye and Rhodes, batting with such care that Ian Howell - a portly slow left-armer of the type more generally seen tossing it up in the mid-Kent village league - went 55 balls without conceding a run, finishing with 1 for 16 off 28 overs.
The one wicket was Loye, who, after taking 20 minutes to hit the shot that took him past 68 (a score for which he had twice been dismissed) to reach his highest tour score, was bowled off a defensive inside edge.
The nightwatchman, Paul Taylor, who failed to survive four balls last week, did little better this time, being caught behind off his 11th. Rhodes, meanwhile, enjoying the responsibility of batting in the first six, remained untroubled after batting 70 overs for his 59 not out.
It was the sort of innings that wins, or saves, Test matches, but it must be admitted that, apart from a flurry of boundaries with the second new ball, it featured about as much action as the graveyard behind the pavilion.
(First day of four; England A won toss)
ENGLAND A - First Innings
J P Crawley c Cronje b Badenhorst 49
* H Morris run out 15
A Dale b Fourie 12
A P Wells lbw b Fourie 10
M B Loye b Howell 71
S J Rhodes not out 58
J P Taylor c Palframan b Badenhorst 1
R D B Croft not out 2
Extras (b2 lb3 w4 nb1) 11
Total (for 6) 229
Fall: 1-35, 2-59, 374, 4-93, 5-224, 6-227.
To bat: D G Cork, M C Ilott, P M Such.
Bowling: Fourie 21-2-84-2; Badenhorst 21-2-65-2; Botha 14-6-22-0; Howell 28-18-16-1; Strydom 1-0-4- 0; Baumeister 12-4-18-0; Cronje 7-3-18-0.
BORDER: M P Stonier, A G Lawson, B M Osborne, F J Cronje, P C Strydom, P J Botha, *S J Palframan, K Bauermeister, I L Howell, B C Fourie, A Badenhorst.
Umpires: K Liebenberg and E Baillie.