Cricket: Morris digs in as going gets rough

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Northern Transvaal 138

England A 81-4

WHEN Keith Fletcher makes his regular call to South Africa this weekend his England A team captain will be able to provide the senior side's manager with a graphic and timely reminder of the task his team face in the Caribbean.

It may have looked a sylvan setting amid the plane trees and smoking barbecues of Centurion Park, but in the middle Hugh Morris could have been in Antigua or Barbados. On a difficult, sometimes treacherous pitch, the left-hander scrapped and ducked for two and a half hours against a fierce seam attack as England sought a precious first-innings advantage against Northern Transvaal.

The match is scheduled for four days but, with the bounce uneven and the pitch full of bounce, pace and cracks, it is unlikely to run the distance with batting last a hazardous proposition. Morris battled for 142 minutes, at one stage being becalmed on 24 for 10 overs and 40 minutes, to be 29 not out at the close, which England reached four wickets down and 57 runs behind.

He refused to criticise the pitch directly but said: 'It is a battling wicket on which the bowler always has a chance if he puts it in the right place. You have to make sure you hit the bad ball when it comes.'

Morris lost Mark Lathwell first - to an appalling heave aimed among the sun-bathers at mid- wicket which underlined the need for him to drop down the order. In 12 tour innings he has passed 12 in just four of them and is desperately low on confidence.

Crawley, having been bowled off a no-ball on nine, lasted an hour, dealing well with a lot of short bowling before thick-edging a drive.

With Alan Wells nursing a stiff neck, which barely made him able to turn to face the bowler, let alone duck his delivery, Adrian Dale came in at four and batted solidly until giving a short-leg catch off the impressive Steve Elworthy.

There were only four overs left but it was three too many for the nightwatchman, Mark Ilott, who, having stolen the strike with an ill-considered though well-executed three, edged his sixth ball to second slip.

Ilott had earlier, to quote Morris again, 'bowled beautifully', taking 3 for 12 in his opening 12-over spell. Martin McCague, who is showing a smooth rhythm as he works his way towards full pace, had struck first when Clayton Lambert trod on his stumps playing defensively.

Ilott, who is having a marvellous tour, then took his wicket total to 20 in his fourth first-class game. Roy Pienaar was smartly caught by Dominic Cork, well-placed at leg gully; Mike Rindel top-edged a hook; and Kevin Rule, after making one run in 42 minutes, was leg-before to a ball that straightened. Rule's slow scoring owed much to Cork, who bowled 18 overs for 17 runs.

But Cork and Steve Rhodes then missed Tertius Bosch off McCague and the Northern Transvaal tail more than doubled a score of 61 for 6. They were excellently marshalled by Blaise Sommerville, a former Devon League opponent of Lathwell, who batted for four hours and 64 overs for 60 before edging a sharply rising outswinger from McCague.

The watching Geoff Boycott, a former player here, would have approved - though it is hard to see him signing autographs en route to the dressing room after being dismissed, as Sommerville did.

(First day of four; Northern Transvaal won toss)

NORTHERN TRANSVAAL - First Innings C B Lambert hit wicket b McCague 1 B J Sommerville c Rhodes b McCague 60 *R F Pienaar c Cork b Ilott 1 M J R Rindel c McCague b Ilott 4 K J Rule lbw b Ilott 1 J J Strydom b Dale 12 D J Van Zyl c Rhodes b McCague 4 S Elworthy c Wells b Croft 24 R E Bryson run out 0 T Bosch c Cork b Ilott 13 C Van Noordwyk not out 6 Extras (b4 lb5 w3) 12 Total 138 Fall: 1-7 2-11 3-17 4-24 5-48 6-61 7-101 8-101 9-120. Bowling: McCague 18-4-34-3; Ilott 19.1-8-32-4; Cork 18-9-17-0; Dale 4-0-15-1; Croft 12-2-31-1.

ENGLAND A - First Innings M N Lathwell b Elworthy 5 *H Morris not out 29 J P Crawley c Sommerville b Elworthy 16 A Dale c Pienaar b Elworthy 11 M C Ilott c Lambert b Bosch 3 M B Loye not out 2 Extras (b4 lb5 nb6) 15 Total (for 4) 81 Fall: 1-5 2-58 3-76 4-79. To bat: A P Wells, S J Rhodes, R D B Croft, D G Cork, M J McCague.