Cricket: Wells digs in for firm base: England A draw welcome relief as a centurion staves off embarrassment

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The Independent Online
ALAN WELLS'S chances of achieving his long-awaited Test debut now depend on the ability of England's Caribbean tourists to avoid broken bones.

Wells yesterday made his second century of England A's South African tour, enabling the tourists to recover from a potentially embarrassing position to one in which they should avoid defeat, despite losing three late wickets, including Wells.

He was out off what became the last ball of the day for 130 to a poor leg-before decision by the Test umpire Cyril Mitchley, a man known locally for his readiness to give lbws.

It was an inappropriate end to a carefully constructed innings of impressive authority that reasserted his status as the player most likely to be sent to the West Indies should a replacement middle-order batsman be required. John Crawley remains opener-in-waiting, Hugh Morris having failed with what is likely to be his last chance to challenge him.

England, 54 for 2 overnight, had slipped to 92 for 4, still 265 runs behind, when Wells, on 16, was joined by Malachy Loye. Slowly at first, then with increasing fluency, the pair added 171 in 67 overs before Loye was leg before less than half an hour before the close.

His departure was followed by that of Adrian Dale, caught at silly point for five - another debatable decision - then Wells after a five-and-a-half- hour innings which included 19 fours. Whether hitting the spinners over the top or driving the seamers to the cover boundary off the back foot, he always looked in complete control. A consistent scorer throughout the tour, Wells has made 548 first-class runs at an average of a fraction under 50. While he never looks as classy a batsman as Crawley, he is always ready to punish poor balls and, when he puts his mind to it, as yesterday, is deceptively solid.

It was the 34th hundred of his career of which eight have come since April, including 126 here just before Christmas. If he is ever to play for England it must be soon.

'I had set a target of 500 runs on the tour and a hundred in the last match,' Wells said. 'I have had a reasonable tour but I needed a big one. It was my most responsible innings of the tour. It was obviously a difficult situation when I came in, I was just looking to hang around and pick up the loose balls. It is a shame Mal and I could not have stayed to the close as it could have been a match-winning partnership.' Of his dismissal, he added diplomatically: 'I thought it might have nipped back a bit but the umpire is there to make the decisions.'

Wells was given excellent support by Loye, who has steadily progressed during this tour and has thoroughly vindicated the decision to send him. While rarely dominant, he has tightened his technique and grown in confidence at the crease. He remains inexperienced, however, and a series of disruptions, including a break for cramp in Wells' right hand, may have disrupted his concentration as he managed just two runs in his last hour at the crease, spending 45 minutes on 49.

'He has matured a lot in the last few weeks,' Wells said. 'His shot selection is much better.'

Wells had come in after Morris top-edged a sweep to deep square leg and then lost the nightwatchman Mark Ilott who, emboldened by an hour's batting, edged an ambitious back-foot drive.

At that point, even the

follow-on target of 158 began to look difficult. Wells banished that spectre but, with the bad first hour being followed by an even worse final 30 minutes, more such determination, such as he showed, will be required if England's dominance during the core of the day is not to be wasted.

(Third day; South Africa A won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA A - First Innings 357 (E O Simons 88, G F J Liebenberg 79; M C Ilott 4-71).

ENGLAND A - First Innings

(Overnight: 54 for 2)

* H Morris c Kuiper b Eksteen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21 M C Ilott c Cook b Martyn. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 A P Wells lbw b Kuiper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .130 M B Loye lbw b Kuiper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 A Dale c Crookes b Eksteen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 ] S J Rhodes not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 Extras (b5 lb8 w1 nb5). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Total (for 7). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269

Fall (cont): 3-63 4-92 5-263 6-268 7-269.

To bat: R D B Croft, D Gough, P M Such.

Bowling (to date): Pringle 20-3-58-1; Martyn 22-6-60-1; Simons 20-9-29-1; Eksteen 29-14-38-2; Crookes 19-5-57-0; Kuiper 5.2-0- 14-2.

Umpires: C Mitchley and B Lambson.

(Photograph omitted)

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