England A 268-3 v Pakistan: Key hopes century will unlock door to Test selection

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The Independent Online

Robert Key gave the selectors a timely reminder of his pedigree yesterday when he posted an unbeaten 128 on the opening day of the England A game against Pakistan. Key played the last of 15 Test matches in South Africa in 2005 and has spent the past 18 months frustratingly watching others occupy the hole created by his omission.

Three of the preferred players batted with the 27 year-old here as England A prospered to 268 for 3 on an excellent pitch, but it was Key who stood out. Ian Bell scored a composed 74 in a 160-run partnership with the England A captain before a loose waft at Umar Gul sent him scurrying back to the dressing-room, while Alastair Cook and Owais Shah failed to make the most of opportunities.

The problem for Key is that England's batting line-up, despite recent performances and the absence of Michael Vaughan, is looking quite settled, and the Kent opener is unable to throw properly following winter surgery on his right shoulder. Cook and Paul Collingwood will play in next Thursday's first Test at Lord's, and Bell is expected to fill the spot vacated by the injured Andrew Flintoff.

Pakistan's bowlers may not have appreciated it as they stretched weary limbs at the close of play but this was just the workout they needed. The comfortable victory over a weakened Leicestershire side at the weekend was good for confidence but it would have given the tourists little idea of how they were bowling.

A run-rate of less than three per over suggests Pakistan generally pitched the ball in the right area but, without the injured Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, the fast bowling lacked variety. The visitors were not helped when their wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, failed to take the field after lunch after bruising a finger on his left hand during the morning session.