Luke Wright brought cheer to the England selectors for the second time in a week yesterday when he struck a sparkling hundred for the England Lions against New Zealand in Southampton. On Wednesday Wright revealed that he had turned down a lucrative approach to play in the Indian Premier League so that he could focus on playing for England, and he enhanced his chances of achieving that goal considerably by producing the Lions only notable performance of the day.
It was just as well Wright, who was eventually out for 120, rose to the occasion because the remaining members of the Lions' top order, all equally keen to impress Geoff Miller, the watching national selector, ahead of next week's first Test, failed miserably. Without the Sussex all-rounder's input, the hosts would have ended the day in an embarrassing position against a disciplined yet unspectacular New Zealand attack. Chris Martin and Jacob Oram were the pick of the Black Caps bowlers, sharing six wickets as the Lions were bowled out for 280.
England are hoping that Wright will develop into a player who could replace Andrew Flintoff. His bowling is unlikely to match that of the Lancashire all-rounder but his striking of the ball is already the equal of him.
The Lions were crawling along at just over two runs an over yesterday when Matthew Prior drove carelessly to gully. However Wright immediately injected much needed impetus to the innings, fearlessly going after the Black Caps attack. He had one moment of good fortune, when Jamie How dropped him at mid-wicket on 28. His hundred, the third of his first-class career, was brought up in spectacular and fitting style when he hit Tim Southee over deep square leg for six. He was out smashing the same bowler to extra cover, ending the Lions innings.
When Robert Key, the Lions captain, won the toss he would have expected more members of his ambitious side to fill their boots. The notion would have remained with him throughout the morning session as he and Michael Carberry successfully negotiated the new ball. But the nature of the day changed immediately after lunch when Martin trapped Key plumb in front and Owais Shah edged a Martin delivery through to Brendon McCullum.
Ravi Bopara went for just seven, bowled by Southee, and Prior played a couple of sweet shots before driving loosely to gully. Carberry chipped a catch to mid-on. Adil Rashid gave Wright brief support before driving carelessly to extra cover and Oram's accuracy proved too much for Graeme Swann and Chris Tremlett.
Matthew Hoggard enjoyed himself, adding 77 with Wright for the ninth wicket, but it will be his bowling today that decides whether he is in contention for a Test place at Lord's.