Thorpe battles on single-handed

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The Rest 123 and 128-4 England A 317

It certainly felt like summer. The sun beamed down, and a modest Chelmsford crowd reddened under it as England A, a team buoyed after a successful winter in Pakistan, tightened their grip over The Rest, who ended the day still 66 in arrears.

Even the acrid whiff of recent exchanges between Ian Botham and the selectors seemed to have wafted away, the all-rounder's heated comments in a tabloid newspaper having been publicly retracted and a private apology made to Graham Gooch, one of those singed in the crossfire.

That may have been cleared up, but it is less certain what Gooch and the other three selectors present, including Raymond Illingworth, would have gleaned from another topsy-turvy day on this newly relaid pitch.

There were solid performances on the field and off, with England's new coach David Lloyd, describing the last two days as "Brilliant," having given the selectors "The opportunity to have a good sit down together."

Unsurprisingly, though, much of the cricket had the feel of a spring clean to it, and only Graham Thorpe's fifty had enough about it to remove Botham from the headlines. A pull shot for six off Ed Giddins, that landed in the pavilion, was one of several crisp boundaries the Surrey man hit as his team began to fall away. He looked like a man who had found his touch early, unlike Mark Ramprakash, who took 81 balls over his 17 before edging Ian Salisbury to the keeper.

If anything, batting was easier than on the first day, wickets falling less rapidly, with a second successive day of sunshine sapping the pitch of Saturday's vital juices.

Glen Chapple, a winter's rest behind him, was brisk and terrier-like in his persistence, although his five wickets were tempered by the fact that the opposition's last three put on 95, with Robert Rollins, Ian Salisbury and Tim Munton all contributing after Ronnie Irani had gone for 41, clipping Chapple to John Crawley at square leg.

Last season, Chapple failed to build on the impressive form he had shown for England A, in India the previous winter. Those present reckoned he outbowled Dominic Cork, now firmly established as England's one world- class bowler.

Lloyd, who worked closely with Chapple at Lancashire, reckons he was held back by a series of niggling injuries. "Last year," Lloyd said. "He had problems with his groin, side and behind the back of his knee. He compensated as a result and his action changed.

"Actually it's good that they didn't bother with him last winter. He's been able to sit down and recover. He's done some training with light weights and he looks strong. I think he's well on course, though his first objective must be to take wickets." Even so, sporting fortunes can move faster than mercury and Chapple, now 22, will want to press his claims sooner rather than later.

If patience is a virtue in sport, - and it is a debatable point - there are few more virtuous than Tim Munton. The burly Warwickshire vice-captain, almost peerless in his consistency at county level, has been close to selection ever since the two Tests he played in 1992.

Having cut a swathe of devastation with the seaming ball on Saturday, when his 4 for 41 helped dismiss The Rest for 123, he yesterday showed what he was capable of (presumably at Dermot Reeve's behest) with the bat. Last out, caught at cover trying to smite Richard Illingworth out of the ground, he remained largely untroubled throughout a pleasing innings of 54, the best of his career and the highest for his side, ensuring them a priceless lead of 194.

As ever, dulling the extra spring the new ball brings from pitch and bowler's step alike, was always going to be the key to a successful counterattack by Jack Russell's side when they batted again. Unfortunately for Martyn Moxon, he failed to trouble the scorers for the second time in the match, as Ed Giddins jagged one sharply back into his pads.

Gallian went next in identical fashion, while his Lancashire team-mate Crawley was bowled soon after tea by Munton, as The Rest slumped to 31 for 3. The riposte was all Thorpe, as it had been in the first innings. If he can double his score, England A may yet have to break sweat to win this match.

Scoreboard, page 19