Jonathan Trott may have failed on his return to South African soil, but openers Sam Robson and Adam Lyth both scored centuries as the England Lions made an emphatic start to their tour against a Gauteng Invitation XI at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus Oval on Monday.
Trott may be the centre of attention as he tries to resurrect his international career after a self-imposed exile due to a stress-related condition that left him too mentally vulnerable to play cricket, but the South African-born batsman lasted just 20 minutes and 13 balls at the crease, leaving the spotlight to Robson and Lyth as they powered England A to 361 for four at stumps.
Lyth and Robson added 176 for the first wicket before Robson retired on 109, having stroked 12 fours and a six in a fluent 152-ball innings befitting England’s current Test incumbent opener.
Lyth retired 12 overs later on 106, having started watchfully and then sped up as he faced 171 balls and hit 16 fours and a six.
When an actual wicket did finally occur, it was Trott’s, the 49-Test veteran sparring outside the off stump and being caught behind for six off Keith Dudgeon, a 19-year-old seamer with just one first-class wicket.
James Vince also fell cheaply for seven, caught at cover off Nono Pongolo – a dismissal which advertised the slow nature of the pitch as the ball ‘stopped’ on the batsman – before Alex Lees played some sparkling cricket in going to 82 not out off 136 deliveries.
Jonny Bairstow was also showing signs of living up to his billing as he crunched 32 not out before stumps, capitalising on a second new ball that was woefully used by Gauteng.
Dudgeon (17-6-41-1) and Pongolo (17-4-59-1) both bowled tidily enough on a flat pitch, but fellow seamers Matthew Arnold (16-1-102-0) and Lazarus Mokoena (15-3-73-0) were both expensive.
Left-arm spinner Dale Deeb (22-4-66-0) will be disappointed his accurate bowling did not bring reward, but first-day pitches like the one at the scenic Soweto Campus Oval are not going to provide much turn.
This is a vital tour for the likes of Robson, Lyth and Lees, who are all aiming to be included in England’s touring party to the West Indies in April and, with former head coach Andy Flower watching from the sideline, they all would have kept themselves firmly in the selectors’ thoughts.
“It’s another good opportunity to play high-standard cricket for the Lions and obviously, on a personal level, it’s nice to get runs and put on a good show. I managed to get a partnership going with Adam and we’ve started the tour well before the ‘tests’. It’s going to be a good, hard tour leading up to the West Indies tour, which a number of us are hoping to get on to,” Robson said.
“They bowled pretty well with the new ball and then went quite negative, with a seven-two field and bowling wide, so I had to rein myself in, leave well, not give my wicket away and then cash in later when the bowlers were tired,” Lyth added.