Rob Key’s XI put up a valiant fight in an attempt to save the Virtual Test against Nasser Hussain’s XI and even managed to take the match into the final hour, but in the end, it was too tall a challenge and they fell to defeat by 147 runs with 9.2 over remaining.
The captain clearly had only one thing on his mind at the start of play and was content to play second fiddle to Kevin Pietersen, who was in a belligerent mood.
Key had added just four singles from 27 balls to his overnight seven before he edged a Darren Gough away-swinger to Graham Thorpe at second slip.
However, it was arguably just what the crowd wanted as it brought Ben Stokes to the crease to join Pietersen. The two of them brightened the mood for Key’s beleaguered team and took them to tea at 176 -3 with survival a distinct possibility – if not a probability
Hussain threw the ball to Angus Fraser immediately after lunch and it proved to be an inspired decision. Having pulled the first ball of the session imperiously through mid-wicket for four, Pietersen tried to repeat the stroke but only succeeded in top-edging to Darren Gough at fine leg. It was a fine innings of 73, but he – and his captain – would have hoped for more.
Andrew Flintoff joined his successor as talismanic all-rounder and was looking good before Fraser struck again, this time removing Stokes for 42 care of a smart catch from James Anderson at wide mid-on.
Flintoff took a liking to the slow left-arm of Ashley Giles, striking him for two sixes, but in trying to repeat the stroke only succeeded in holing out to Graham Gooch running back at mid-off.
Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad followed soon afterwards, and tea was taken at 256-8 with Steve Harmison at the crease with Matt Prior, who was hoping to repeat his heroics from Auckland in 2013.
The new ball did the trick when James Anderson forced Prior to edge to Giles in the gully but Simon Jones joined Harmison in a frustrating tenth-wicket partnership which would have given Hussain more than a few headaches.
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