Tom Westley and Ben Foakes relished an absorbing contest with Afghanistan’s spinners on a hard-fought first day of England Lions’ first-class match in Abu Dhabi.
Westley made the most of his first Lions appearance of the winter with a patient 84, sharing a fifth-wicket partnership of 125 with Foakes before the Surrey wicketkeeper was dismissed for 70.
But the Afghans hit back after tea to reduce the Lions to 279 for nine at the close with Rashid Khan, an impressive young legspinner who has been playing in the Bangladesh Premier League, earning figures of four for 48.
“I knew that after three weeks out here I might only have this one innings, or maybe two, so it was an important innings for me,” said Westley, who was the only member of the Lions squad not to appear in the three-match one-day series against UAE.
“There was a bit of pressure on and plenty of noise when Foakesy came in, so it was enjoyable to put on a decent partnership. I thought the openers had played well early on as well to give us a start. It’s just a shame one of us top three couldn’t have gone on to something a bit bigger so we could be 320 for five rather than 280 for nine.
“Credit to Afghanistan though. I remember playing against them for Essex second XI a few years ago, but now they are respected as a good side, with players who play in competitions like the BPL. They showed that with the way they played today, especially the legspinner.”
The start of play was delayed by 15 minutes because of thick morning fog in Abu Dhabi. But Toby Roland-Jones, who followed Keaton Jennings and Nick Gubbins as the Lions’ third captain in four matches on this trip, chose to bat despite the unusual desert moisture, and openers Gubbins and Tom Alsop justified that decision with a stand of 67 in 15 overs.
Alsop, the 21-year-old Hampshire left-hander who was selected ahead of Kent’s Daniel Bell-Drummond, made a flying start by taking 12 including two boundaries off the first over of the match, and continued in that positive manner to reach 40 from 46 balls.
However he went back to the first ball after the first drinks break of the day and was pinned lbw by Rashid. The legspinner then switched ends to strike twice in the space of three balls, bowling Gubbins for 26 and then Joe Clarke for a duck to leave the Lions on 85 for three.
It was 97 for four when Liam Livingstone, having recovered from the illness which confined him to bed on Tuesday, fell caught behind to seamer Yamin Ahmadzai.
But after a few nervy early moments Westley and Foakes gradually got on top of the Afghan bowlers and quietened the excited chatter in the field.
Foakes was lbw trying to sweep the veteran offspinner Mohammad Nabi after facing 137 balls and hitting nine fours, and Westley grafted on for 13 more overs before he also fell to Nabi, caught at short leg.
Rashid then trapped Sam Curran lbw for 17 and Afghanistan’s seamers chipped in with the second new ball, taking the wickets of Roland-Jones and Ollie Rayner – who had passed a morning fitness test on a knee injury.