On the first of a three day warm up designed to give practice to England's cricketers after the long coronavirus induced break, it was James Bracey and Dan Lawrence who dominated, making 85 and 58 as Team Stokes batted comfortably to 287-5 at close.
Having won the toss and elected to bowl, Ben Stokes may have been worried after Saqib Mahmood opened the day with a big legside wide. However, both him, and Jimmy Anderson showed promise early on, even if they were somewhat inconsistent in line against the left handed opening duo of Bracey and Rory Burns. After an early loose drive from Bracey off Craig Overton that induced a low drop from Ben Stokes, a big partnership could have followed, only for Burns to edge behind to Ben Foakes off C. Overton as he looked to drive. Enter Joe Denly, fighting to keep his spot at number three.
In a classic Denly innings, where, after being 1 off 31, he danced down the track to hit Leach for a six and got into decent batting rhythm. Playing some confident drives against the quicks, he set the par for Zak Crawley, his number three competitor: bat long, and get some runs. However, having made his Dentury (100 balls faced), the Kent veteran was adjudged lbw to a good length Anderson delivery that nipped back in. Denly often struggles with inward movement, and was bowled early on by Mahmood off an no ball that got through his gate. While not a performance to guarantee his place in the side, Denly has helped his cause.
After his dismissal, Bracey was joined by Lawrence, and the pair put on a good 53, before Bracey fell, strangled down the legside off the bowling of Jamie Overton, only playing after a hamstring niggle to Olly Stone. Despite this unfortunate dismissal, Bracey's knock was a good one. With easy footwork against Jack Leach, and confident defence against the new ball, Bracey put on a show to the empty Ageas Bowl. He looked assured against test-level bowlers and despite the early drop, offered no chance. As well as his use of the feet against Leach, highlights included a gorgeous early cover drive against Anderson. Overall, a good knock from the the young Gloucestershire keeper-batsmen, and while unlikely Bracey will get in the test side, he is on everyone's radar now, including, his teammates, coaches and selectors, after a good demonstration of his batting talent .
Despite losing Bracey, Lawrence continued his classy knock, joined by Ollie Pope. If reports in the Times are accurate, Lawrence is fighting with Jonny Bairstow for the number four spot, and, given his weight of county runs and impressive 58 today, has helped his cause. Lawrence played with ease early on, knocking bowlers around, and when joined by Pope, built a good partnership. His knock featured a beautiful lofted cover drive off Ali, who, hoping to win back his place in the side, was brought on for the 69th over after a disappointing day from Leach (hit for three sixes). While Ali bowled well, he didn't cause too many problems, although he can be considered very unlucky, as the umpire decided Lawrence was not caught short-leg; a questionable bump ball giving him the lifeline. Lawrence brought up 50 against Ali with a mowed four to cow corner, and followed it with a similar shot for his seventh boundary. It was to be his last though, as he managed to clip Anderson to midwicket with the fourth delivery of the new ball. Losing his wicket in this soft manner dampens the innings, but his overall work today won't work against his selection.
Before Lawrence's sloppy wicket, it was C. Overton who picked up Pope after the stand of 40. The young star missed a flick through leg to a ball that may or may not have been clipping leg stump. It did, however, affirm C. Overton as the pick of Team Stokes' bowlers. His figures of 2-32 from 14 overs underlined a strong performance. He will likely play this summer as quicks are rotated, even if he doesn't start the first test.
After Lawrence went, Team Buttler could have slipped at 262-5. However, captain Jos Buttler and Sam Curran took them to close, with their aggressive styles bringing some gorgeous boundaries, even if Buttler didn't look totally assured against the new ball, with which Anderson bowled very well. At close, Buttler and Curran had put on 25, with scores of 24* and 15*, to leave Team Buttler 287-5.
The day belonged to Team Buttler after Bracey and Lawrence's work with the bat. However, three final session wickets gives hope to Team Stokes, who, if there isn't a declaration overnight, will hope to quickly bowl out Team Buttler tomorrow morning.
Look for @englandcricket on Twitter to see the link for the livestream tomorrow.