Newcomers James Bracey and Dan Lawrence stole the spotlight as England’s leading red-ball players went head to head on day one of a rare intra-squad clash at the Ageas Bowl.
When growing concerns over the spread of coronavirus brought an early end to England’s last official outing 111 days ago in Sri Lanka, neither man was even in the country never mind the conversation.
But with circumstances much changed and the national side forced to schedule its own internal tune-up between ‘Team Stokes’ and ‘Team Buttler’, it was the latter’s uncapped batsmen who gained most as their contrasting half-centuries underpinned a score of 287 for five.
Gloucestershire’s Bracey batted diligently at the top of the order, reaching 85 in 194 balls to make good on an opportunity few would have forecast at the start of the summer, while heavily-touted Essex batsman Lawrence turned in a sparkling 58.
Already a two-time county champion, and scorer of a century in the Lions’ victory over Australia A in Melbourne over the winter, he scored his runs with an unmistakable swagger in 83 deliveries.
With regular Test skipper Joe Root missing next week’s series opener due to the birth of his second child, Lawrence made a strong pitch for the vacant number four spot and could ultimately find himself competing with Joe Denly.
Denly managed 48 here but, had Saqib Mahmood not overstepped when he took out his off stump on 12, the contrast between his contribution and Lawrence’s would have been stark.
As it was he faced over 100 balls but failed to kick on to a major score, a well-worn trope of his 14 Test appearances.
In bowling terms, the 18 overs sent down by James Anderson will probably have the most impact on England’s immediate plans.
The country’s record wicket-taker has not played since breaking a rib during the New Year Test in Cape Town, but looked reliable and fit as he returned two for 49.
The remaining wickets fell to the Overton twins, both of whom turned in impressive performances as they jostle for position in a packed seam attack.
Craig Overton got the first wicket of the day, finding Rory Burns’ outside edge in the morning session, and had Ollie Pope lbw for 25 in the evening.
Brother Jamie was not initially included among the 27 players taking part, added to Ben Stokes’ side only after Olly Stone reported a tight hamstring.
The younger Overton added some heat to the line-up after tea but got slightly lucky when Bracey flicked a leg-side delivery to the waiting Ben Foakes while in sight of a century.
The 23-year-old had been given a life early on, edging Craig Overton on 14 only for Stokes to parry the chance at second slip.
He put that opportunity swiftly to one side, shaping up well against Anderson to reach 33 not out in a lunch score of 70 for one.
Denly and Bracey put on 98 for the second wicket, both men striking straight sixes off Jack Leach, with the latter bringing up his half-century by successfully taking on Moeen Ali for a quick single.
Denly was hoping to follow suit but was pinned in front by Anderson to end a middling innings.
Lawrence scored just 10 more runs but did it with greater aggression and purpose, whipping Leach over midwicket for six, repeatedly getting the better of a battle against Moeen’s off-spin and dominating a stand of 53 with the settled Bracey.
Both had cause to regret their dismissals, Bracey feathering Jamie Overton off his pads after being forced back by the short ball and Lawrence’s ambition getting the better of him as he flicked Anderson to midwicket.
Jos Buttler (24no) and Sam Curran (15no) combined to see their side to stumps without further loss.