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Boldness and subtlety keys to England success

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

1 April 1998

THE approach of batsmen to one-day internationals, like that of middle-distance runners since the four-minute mile, has become increasingly ambitious. When a true pitch, fast outfield and small ground combine, no one quite knows where the scoring limit lies and today's second game in the five match series for the Cable and Wireless Trophy could easily push it further.

Any pitch on which 570 runs are scored in 96.5 overs, 312 of them in boundaries, has to be a beauty for batting, no matter what the quality of the bowling. Today's game will be on the same hard, flat surface from which England struck 28 fours and six sixes, the West Indies 35 fours and four sixes, in the one-day international last Sunday.

In such conditions it is the team with the bolder batsmen and the most varied bowling - or at least with bowlers possessed of the subtler changes of pace - who are likely to finish on top. It takes more courage to bowl a slower ball to a batsman intent on hitting you for six on a small ground than it does for the batsman himself to go for the big hit.

The last turning point amid the non-stop action of the first match was the moment when Matthew Fleming deceived Franklyn Rose with his slower ball in the same over that the tall Jamaican had lifted him high into the Pickwick pavilion for six: a case of who dares, wins.

England will field an unchanged side today, knowing that their 16-run win on Sunday owed a fair bit to the over-frenetic West Indian approach later in their innings and to Junior Murray's tweaked leg muscle, which made his batting relatively ineffective at a crucial stage.

Lara's failure to beat Ben Hollioake's flat throw in the 35th over of the thrilling West Indian chase for a target of 294 owed something to his desperation to keep the strike when Murray, with a runner, was his partner; but Lara also skidded a little, causing him to overstretch the crease on his first run.

England had the little breaks of fortune. If that continues, it will be consolation, however small, for the fact that the major breaks - the tosses in Guyana and Antigua - eluded them in the Test series.

Murray's fitness was still in doubt yesterday. At the age of 27, he is already one of only three West Indian wicketkeepers to have claimed more than 100 Test victims and though he is not in the same class as Jeffrey Dujon, he is still clearly the first choice for one-day internationals because of his batting ability.

If Dennis Waight, the veteran Australian physiotherapist, is unable to get him back into working order, the West Indies will either make use of Philo Wallace's occasional experience behind the stumps or call in the young Bajan Ricky Hoyte.

Too long a tail is one reason for the fact that the West Indies have lost successive one-day internationals in Barbados on England's last two tours, not to mention the Texaco series in 1995. Their selectors are persisting in choosing more or less a conventionally balanced side, rather than following England's preference for one-day specialists like Adam Hollioake and Mark Ealham, a trend also taken up by the Australians against the wishes of their doughty Test captain, Mark Taylor.

Rose and Rawl Lewis, however, batted better than their reputations on Sunday, proving that on a pitch like this any batsman can be dangerous. England prevailed, as they had in the final against the West Indies in Sharjah in a match which they looked likely to lose in the later stages. Cool thinking and self-belief served them well on both occasions.

Fleming said after his most effective match in Sharjah that this is a complete side of extroverts. It is not quite true: there are few more introverted cricketers than Graeme Hick, who needs to give more confident rein to his abundant talent if an England side who, under Hollioake and Mike Atherton, have now won 10 internationals in succession are to achieve their maximum potential.

Hick was holding himself back on Sunday, not trusting himself to go for his shots as Nick Knight did with such elan at the other end. Only Graham Gooch, with eight hundreds in 125 matches, and Robin Smith, with four in 71, have scored more one-day hundreds for England than Knight in his 17 games to date.

Assuming yesterday's sultry weather has blown away, there will be no time to hold back or play a waiting game today when a total of 300 by the side batting first will be less an ambition than an expectation.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 01 Apr1998 - 12:37