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Prince of Trinidad has pocket picked as Fraser plays

By Mark Nicholas

9 February 1998

First day

9.35am: Hackneyed clichˇ it may be, but if you're not certain what to do on winning the toss, think about it and then bat. Licence there with Sir Leonard Hutton's original thought but the point here is that Michael Atherton, having fired some blanks with his decisions to put opponents into bat - Melbourne 94-95 for example - was spot on with his brave move to take first use of a flat (compared with Jamaica), firm but very grassy-looking Queen's Park Oval pitch.

This is the place where Tony Greig took 13 wickets in the match with his off-cutters (in 73-74, when England selected four spinners and Geoff Arnold . . . sign o' the times . . . West Indies have four seamers and Carl Hooper). And where Curtly Ambrose laid England to waste with their collective 46 four years ago. Brian Lara said he would have bowled first - chicken.

Lunchtime: Nothing flat about this pitch at all, the ball is darting all over the place. Get this, England have lost only one wicket, Atherton. Alec Stewart is defending with uncharacteristic restraint while once again taking as many body blows as that girl in the French court and John Crawley is blocking like Boycott.

Teatime: Before play this morning Michael Holding said that the pitch looked as if it had been prepared for the English seamers. Now he is conceding that it's fine for his chaps too.

Nasser Hussain is hanging on in there, earning another gong for his play on a spicy pitch, a speciality of his for England at present. There is something punchy in Hussain's character and it emerges in his batting which is stubborn, quick-footed, fast-eyed and darned impressive.

Crawley is so nearly there as a Test player but his judgment of line on off-stump and into 'the corridor' outside it is faulty.

5.35pm, close of play: Ambrose is unbelievable, really unbelievable. His figures for the day are 20-13-17-3 and while squeezing the life out of England's good start he has conceded only one boundary. The King, as Antigua has christened him, might be past it as a master-blaster, but no way he's past it.

The cricket today was terrific. Not in a crash-bang-wallop way, but in its attrition and commitment. Suspect pitches make for more watchable fare than featherbeds. England are 175 for eight, Hussain is still in and so is Angus Fraser on his return to the top flight after two years unwanted.

Second day

11.35am: An hour-and-a-half after play began: Fraser and Hussain are still in. Fraser was clonked on the head first ball of the day and then on the breastbone, arm, fingers and thighs too, but he's a trouper is Gus, and it took a marvellous ball from Kenny Benjamin to get him out at twenty to 12. Philip Tufnell was out to a less marvellous ball at eighteen to 12 but, as he said during a practice bowl this morning: ``Yeah, I'm looking forward to me knock to a degree, but I need to look after me paws, mate. I'm 'ere to bowl.'' He's kind of Artful Dodger to Fraser's Fagin.

Six hours later: Fagin leads his team from the field with five serious wickets in his proud bag - Lara, Hooper and Chanderpaul among them. Fraser bowled straight, that's all, and made sure he landed the ball on the seam. The one that got Hooper was breathtaking, a wicked foot-and-a-half break- back that sneaked behind Cool Carl's knees and drilled into leg-stump.

Lara received a loyal reception on his walk to the middle and batted like he meant it, but the pitch and Fraser got to the Prince of Trinidad too, and a classy fifty ended tamely.

The Dodger spun a few balls at right angles late in the day and looks to have that confident spring in his step and that lovely loop to his teasers.

Third day

Talk about a comeback. Fraser nipped three more out in no time and finished with the best bowling by any Englishman in the Caribbean, bettering the eight for 75 taken in Barbados four years ago by . . . Angus Fraser. Give the selectors their due, he's a great pick and not one with which many of us agreed.

Now, on a very different note, at 10.46 on Saturday morning, the West Indies missed a trick, perhaps even missed their moment of the match. Trailing by 23 on first innings and with England's senior batsmen taking guard, Lara gave the new ball to Benjamin and new kid Nixon McLean. In the first five overs of the innings Atherton and Stewart hit four boundaries and all from the middle of the bat.

This was a huge half an hour and a big, big mistake by Lara. Four years ago Ambrose took the new ball when England needed just 194 to win the match, trapped Atherton lbw first ball and shocked the rest of England into submission - even those of us, by the way, watching on telly back home. This time he didn't bowl until the openers' eyes were in and Walsh did not bowl until they were well past 46 - a misguided tactic which gave England the psychological edge.

On a continuingly serious note, Alec Stewart played excellently and his two innings in this match rank easily alongside the two hundreds he made in Barbados on the last tour. Vivid footwork was their feature, which set up balanced defence and the straight lines of his strokeplay.

In the afternoon the fresh legs of McLean, who looked more comfortable and a great deal faster than he had in the morning, finally snared Stewart and awoke the West Indies from the slumber that, apparently, mirrored their play in Pakistan. England lead by 242 and have six wickets in hand. They should win from here.

Fourth day

10.16am: Adam Hollioake edges a fast ball from Ambrose to slip a soft stroke from a hard man. Hollioake will be a Test captain if he can be a Test cricketer, defining moments such as these are his greatest examination.

An hour later and Curtly had done 'em all, except for Thorpe who fell in a terrifically aggressive and accurate over from Walsh. England have lost six wickets for 39, the West Indies need 282 to win. Has the King of Antigua defied the odds?

11.51am: Sherwin Campbell edges a full ball from Dean Headley to slip. Thank heaven for it, as most of the rest of the balls were halfway down and Williams, batting for his Test life, climbed into beautifully timed pulls and cuts.

Lara appears fidgety, as if the world never mind the game is on his shoulders. When he is out the crowd mumble to themselves, almost pretending that it hasn't happened.

Final session: Nerve-ends are fraught. Crawley at short leg has just caught a stunner to give Fraser his first 10-wicket haul in Test cricket. Fagin was out with Botham last night so he's touched by the gods for sure. Adams soon follows and then Dodger kids Chanderpaul into error. Still 158 needed, only five wickets to go and Hooper and Williams together.

Some partnership. Cool Carl stayed cool. And wicketkeeper Williams batted rather as Gus Logie may have done in his pomp. It has ended this evening as it began this morning, undecided.

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Date-stamped : 09 Feb1998 - 18:46