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Jamaica v England XI, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Reports from the Electronic Telegraph

16,17,18,19 January 1998

Day 1: England in battle for survival

ANYONE looking at a fixture list for England's tour imagining that Jarrett Park in Montego Bay is a ground rather similar to Arundel Park in West Sussex, a gentle place to start a tour, would be much mistaken, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

West Indian grounds can often look rustic but their pitches play perfectly well. This one has a relaid pitch which made batting close to dangerous early on and extremely hard work all day. England had reached 142 for five 15 minutes into the third session of play.

Their batting was as uneven as the surface on which they played, but a poor beginning to the tour was averted by some determined application by Mike Atherton and John Crawley in the morning and an assertive innings by Adam Hollioake later. In the cases of Crawley and Hollioake, preferred in what is England's probable side for the first Test to Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash, these were significant per formances.

Choosing to bat first on the grounds that conditions would get worse rather than better, Atherton lost his opening partner, Alec Stewart, when the 24th ball of the morning flew from a length, took the shoulder of his bat and carried high to second slip. Despite a suitably single-minded second- wicket partnership the partial recovery which followed was not maintained.

After lunch Atherton and Nasser Hussain got themselves out to strokes inappropriate to a pitch requiring the utmost care. The felony was all the grosser in Hussain's case because it compounded one committed only three overs earlier when he changed his mind about a single and gave Crawley no chance of getting back.

It was a triple pity: running short singles was an obvious way to keep things moving on a very slow pitch of unpredictable bounce; England were not in a position, at 73 for two, to lose a wicket so unnecessarily; and Crawley was making a good case for his mildly surprising return to a position to which he has always looked well-suited.

By battling for 2.25-hours he still played the first noteworthy innings of the tour. Not only selected, but asked to go in at No 3 in preference not only to the two Marks but also to Hussain, who seemed happy to go in at first wicket down when he first established himself as an England batsman two years ago, Crawley was struck on the gloves almost more often than not before the ball lost its initial hardness and batting became less of a lottery.

Atherton, of course, relished the challenge, but this was a pitch which was quite close to being fiendish. Had it been quicker, or had either Courtney Walsh or Franklyn Rose been playing, the first batting replacement of the tour might already be on his way. Fortunately there was no one of express pace and by getting their heads down and riding their luck the Mancunians saw England to lunch at 53 for one, scoring at well under two an over.

The extraordinarily long grass of an outfield more like a municipal football field made boundaries very unlikely. The first came from four byes off a shooter; the second as late as the 29th over when Crawley pull drove an off break from the suitably flighty Gareth Breese. It was a rare light moment in a difficult morning.

As bright sunlight gave way to a muggy afternoon, no less typical of Jamaica, England's position deteriorated rapidly until Surrey, represented by Graham Thorpe and an commendably assertive Hollioake, took over the job which Lancashire had started but failed to complete. Three overs after lunch the captain clipped a ball from Kirk Powell, tall, perservering, young and strong, straight to square-leg. Curiously enough, Atherton went through a period on the last tour of the Caribbean when he was tending to get himself out in this way.

The casual flick off the legs was once a Crawley weak point too, and he had come close to giving mid-on a catch off Breese in an innings otherwise impeccably judged. All the more unfortunate, then, that Hussain, who had begun promisingly, should have looked up and called after playing gently forward to a ball from Powell. Perhaps it went straighter or more firmly off the bat than he had realised but after a split second of hesitation he aborted the run and his partner was stranded.

Three overs later Hussain also clipped a ball crisply off his toes - some feat on this pitch - and was caught low at midwicket. If England are to prosper as this tour progresses, however, it will be because they will find someone to have a good day when others are not: in other words if, at last, the sum is going to prove greater than the parts. There was an encouraging indication that it might be so as Hollioake immediately hit the ball harder and more boldly nthan any of his colleagues.

He swept Breese for six, waited to punch him away off the back foot and came firmly forward to the quicker bowlers as Thorpe settled cheerfully into a supporting role. By tea they had taken England to 137 for four: nothing to write home about but, on a ground where England last played on a major tour as long ago as 1954, nothing to be ashamed about either.

Sadly, Hollioake missed his chance to play a truly big innings. He edged a cut at a ball from Powell in the first over after tea and departed, angry with himself, for 40.

Day 2: Pitch catches England on the hop again

By Scyld Berry

AS a setting for this match against Jamaica, Jarrett Park could hardly be more perfect, situated as it is above Montego Bay amid beautifully verdant hills. The game itself, however, has been rendered an almost worthless exercise by the appalling conditions of the pitch and ramshackle ground, and as it comes on top of their rained-out week in Antigua, England are left with one proper game to atune before the first Test on Thursday week.

It was much the same on England's visit here in 1985-86, when they had a farcical opening match on a wet pitch in St Vincent, turned up for the first Test undercooked and were horribly roasted. But when did England study the tour reports of previous managers and learn from their mistakes?

Even if Antigua's rain had not disturbed their warm-up this time, England would still have been under-prepared. Their two first-class matches in Jamaica are both at up-country venues, where the groundsmanship and covering are unlikely to produce pitches of suitable standard. England's total here was a highly commendable one, worth roughly double its value on paper.

Owing to the in-fighting in the local association and its primary function as a football ground, Jarrett Park has offered the sort of conditions which are to be found in a municipal park. If this had been a championship match, Jamaica would have been docked 25 points for the pitch, 25 points for the outfield and another 25 for the state of this ground.

One ball has lifted from a tuft of straw into the ribs, the next shot along the ground. If the umpires had wanted to get home early, the match might have been over by now, but home for Steve Bucknor is Montego Bay.

The outfield would have been dangerous if the grass had not been three inches deep in the places where there is not plain sand. Instead it has just been laughable to watch the ball disappear into some clump of vegetation as it has approached the boundary. It seems that visitors to Montego Bay are as unlikely to get value for shots as they are for money.

England's bowlers began by putting the ball in the dangerous areas much more often than Jamaica's had. Had Courtney Walsh and Franklyn Rose played, rather than three whippy, but raw, fast-medium bowlers, followed by junk spin, their height and skill could have ruined England.

Resuming at 179 for five against the second new ball, Graham Thorpe continued to lead England's rally from 78 for four, until he drove a leg-break to cover and the declaration was made. He batted for 333 minutes and made his highest score in the West Indies to lead the recovery. Not only did the outfield make him proceed slowly, but also his position as the only remaining specialist batsman. If he were to bat at No 4 in the Tests Thorpe might lead a fightback more quickly.

For all the handicaps, England could have run more assertively between the wickets than they did. The Surrey pair of Thorpe and Adam Hollioake were the first to run both aggressively and sensibly, quick singles being the only way to make progress for long passages of England's innings. At the end enterprise was seen from Thorpe and Dean Headley.

Jack Russell did exactly what was required by filling the vacuum which last summer against Australia masqueraded - though not for very long - as England's lower-order. He was hit amidships as often as Thorpe, yet he scrapped away until he was deliberately playing and missing in his finest form.

The peanut-seller was getting into his stride and the conch-soup-seller warming up for lunch, when Russell went for a big cover-drive and was caught behind. Andy Caddick has some serious batting to do at No 8 on this tour and began well enough until yet another ball kept low. The scoreboard here has spelled his name as ``Cadwick'', which makes him sound like an 8th-Century monk. But Brother Andrew can be rather more like a hermit when he has one of his loner days.

Like reconnaissance, time at the crease is never wasted. But it can also be a lot more usefully spent than it has been here. So variable was the bounce throughout England's innings that it was impossible for anyone to synchronise his timing.

When England took the field, slightly under an hour after lunch, Russell found the execrable pitch to be just as difficult for wicketkeeping as his Jamaican counterpart had done. ``Use a long stop!'' shouted one helpful Jamaican spectator yesterday morning, as Andrew Coley dived and missed another shooter.

Russell wore an official ECB sunhat in the field, discarding at long last his beloved patchwork of white headgear. Only in his first match for Gloucestershire, as a schoolboy, had he worn anything else on his eccentric head.

England took their first wicket when the discarded Test opener Robert Samuels edged low to Russell's left. The second came low to Russell's right when Leon Garrick, a possible Test opener, pushed half-forward at Headley. By now the ball was keeping even lower.

But nothing at all has been wrong with the setting above the shacks and shanties of Montego Bay: the light has been so clear that the wandering eye can see not only the tourist flights coming in to land but the Oxford-blue sea meeting the Cambridge-blue horizon. The temperature seems always to be 28 degrees Centigrade, day and night.

Day 3: England clean up on rum Jamaica pitch

THE next two months will tell to what extent, if any, the decline in West Indies cricket has been exaggerated: one match, however, has been sufficient to confirm that the game here is not what it was. That was evident less from what England did to Jamaica, namely beating them by an innings and 65 runs before tea on the third day, than from what Jamaica quite failed to do to England, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

England bravely batted first on a foul pitch and bowled Jamaica out twice when it had gone from worse to impossible as dents were hit, cracks opened up and the pace became quicker. On previous tours the situation might very well have been reversed. Had England won the toss they might not have dared to bat first on a relaid, underprepared pitch because there would have been two or three literally dangerous fast bowlers in the opposition.

Even had they preferred to bat, as Mike Atherton shrewdly did here in the correct belief that things would get worse, they would not often have shown the same stomach for the fight that England - and Graham Thorpe in particular - did here. I doubt if there have been more than a handful of international matches played in more deplorably rough conditions as this since the days when pitches were mown with scythes and flattened by horse-drawn mowers.

The most significant point, however, is neither the shabby state of the ground in Montego Bay, Jamaica's second biggest town, where international cricket is not unknown and a domestic inter-island four-day match was played as recently as two seasons ago; nor the nature of England's victory. It is that no touring team, but especially not one from England, would have been given the liberty of playing against so weak a bowling attack in the first match of the tour.

Had Courtney Walsh and Franklyn Rose played here they might possibly have broken bones and certainly made some important psychological points. Patrick Patterson was genuinely injured but he too, though he may not be the holy terror of 1986, would have been a nasty proposition had he played.

The importance of this result should not be over-emphasised because, of course, the best available attack will be playing for the West Indies in 10 days and the pitch at Sabina Park, even though it has been relaid with the same soil as this one, cannot, surely, be so venomous and unpredictable. Nonetheless, a missed opportunity for the home side was one admirably seized by the visitors. England have made, if not an ideal start, a very good one.

Dean Headley and Phil Tufnell did most of the bowling over the weekend after Mike Atherton had declared on Saturday when Thorpe was caught in the covers driving the leg-spin of Brian Murphy. He had made 89, his highest score in the Caribbean, batting with skill and courage for 333 minutes and receiving, probably, not many fewer bruises. Jamaica, 108 for eight when play resumed yesterday, managed 17 runs for their last two wickets in the first 35 minutes.

After the stylish Leon Garrick had been caught in the gully driving in Headley's first over in the second innings, England took two more wickets before lunch and Jamaica collapsed in the afternoon against Tufnell, turning the ball sharply at one end, and an assortment of glove-rappers, head-jerkers and shooters at the other.

Three of Headley's four second-innings wickets came from straight, good length balls which hit the very base of the stumps, but it was nonetheless a small miracle, even on what was still a slowish pitch, that no one broke a finger. Jack Russell, who conceded 15 byes in the first innings for obvious reasons, kept wicket in a helmet, even standing back, although that was going too far.

Jimmy Adams, who is expected to be recalled to the West Indies side when it is announced this week, was hit on his top (right) hand by Headley on Saturday and the no less dangerous Andrew Caddick yesterday. Both Adams and the other Test left-hander, Robert Samuels, were out trying to counter-attack Tufnell, Samuels missing as he jumped out in the hope of repeating a strike for six and Adams driving too early to mid-on.

Two difficult chances were missed on Saturday but England's fielding was generally slick on an outfield which allowed only 15 fours in the first two innings of the game. One of the few things that England got wrong was in failing, in most cases, to make use of the hard plastic glove protector issued to the players.

Two seasons ago the Middlesex physiotherapist, Simon Shepherd, worked out that of 1,481 days lost by professional cricketers in England to impact injuries, 88 per cent were the result of blows to the hand and half of these were injuries to the thumb or forefinger of the bottom hand. Alec Stewart and Nick Knight now wear them as a matter of course and Thorpe wisely did so in this match. The protector is strapped over the usual padding and batsmen do not find it cumbersome after a net or two.

If this in some cases was a case of too little defence, England must beware the opposite. Some of the reactions when the constant appeals were turned down yesterday by the umpires Steve Bucknor and Cecil Williams were a little more than just ungracious. Russell and Caddick might each have earned a warning from a match referee had their disgruntlement, genuine though it no doubt was, been repeated in a Test match.

No one should be concerned, however, about controlled aggression and England have reason to be satisfied with a job well done. Atherton confined himself to describing the pitch as ``sub-standard for a first-class match'' and said it had become dangerous yesterday. But the captain and his team played on it without any moaning, in keeping with team policy. This, said Atherton, was not the best way to win the game, but most of the batsmen had a long time at the crease and most of the bowlers long spells.

Less good news emerged over the weekend when it became apparent that Darren Gough's hamstring problems are unlikely to allow him to join the tour in time for the third Test, as he had hoped and he may now aim for the one-day series following the Test series.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 18:37