KENNY BENJAMIN, who took eight for 57 in Port of Spain 10 days ago and 46 wickets in the last two series against England, was recalled to the Test 13 in place of the injured Mervyn Dillon yesterday. A wayward performance by Ian Bishop with the new ball for Trinidad and Tobago at the start of the two-day match in Point a Pierre has given Benjamin every chance of playing, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
Conditions were almost diametrically opposed to the rogue pitch at Sabina Park: a slow, low turner of the kind for which Trinidad is famous. England made the most of winning the toss, reaching 351 all out in their first innings which, by agreement, was limited to 90 overs a side. Realistically, this will be a draw, a practice under match conditions.
Brian Lara might, probably should, have taken the chance to play himself into form at the Petrotrin Sports Club, spaciously set among the oilfields with fumes carried constantly on the wind.
It was here that he made his first hundred against an England touring team eight years ago. Perhaps there is a hint of the fear of failure which England's bowlers will hope to exploit.
Lara chose to hand the captaincy to Phil Simmons and to watch Bishop's performance from the boundary. By the time he was taken off after a seven-over opening spell, Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart had rattled up 60 off the first 15 overs, a rare rate of progress in the Caribbean these days. They were aided by four no-balls in Bishop's third over and a dry outfield over which the ball travelled like a puck on an ice rink.
Bishop, falling away in delivery, struggled in vain to find a consistent line and rhythm. It begins to look as though the recovery which followed his long absence from back pain and the consequent change to an open action was only temporary.
Even if it is green for the second Test on Thursday England are more likely to be facing Benjamin, recalled for the first time since going home early from Australia in 1996-97, or Franklyn Rose.
The ease with which England batted here yesterday and the fact that there are no specialist spinners in the West Indies team suggests that the first of the two Test pitches at Queens Park Oval on Thursday probably will start with plenty of grass on it, though for financial reasons the West Indies Cricket Board will not want them to overdo it. Steve Camacho, their chief executive, was gloomily forecasting losses of around £1 million after the Sabina debacle, on top of the £150,000 loss made by the board last year.
A decent crowd at Port of Spain, where the capacity is twice as big, 28,000, might assuage that loss. Bryan Davis, the former Glamorgan and West Indies opening batsman who is now cricket manager at Queens Park says that preparation is well advanced on both the Test strips.
Robert Croft is playing in this match in place of Phil Tufnell in order to give him some match practice just in case. Jack Russell, fully recovered, was back in an otherwise unchanged side in place of Mark Butcher, leaving the unfortunate Mark Ramprakash and Chris Silverwood, who may not have had a match until the tour is two months old, to join Butcher, Tufnell and Ashley Cowan for yet more net practice with John Embrey.
Atherton and Stewart had an excellent net themselves against Bishop and the more accurate Nigel Francis, paving the way for the eager leg-spin of Dinanath Ramnarine. He has a quick arm and would be a real handful on a quicker pitch but his left-handed partner, Avidesh Samaroo, also bowling wrist-spin, was driven for a straight six by Stewart, then thumped off the back foot for his seventh four to take him to fifty first off 71 balls.
Atherton was out 10 minutes before lunch, driving to mid-off after a positive, assured innings. That applied also to Stewart before he went soon after the interval, trying to loft Ramnarine for another six.
John Crawley was distinctly less at home on the slow pitch. His timing was rarely on song in the course of a patchy innings of 33 before, going down on one knee to try to swing the third spinner, Denis Rampersad, to leg, he too was bowled. Nasser Hussain was in far more fluent form but an unusual failure followed for Graham Thorpe when he sliced a square-drive off Ramnarine to backward point. And a few minutes later Adam Hollioake prodded a leg break rather abjectly to gully.
Not for the first time England were showing themselves to be highly suspect against a decent wrist spinner. The relevance to the Test matches, however, was negligible, unless the selectors choose to call on Ranmarine. As he is a local, there would be nothing to stop them doing so.
The ever-reliable Russell soon restored order, adding 86 with Hussain before the latter drove the youthful Samaroo to extra cover. Russell, having reached a fifty of real quality, was then twice dropped as he tried to sacrifice himself. His third attempt, to long on, was more successful, and the two back-of-the-hand spinners were far too clever for the tail.
Day 2: Simmons keeps England at bay
By Edward Bevan in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad
AFTER England's batsmen had prospered on the opening day, their bowlers got in some useful practice as their two-day match against Trinidad and Tobago was drawn.
The home side were struggling at 92 for five shortly before lunch. But a resolute partnership of 115 for the sixth wicket between Phil Simmons and Lincoln Roberts not only restored their fortunes but also dispelled any thoughts Mike Atherton might have had of enforcing an early follow on. Simmons finished unbeaten on 78 as Trinidad and Tobago were all out for 274 in reply to England's 351.
The England seamers used the new ball effectively early on, while Robert Croft, in his first game of the tour, bowled some useful spells and got the odd delivery to turn sharply.
The two-day game, hastily arranged following last week's events at Sabina Park, proved a worthwhile exercise for the tourists. All the top order batsmen but Graham Thorpe spent some time in the middle, while the three Test seamers, used sparingly by Atherton, bowled a consistent line and shared six of the first seven wickets to fall.
Andy Caddick took two early wickets, assisted by a strong breeze which helped his away swing but did nothing to divert the obnoxious fumes emanating from the adjacent oil refineries.
Suruj Ragoonath misjudged the 14th ball of the morning which kept low, then Caddick got one to lift from short of a length and Denis Rampersad prodded to short leg.
Daren Ganga and Richard Smith put on 51 for the third wicket but both departed as the home team lost three wickets in 15 balls to Headley and Angus Fraser.
Ganga and Smith were both out to balls that kept low then David Williams - suspicious of the pitch - pushed forward and edged to second slip.
Simmons did not appear until the fall of the fifth wicket but set about rebuilding the innings with Roberts, a compact right-handed batsman.
Simmons was within a whisker of touching Croft's arm ball early on and was later dropped by Atherton at leg slip. Roberts reached his fifty with eight boundaries from 208 balls, but then chopped Caddick to second slip.
Croft took his first wicket of the tour when Avidesch Samaroo nudged a delivery to Nasser Hussain at slip.
Nigel Francis was then bowled not offering a stroke, and after Dinanath Ramnarine was run out and Ian Bishop caught at midwicket, the umpires and captains called off the game with 13 overs remaining.