ENGLAND would have batted anyway had they won the toss at Chedwin Park yesterday, and rightly so, but in the hands of genuine fast bowlers the new ball is always dangerous in the Caribbean, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
On a true pitch offering early life they were 30 for three after 11 overs before Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain bailed them out with the kind of resolute and patient but not negative batting which will be required in the major matches ahead.
Soon after tea they had added 130 and taken England to 160 for three, having reached fifties within a few minutes of one another which suggested again that this may prove to be one England touring side who are not going to cave in at the first sign of a crisis.
Running well between the wickets to ensure that runs never dried up, Hussain and Thorpe both showed how much they have learnt from past experience in the Caribbean. Shades, too, of their partnership in the first test at Edgbaston last summer when 50 for three against Australia became 338 for four.
Reon King and Nixon McLean, both bowling at a stinging pace and generally demanding a stroke, especially after the first English-made Dukes ball had been replaced in the seventh over, gave the top-order batsmen a genuine dress rehearsal for the challenge which will face them in six days' time at Sabina Park. For Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and John Crawley the hope must be that things go better on the first night.
Whether the relaid pitch at Sabina will have either the pace or consistency of this one is doubtful. It was a surprise that Roland Holder, captaining the A team with advice from Joel Garner and Roger Harper, who respectively managed and coached them recently in South Africa, chose to field first but the strength of this West Indian second XI lies in the potential of their fast bowling.
In a moment of imagination, indeed, Garner dubbed them ``Thunder and Lightning'', but there was no danger of their getting carried away and bowling too short as young fast bowlers sometimes do when introduced with a fanfare. On this flat, open, attractive ground in the middle of a sugar plantation McLean bowled some fierce balls from a high, accelerating action and King, open-chested after a fluent, athletic approach, made a double strike in his fourth over.
It had gone smoothly enough until then, Atherton steering McLean to the third-man boundary and punching him past cover as soon as he over-pitched and Stewart driving a half-volley from King smoothly through extra cover. It was in trying to repeat the shot, perhaps a little too anxious to get on top, that he was bowled off an inside edge.
Crawley is a nervous starter of an innings at the best of times and, aware of the need to establish a right to the No 3 position, he seemed especially so yesterday. He left his first ball, dangerously close to his off stump, with a nonchalance which might have been deceptive and made a late decision to stroke the next one, further pitched up and wider. The ball flew off the edge at comfortable catching height to first slip.
Three overs later it was McLean's turn. Hussain survived a chance to second slip when he cut ferociously - Floyd Reifer cut a hand trying to catch it - and two balls later Atherton, half forward and a fraction too square, edged low to the substitute at second slip, Kerron Baker.
Hussain and Thorpe, fighters both and relishing the challenge, weathered the storm. All credit to them, not least because the second wave attack was no pushover.
As he had last week, the relatively small Laurie Williams, no more than a brisk medium pace, needed watching and Pedro Collins, slim but with a long sweep of his left arm, was lively. It was he who got one ball to lift suddenly off a length in his spell after lunch to strike Thorpe hard on the top hand, a blow which needed a lengthy pain-killing spray from Wayne Morton.
Thorpe and Hussain made a nice contrast as, with increasingly less difficulty, they built a partnership of substance and significance.
Hussain is much straighter and less square on than he used to be but he tends to be more vulnerable early in his innings because of the long arc of his bat when he spies an attacking opportunity. The chance that he gave when only four, however, was his last and he is playing with confidence.
Thorpe, so compact and playing the ball very late, gives lessons whenever he bats these days in the art of letting the ball arrive before committing himself. Once again he picked up runs off his hips and close on the off side, occasionally playing a fuller shot with crisp timing and the full face of the bat.
The outfield is no billiard table but, by contrast to Jarrett Park last week, it is a delight for fielders and batsmen alike.
Thorpe and Hussain both hit seven fours in their fifties, reached respectively off 102 and 113 balls, and they went in to tea in apparent control.
Both McLean and Rawl Lewis had moral successes against Hussain as he tried to accelerate after tea. A rapid bouncer from McLean arrived in the gloves of the Bajan wicketkeeper, Ricky Hoyte, almost before his attempt at an airborne hook had got to halfway. At the other end, a top-edged sweep off Lewis carried over the head of the keeper.
None the less it was good to see the fourth-wicket pair trying to step up a gear. The coming series is going to be won by whichever team can build partnerships and then make them tell.
Day 2: Fraser rises to the challenge as England face hard labour
THE opening batsmen having had a sharp reminder of the facts of West Indian cricketing life on the first day, it was the turn of the opening bowlers to do so yesterday. It soon became sweated labour on a hard, true and unmarked pitch but Angus Fraser struck with his 11th ball and Ashley Cowan quickly impressed, too, hitting the deck hard from his high action in two brief spells with the new ball, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
Nasser Hussain had extended his overnight 131 to 159 and positive batting by Adam Hollioake and Jack Russell had made possible an early afternoon declaration at 400 for eight. At tea, West Indies A had responded with 55 for one. The smooth progress of the tour since England began playing in earnest, however, was interrupted by the first injury of any consequence. Hollioake dived at mid-wicket and fell awkwardly on the hard outfield, dislocating a joint above his right shoulder. He walked off for treatment, leaving England without a fifth bowler but it was too early to say what the repercussions might be as far as next week's first Test is concerned.
England physiotherapist Wayne Morton, who applied an ice pack in the dressing-room, said: ``Adam dived and dislocated a joint. It is to early to assess the extent of the injury.''
It has been suggested that England should engage a gymnast to teach them the art of diving and in the search for perfection, who knows if this is not one aspect which has been overlooked.
Cowan might well have had a wicket with his first ball in any match for England when an inswinger of full length thudded into the pads of the left-handed Wavell Hinds, who had gone right back on to his stumps.
His escape was temporary, Fraser getting a ball to bounce just outside his off stump to have him caught behind for 12. Fraser was bowling into a strong wind and if he is to play in the Tests, it will not be for the last time. His control was just what was needed, allowing Andrew Caddick and Cowan to run in freely down the breeze.
Cowan looked the more dangerous but little Leon Garrick was seldom troubled and the Guyanese No 3, Keith Semple, timed the ball nicely. It looks as though Phil Tufnell would have plenty of bowling to do as the innings progressed.
England's innings extended until Mike Atherton declared five overs after lunch with 400 safely in the bag. Hussain reached 159 and put on 110 with Hollioake, who was even more fluent than his partner until run out by a piece of fielding by Laurie Williams at backward point which Learie Constantine would not have disowned.
Hollioake again played with refreshing simplicity: he is a batsman, as he is a man, who does what comes naturally, with few inhibitions.
Consequently, when Nixon McLean pitched it half-way down, he hooked him from the meat of the bat for a four which almost carried over the midwicket boundary. McLean shared the second new ball with Pedro Collins rather than the quicker Reon King as his partner, which made life easier for England. Once and once only did Collins get a ball passed Hussain's outside edge.
Hollioake played the shot of the morning, no more than leaning on the top of the bounce of a ball from McLean and sending it skimming to the base of the concrete and corregated iron pavilion at cover. He had time for only one more four, a slightly miscued on-drive off Williams, before Hussain hit hard to backward point and for the second week running, sent a partner back when committed to a run. This time, Hussain was far less to blame: the one-handed pick-up and swift throw to the top of the bowler's stumps left Hollioake stranded.
Hussain batting smoothly on, with no further sign of the cramp in both hands which had handicapped him at times on Thursday. He did receive a sickening blow to the box from the ubiquitous Williams just before the drinks break, entirely necessary for everyone on a second day of humidity and beating sunshine.
Hussain's fine innings - ``it was worth a week of net practice although it doesn't mean all that much as far as the Test is concerned,'' he said - ended when he danced out to drive a leg-break from Rawl Lewis and missed as the ball spun passed him into the gloves of the left-handed wicketkeeper, Ricky Hoyte.
He had hit fours from 20 of his 333 balls and had batted in all for 7 hr 20 min. From such application, matches are won.
What remained of England's innings was no less encouraging for them. Russell continued in much the same confident manner which brought him 1,000 runs for Gloucestershire for the first time last season.
As usual, his running between the wickets was a model of judgment and decisive calling. While he pushed, glanced, thumped and scurried, the tall tail-enders took on Lewis. Caddick lofted him for four before skying to mid-off; Cowan drove him for six before King finally got a bowl and yorked him; and Fraser also drove him for six before the declaration, 15 minutes after lunch.
Day 3: Hollioake injury threatens England balance
By Scyld Berry at Chedwin Park
ENGLAND put half-a-dozen eggs in one basket when they picked their six probable Test batsmen in both of their warm-up matches. Yesterday it was revealed that one of those eggs was cracked, if not broken.
Adam Hollioake, who had been inked in as a swashbuckling No 6 until he dislocated his right shoulder, was rated by the England physio, Wayne Morton, as having ``better than a 50-50 chance'' of making the Test side on Thursday. But as Hollioake will not be able to throw, or bowl, or play the ball around his head with his exceptionally heavy bat - ``doing anything over shoulder-height will be difficult'' according to Morton - realism rates his chance as minimal.
Hollioake spent Friday night sleeping on his left side with his arm in a sling. He dislocated the same right shoulder 10 years or so ago when playing rugby, where dislocation of the AC joint is common. ``There will be ligament stretching and damage,'' said Morton. ``The recovery time can be anywhere from five days to three weeks.''
The door is therefore open to either Mark Butcher or Mark Ramprakash, though it is not an inviting one if you have not batted in a game for more than four months. Butcher is the likelier replacement because he is bowling his medium pace again, if not as accurately as Hollioake, and England require a fifth bowler. Also, Butcher might more equably accept the prospect of being brought back to make a couple of low scores, then dropped again on Hollioake's recovery.
It was an accident waiting to happen as much as ill-luck. The new Team England can call on all the coaching experise they want, yet nobody has told the players how to dive properly. In Sharjah last month, Mark Ealham damaged his right shoulder when diving in the field exactly as Hollioake did, and if they had been deprived of their most economical bowler, England might never have won the Champions' Trophy.
To cease diving in the field is not the answer. The urgency of one-day cricket, and increasingly of Test matches, demands it. The MCC coaching book does not supply the answer either, because this is a new ability being required of cricketers.
The exceptions have been Warwickshire's players, who were taught how to dive by Bob Woolmar when he was their coach. He analysed the techniques of professional goalkeepers, as the closest to parallel to cricket, and bought crash-mats for Edgbaston. When he left to coach South Africa, he took his knowledge to more willing listeners.
The second major concern for England in this match has been the form of their top three batsmen. But at least Alec Stewart made a century in Sharjah little more than a month ago and both Mike Atherton and John Crawley enjoyed two hours on the pitch, if you could call it that, in Montego Bay.
This match has offered a slow, easy-paced surface, carefully tended by the groundsman employed by the sugar estate which owns this ground, and it might just be the last decent batting pitch that England see until the third Test in Guyana.
The scores at Port of Spain, the second Test venue, have recently been even lower than those at Sabina Park: Trinidad lost there on Friday in two days.
Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe, however, are not far from their peak after their masterful partnership which swung the game to England after three wickets had fallen in the opening session on Thursday when the pitch was a little damp. Hollioake was not far off it after his second stroke-filled forty of the tour - England want their No 6 to attack, before their tail is snuffed out - only to dive awkwardly at cover point on Friday afternoon.
England's bowlers as a unit should be closer to the boil after their third outing in the heat. The no-balling has not yet cleared up completely, and Dean Headley could have used a second practice match, but Angus Fraser has run in far more fluently than in the opener at Montego Bay and should have seen off the challenge of Ashley Cowan. The first Test will be full enough of uncertainties without England fielding a debutant.
Fraser took his third wicket of the West Indies A innings, which resumed at 156 for three, when Rawl Lewis pulled like a nightwatchman, and like those cutting sugar cane with their machetes in the plantations around the Innswood club ground, and was caught at deep square leg. In the same spell Fraser burst through the defence of Floyd Reifer as the batsman, who had injured his hand when dropping Hussain at second slip in the opening session, lingered in his crease.
But England's bowlers and fielders were given the workout they needed by the West Indies A captain, Roland Holder, who reached a very fine hundred after lunch by punishing Andy Caddick's inconsistencies and driving Phil Tufnell until he went over the wicket.
The game languished as the pitch became very flat, the umpires were not forthcoming and England's bowlers don't move the ball sideways like Pakistan's. A couple of thousand spectators enjoyed themselves though as a warm wind blew and the rum started to talk.
Day 4: Fraser secures his return for the first Test
REON KING, the Guyanese fast bowler who made his name in a big way for the first time when he bowled out India with seven for 82 last year, dismissed Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and John Crawley in the space of 44 balls on the final day of the four-day game against West Indies A yesterday, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
In the wake of Roland Holder's career-best 183 on Saturday, it gave the West Indian second XI a victory on points in what was in the end a comfortably drawn game.
Apart from an improvement in Adam Hollioake's shoulder, the weekend was not, however, without profit for an England team who should now be ready for the first Test on Thursday. Angus Fraser and Phil Tufnell both added further deserved wickets to finish off the tail in the morning after being comfortably England's best bowlers on Saturday, Fraser finishing with the outstanding figures of 38-10-99-5, which put the seal on his return to the Test team after two years.
Atherton and Crawley then batted with panache against the new ball after Alec Stewart had found something nearer his true form before lifting a drive to short extra cover with his weight badly distributed. Atherton dominated the remainder of the morning session, hitting one flat hook off Nixon McLean over the boundary wall and out of the ground. Driving and pulling freely in the early afternoon, he had made 49 in two hours with seven fours and the six when King hurried him into a hook. Ricky Hoyte, who has kept wicket and batted well, took the top-edged skier skilfully, running back behind the wicket.
Crawley, who had come in just before lunch, was by now batting with some command, to his own and everyone's relief, but he betrayed his tactical naivety by failing to throttle back after Hussain got a fine ball from King which bounced more than he expected as he essayed a force off the back foot. Hussain's first-innings hundred, by the way, was his second, not his first in the Caribbean. Crawley followed him back two overs later when he pulled hard in the air to square-leg.
It was not ideal to have two left-handers in together now, a further reason for Graham Thorpe to bat at four not five, but he and Jack Russell, loving the slight scent of a crisis, saw England to the point where a declaration could be made with the match saved. They had to battle through a spell of very quick bowling by McLean after tea, some accurate stuff from Pedro Collins and some testing but insufficiently varied wrist-spin from Rawl Lewis, who got some turn and bounce on an ideal four-day pitch.
Hollioake, who dislocated a joint above his right shoulder in the field on Friday but has been given a better than 50-50 chance of playing in the first Test, was looking more cheerful yesterday with his arm out of a sling. He will have to bat, bowl and field at Sabina Park tomorrow to prove his fitness for Thursday.
If Hollioake cannot recover freedom of movement in his bowling arm, an awkward choice faces the tour selectors - Atherton, Hussain and David Lloyd - between Mark Ramprakash and Mark Butcher. Both played in the last Test at the Oval against Australia in August, but neither is as likely to take Test wickets in the role of a fifth, auxiliary bowler as Hollioake. Neither has had a match here, which makes Hollioake's recovery all the more important - and again questions the wisdom of playing only two rather than the customary three warm-up matches.
If Butcher plays, it will be as No 3 batsman, with Crawley dropping back to six, which would be a blow to the latter's frail self-esteem. If Ramprakash is preferred, it is sure to be at six, where he batted at the Oval, rather than at three, where he failed in the West Indies four years ago.
Tempting though it might be to revert to Stewart as wicketkeeper, thus allowing Robert Croft back into the side and a balanced attack of three specialist fast bowlers and two specialist spinners, it will not happen this early in the series. Rightly so, because the Atherton-Stewart opening partnership and the batting contributions of an improved Russell are twin planks in England's strategy.
Geoff Boycott has suffered the first professional repercussions of his court case in France last week, after which he was fined £5,000 for assaulting a former girlfriend. Super Supreme Television of Jamaica and Jamaican Radio Two, for whom he had been due to comment on the Test series, have replaced him with the former West Indies batsman Lawrence Rowe.