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England triumph as Knight throws down gauntlet

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

29 March 1998

A DAZZLING 97-ball century by Brian Lara, the first he has ever made at the Kensington Oval, was not sufficient to win yesterday's opening one-day international. England, running like March Hares and hitting five sixes, four of them by their man-of-the match Nick Knight, had set the West Indies a challenging 294 in 50 overs.

Fearless and athletic fielding by a committed and confident England team and a canny spell of curling off-breaks by Robert Croft made the difference as they won in the end by 16 runs against opponents who approached their challenge with unnecessary freneticism. Lara's brilliance had bought them plenty of time and they still had four overs and one ball left when Courtney Walsh was bowled off his pads by Mark Ealham.

The rapid scoring rate was set from the outset of a game watched by a noisy and excited crowd. Knight and Alec Stewart made 78 off the first 15 overs, helped by the fact that Lara, having chosen to field, did not to give the new ball to Curtly Ambrose while there was just a little moisture left in another of Prof Edwards's beautiful pitches. When he did come on Ambrose bowled his first four overs for 11 runs and actually beat Stewart more than once but that was the one period when England were not more or less in control. Even Ambrose was twice struck for six by Knight - a pull and a pull-drive - and he did not complete his full quota of 10 overs.

Knight batted much as he had when making his two previous one-day hundreds for England, against Pakistan in 1996. His driving to all quarters was bold and impressive but he hit well off the back foot too, cutting hard and pulling a six off each of the three fast bowlers, starting with one each off the new-ball pair of Franklyn Rose and Walsh.

Knight is, I suppose, the forgotten runner in the Captaincy Stakes - he led the A team with notable success - but for the time being he will be content to have left no one in doubt about his ability to take on all types of bowling in one-day cricket in a way pioneered by Warwickshire in county cricket and taken up by Sri Lanka in the international arena.

Indeed, his captain, Adam Hollioake, had nothing but praise for his performance. ``Nick played a great innings,'' said Hollioake, ``and paced it magnificently on what was a fantastic pitch. But these are a great bunch of guys who all play for each other and always seem to come through in these tight games.''

England were kept in check only by means of clever changes of pace by the two West Indian all-rounders, Carl Hooper, playing his 163rd one-day international, and Phil Simmons, in his 127th. Stewart, England's most capped current player by far, was playing 'only' his 95th match. Stewart was happy to play second fiddle yesterday but he still struck the ball beautifully, especially when Hooper and Rawl Lewis were in harness. His placement, as well as his timing, was excellent until a ball from Walsh trimmed his bails as he tried to run a good length ball to third man.

Graeme Hick kept the board moving satisfactorily without achieving control. He was bowled by a big leg-break from Lewis as he came down the pitch to drive and Knight's narrow run-out next ball, after he had hesitated over a second run when Graham Thorpe slipped in mid-pitch, naturally set England back. Ealham, the senior Hollioake and Matthew Fleming all hit effectively in the closing overs, Ealham clubbing 20 from 14 balls, but bowling was not so easy on this batsman's paradise.

So bold was the West Indian response, indeed, that even England's highest total in a one-day innings in the Caribbean might not have been enough. Lara, dropped by Stewart standing up to Ealham when 42, had made 41 of the 111 rattled up in the first 15 overs after Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace had once again suggested that the phrase 'throwing caution to the winds' was coined especially for them. They battered 24 off the first two overs from Dougie Brown and Dean Headley but a brilliant stop by Adam Hollioake was the first sign that England would not be daunted and in the third over, at 25, Hick caught a sizzling drive from Wallace with deceptive ease at short mid-wicket.

Lambert followed in the next over when Headley took his outside edge as he drove at a good length ball but England were now confronted by another left-hand/right-hand combination, this time of the highest class. Lara and Hooper wasted no time in re-applying the pressure, Hooper with lazy, lofted drives on the up, Lara with a series of ferocious pull shots, mixed with balletic whips off his legs, fierce cuts and delicate off-glides which made the ball do the work for him. Together he and Hooper put on 98 in 14 overs before Headley took a running catch off Fleming to dismiss Hooper - an all-Kent dismissal which left the game genuinely poised.

Lara continued to blaze away, superbly quick to punish anything remotely short, but Shivnarine Chanderpaul's dismissal to a paddle shot to fine-leg off Croft brought in Junior Murray, who had twisted a knee late in the England innings and had to bat with Hooper as his runner.

Lara's failure to beat Ben Hollioake's flat throw in the 35th over of the thrilling West Indian chase which followed seemed to have given control in the field once more, especially when Murray got a thin edge as he drove rather wildly at Headley.

Rose and Lewis, however, batted rather better than their reputations. Both stylish right-handers, they defied the slow-balling tactics of bowlers like Adam Hollioake, Fleming and Ealham and with six overs left only 28 more were needed. Stewart, however, produced a deft stumping, standing up to a ball of full length from Ealham, to give England further hope of prevailing in yet another of the tight finishes which litter the history of one-day internationals.

It took time for Lewis to realise that the third umpire had ruled him out, the traffic lights which indicated as much being apparently invisible in the middle. Rose prolonged the tension with a mighty six off Fleming in the 46th over but two balls later a slower ball was chipped to mid-wicket, leaving the old firm of Ambrose and Walsh with a bit too much to do.

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Date-stamped : 30 Mar1998 - 19:41