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Lara flatters as England deceive

By Scyld Berry

5 April 1998

LOADING up a side with one-day specialists, and using slow or medium bowlers who put no pace on the ball, is a great idea. The trouble yesterday was that the West Indies borrowed it from England.

For the first time in living memory, the West Indies picked only two fast bowlers, and their use was largely confined to the first 15 overs of the match. Brian Lara was always going to be an innovative captain, but to pick only two fast bowlers - in the region which has produced Constantine and Martindale, Hall and Griffith and numerous other pairings down to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh - was still an astonishing reversal of modern West Indian practice.

The idea worked too in that England were restricted to 209 for eight from their 50 overs. The Arnos Vale ground overflowed spectators here, what is more, pay in EC dollars, which is a much stronger currency than the dollar in Jamaica, hence no one-day internationals there - and the deep blue sea sparkled in the tropical sun, but still the runs would not come against those fiddly-diddly bowlers.

England probably misread the pitch and made the mistake of aiming for an unrealistically high total on Barbadian lines. By the time they realised that the ball was not coming on to the bat, they had lost four wickets for 91, which compelled Graeme Hick and Adam Hollioake to reconstruct so cautiously that no time remained for final flourishes.

England's first 15 overs were their least productive opening assault so far, if not by much: 62 for one, against 78 for nought and 70 for one. While Nick Knight was going, there was no cloud on the horizon, save the white ones above the island of Bequia behind the bowler's arm, as he is in the form of his life.

Knight dared to skip down the pitch at Ambrose and Nixon McLean, once each, such is his co-ordination of foot, hand and eye. Whether he could play in a Test against South Africa as he does now will be one of the questions of the early summer. If he can make it, he will be one of the few to do so with the technical fault of pushing his wrists almost a foot away from himself before bringing the bat down, so that he is always feeling for the off-stump ball, never compact.

Even while Ben Hollioake was batting, the clouds did not threaten. He scored 35 from 43 balls before picking up a frustratingly slow off-cutter and depositing it at deep square: fine so far as the innings went, provided no more early wickets fell, but they did.

Alec Stewart, who likes slowish bowling least, whipped a catch to square leg, while Mark Ramprakash made an elementary error. He failed to work four consecutive balls from Carl Hooper for a single, or even to lay much bat on them, then tried to cut the fifth ball for four to salvage the over. It was much quicker and bowled him.

So while several light planes took off from the runway behind the ground, England's innings never did. Rawl Lewis, the leg-spinner, went over and round the wicket; Phil Simmons, in his new role of off-cutter, was often slower through the air than Hooper; and even Keith Arthurton had a twirl with his left-arm spinners. Hick and Adam Hollioake took 19 overs to add 75, so the Kent all-rounders had no scope to strut their stuff.

The outfield was grassy-spongy, which hampered England a little more, and the West Indian fielding was perceptively crisper without Walsh bowling the ball into the keeper. West Indies at last are developing a specialist one-day team of their own, having lagged behind - especially outside the West Indies since the 1983 World Cup.

If a largely distinct one-day team, and a separate captain, do not suit Australia, that does not invalidate this experiment for others. It suits England primarily because their Test players are subjected to greater demands, by country and county, than many other Test players; and because England has not only a demand but also a supply which is greater than any other country's.

When the aim is international excellence in five-day cricket, the ``bits-and-pieces players'' of county cricket get in the way. If the aim is the next World Cup, they can be turned to a generous supply of one-day specialists - not young at all, most of them, but fresh and keen in attitude as they see the one-day team either as an enjoyable end in itself or as a stepping stone for the Test side.

In the last two winters, England's performances in one-day internationals which have followed Test series have been at best limp. To appreciate how Test players feel after five Test matches and three months on the road, just run a hot bath, have a long soak, and wait after the water has drained away. Fresh specialists have to be more valuable than Test cricketers who are enervated.

When the West Indies replied, Clayton Lambert set off like a train, but as there are no railways left in the Caribbean, he did not get very far. He made a first wicket for Angus Fraser, sensibly restored at the expense of Dean Headley.

To dismiss Knight, Philo Wallace had taken a fine catch when running to his right from mid-off as the strong sea breeze blew the ball away from him. When he batted, he began uncommonly sedately, making one from his first eight overs before he blasted Dougie Brown back over his head for his trademark four. Still, the West Indian fifty was raised from nine overs and it was asking a lot even of England's superlative fielding to save this match.

England, though, could hardly have played any better than they did before this weekend. They were on top of the first international from the time Knight and Stewart were cantering.

In the second, specious though it may sound, they were superior to the West Indies, but had to bow to the conditions. The time is coming when Adam Hollioake should be designated as England's captain for next year's World Cup and given the brief of making the preparations.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 05 Apr1998 - 12:25