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The Wisden Verdict by Freddie Auld
March 11, 2004
England are used to having problems against left-handed blokes called Smith, especially on the opening days of series. But while last summer's tormentor - Graeme - is a huge, hulking, mouthy bruiser, Devon Smith is an impish, more compact player who heavily favours the offside. After being dropped for West Indies' disastrous tour of South Africa, Smith forced himself back in to the side after racking up consistent scores in the Carib Beer Championship for the Windward Islands. And he carried on that form today, keeping things simple in a well-paced knock: starting slowly and stepping up a gear after lunch.
England took the early honours with the four big wickets - Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul - for only 35 runs, and would have expected to have been batting themselves before the close. But Smith, and later, Ryan Hinds, emerged as the unlikely saviours. While the big guns fired blanks, it was the young comeback kids, especially Smith, who took aim and popped England's early bubble.
The main steadying influence in England's weaponry is supposed to be Ashley Giles. But when Michael Vaughan tossed the ball to Giles with the West Indies on 130 odd for 4, his first ball was speared down the legside, the second was a long-hop outside off. It was a pivotal moment. Twelve runs came off the over and West Indies regained the initiative.
But on the whole, England didn't bowl badly, and a score of 311 for 9 is no disgrace. Hoggard and Steve Harmison made good use of the new ball, digging it in short of a length on a pitch offering good bounce, and when Simon Jones marked his comeback with one of the most coveted wickets in the world, England were riding high and seizing the initiative.
But the trouble with this attack is that nobody can quite provide that spark when things go flat. Andrew Flintoff and possibly Jones are the closest England have in terms of character, but Flintoff is rightly being used sparingly, and Jones, one tends to forget, has only played a single full Test match.
As the evening wore on, England needed someone to hold their hand up, as Nasser used to say, but, by that stage, all hands were on hips, complete with the hang-dog expressions. The Barmy Army did their bit to get things going again, and Giles responded with the fortunate dismissals of the impressive Smith and Hinds, but England were left pondering what could have been.
Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following England's fortunes in Jamaica and Trinidad.
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