|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
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.
The serene team culture cultivated by Misbah and his men shouldn't be allowed to be disrupted by a player with a tainted past
An early start to the international season, coupled with costly tickets, have kept the Australian public away from the cricket
Mahela Jayawardene reflects on his Test career, and the need to bridge the gap between international and club cricket in Sri Lanka
In 2011, MS Dhoni helped end a 28-year wait for India and gifted Sachin Tendulkar something he had craved throughout his career - to be called a World Cup champion
Coloured clothes, black sightscreens, two white balls: the game of cricket looked so different in 1992. But writing about it now seems more fun than watching it then
Never mind cricket's absence from free-to-air TV - changes in social attitudes, the demands of work, and an individualistic age are all contributing to a decline in participation
The sickening blow that struck Phillip Hughes is a reminder of the ever-present dangers associated with facing fast bowlers, even while wearing a helmet