February 20, 2001

England A cling on to unbeaten record

The final day of the Busta Cup match between England A and Leeward Islands proved a nerve-jangling one as the tourists set out to clinch victory and ended up scraping a draw.

In some ways, the players had it easy concentrating only on their cricket. For the management, stress levels were running high as their attention darted from the dramatic action in the middle to progress in other matches, from Busta Cup run rates to Liat airline schedules as they tried to work out how the result - whatever it was - would impact on their itinerary and their semi-final prospects.

Chris Schofield
Schofield: Superb control
Photo © John Dawson

The permutations were endless and with every wicket that England A lost, so the huddles regrouped for more deliberations.

There were fraught times but when the news came through that Barbados had beaten Trinidad and Tobago and thereby taken the Busta Cup, the picture became clearer. If England A lost to Leeward Islands, they would travel to Barbados, assuming that Guyana won their match of course. If England A drew, and Guyana won, England A would be off to Guyana for the semi-final.

Other factors came into the equation too. It transpired that none of the players had taken any malaria pills, required for trips to Guyana, believing that Grenada would be the next port of call. And the complicated qualifying rules brought net run, wicket and over rates under the spotlight after fears that Jamaica may have sneaked ahead of England A after their unbeaten opening stand of 425.

Phones and calculators were running hot and tonight, even after the championship is decided and the Busta International Shield semi-finalists known, there is still doubt as to whether England A travel to Guyana since the airlines are unable to guarantee delivery of the players kit to Georgetown before Thursday, which will restrict preparations for Friday's match.

When Graeme Swann was out to a lofted on drive that fell into Stuart Williams hands, the picture looked distinctly grim and England A were also facing up to the fact that their seven year-old undefeated record was close to disappearing down the Anguillan drains.

But a partnership between the level-headed James Foster, who gritted it out for an unbeaten 42, and Alex Tudor who made 18 not out, saw England A survive the remaining overs with the record still intact.

Leeward Islands defied expectations in the morning session by batting slowly, forcing them to delay their declaration until some time after lunch. When they did finally close the innings, having been pegged back by some superbly controlled bowling by Chris Schofield, the score was 198 for seven and England A's target for victory 270 from the 47 overs Leewards had left to force a result.

Michael Powell set off with a defiantly struck four through mid-wicket and signalled the team's intent in attempting to go for the runs. But the plan went hopelessly awry in the third over when Powell was lbw to Goldwin Prince, having made nine. Two balls later John Crawley was also despatched by the umpires raised finger, another lbw decision after the Lancashire captain had played across the line.

Ian Ward went next ball attempting an ambitious swipe to the first ball of Ricky Christopher's next over and in the space of four balls England A's plan of attack was in tatters with the score 14 for three.

Mark Alleyne was dropped on two but after his century in the first innings, he quickly settled into his rhythm and kept the scoreboard ticking over. When he was bowled by Kerry Jeremy for 40, a nervous anxiety took hold of the England A dressing room and every ball was watched in stony silence.

It was a disappointing outcome, Alleyne said afterwards but one that had served to shake his players up ahead of the all-important semi final.

"I thought it would be a tense final day and it was probably too close for comfort but nevertheless a good game to watch," he said.

"We have dominated a lot of the other games but this would have shaken us up a little bit and set us up nicely for the next match, making sure we make fewer mistakes and be harder nosed about our game."