Taylor hundred helps edge tourists towards defeat
West Indians 147 and 28 for 3 (Brooks 2-12) trail England Lions 341 (Taylor 118, Bairstow 50) by 166 runs
The news coming from Chelmsford of concerns surrounding Ravi Bopara's fitness added extra interest to events on the second day in Northampton, where James Taylor, the England Lions captain, went about reaffirming his international credentials with a superb century while Jonny Bairstow produce another eye-catching innings. The West Indians were left facing a tough challenge to avoid defeat ahead of the Test series as they closed in trouble on 28 for 3, still 166 behind.
Bopara is widely expected to be given the No. 6 spot for the start of the international season, having carried the drinks during the two winter Test series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This latest injury worry appears to be at the minor end of the scale but even if it precluded him from bowling for a period that should not dent his Test chances, unlike they did in Sri Lanka when a side strain cost him a likely opportunity. On that occasion England felt they needed a reasonable fifth bowler, whereas in England during May the four frontliners will be more than enough.
However, if batting cover (or ultimately a replacement) was required it would come from this Lions side so it was a timely moment to impress, although it is Bairstow who is probably ahead of Taylor at the current time, despite the latter's hundred. Taylor has slipped down the pecking order over the last six months, to the extent that he was not included in the 26-man England Performance Squad for the season ahead, which is a rough guide of the way the selectors are thinking. He had a disappointing winter with the Lions during the one-day tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, so this was an important innings to put him back on the agenda.
Last season he impressed in Lions colours with 76 against the Sri Lankans at Derby, where he opened the batting, followed by 76 and 98 against Sri Lanka A back in the middle order. Before this match Taylor said he saw himself as a middle-order player - although, as players do, he added he would bat anywhere - and it does appear his natural home. Here he was at No. 5, the same position he currently occupies for Nottinghamshire, with Samit Patel, who did not do himself any favours with a lazy chip back to the bowler, above him; although anyone with aspirations to bat top six for England should ideally bat top four for their county.
This innings was exemplary and the only life he got was on 104 when he was caught at slip off a no-ball from Fidel Edwards. He had initially played second fiddle to Bairstow, but caught up as he moved to fifty off 91 balls and became increasingly dominant as he started to lose partners. The pull shot was working well and the West Indian bowlers did not always adjust their length and he was lightning between the wickets which helped with the outfield remaining sluggish.
When Jack Brooks was ninth out Taylor was on 86 but Jade Dernbach, who took a painful blow on the arm from Edwards which prevented him from taking the field, hung around to see his partner towards three figures, which arrived with a thumping cover drive. The confrontation between Dernbach and Edwards was feisty and included a few words from the fielders which led to the umpires stepping in to calm the situation. The final-wicket stand was extended to a 64 in 10 overs as Dernbach and Taylor opened their shoulders and the final three wickets added 130 to take the Lions lead from useful to intimidating.
During the morning session a lead of such a size was a long way off as the Lions slipped to 98 for 5, which brought Bairstow to the crease to join his captain. Entering the game in good form, having made two Championship centuries for Yorkshire this season, he stood tall and played impressively through the off side off front and back foot. His fifty came from 89 balls before, against the run of the play, he lofted Shane Shillingford to mid-off just as the tourists were starting to flag.
The only member of this Lions team certain to be in the first Test squad is Ian Bell, who asked to play in this match after Ben Stokes withdrew with injury and he played confidently for his 29. At one stage when facing Shillingford he had to pull out of his stance as Andy Flower, the England team director, who is at the ground with the other selectors to discuss the squad for the first Test walked behind the bowler's arm. Flower immediately raised his arms in apology and Bell had a smirk on his face but that turned to a grimace when Ravi Rampaul, the pick of the West Indian quicks, nipped one between bat and pad.
The tourists will need to decide which of this four-man attack makes way for Darren Sammy at Lord's. Edwards had moments when he cranked up the pace but continued to have no-ball problems and spells of lethargy, while Kemar Roach left the field after claiming his third wicket, although if all the quicks are fit it could be Shillingford who misses out. They may not get the chance of another run-out before the Test as the top order stumbled again before the close, as Brooks and Matt Coles shared three wickets, and the visitors will have to make huge improvements to be competitive next week.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo