All toil, no trouble
As Fidel Edwards limped in during the final over of a long day, Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, might have had a furrowed brow in the dressing room. Perhaps not so much out of concern for Edwards, but rather due to the possibility that the hard grind his bowlers had experienced without many gains could be the trend for the rest of this cold English summer.
Friday was even more overcast than the first day of the Test and the conditions on the ground had not changed much. England walked into the series after having had a tough time during the winter where they had lost four out of their five Tests, played in the Asian subcontinent. Andrew Strauss, the England captain and opener, was diagnosed as vulnerable.
So the four-man fast bowling contingent from the Caribbean had many things in their favour, in addition to bringing different skills to the table. Kemar Roach had pace and form under his belt; Fidel Edwards, the most dangerous, speed allied with swing; debutant Shannon Gabriel had height and the X-factor about him; Darren Sammy, the slowest of the lot, the rigour to keep plugging the ball on the same spot.
Yet England, and Strauss, came out relieved while transferring the pressure on to the West Indies bowlers, who had to toil hard to fetch three wickets on a long day. Their effort was in complete contrast to the England bowlers, who maintained control, accuracy, and utilised the conditions to their advantage on day one, even when there were intervals in the final two sessions of play when Shivnarine Chanderpaul imposed himself completely.
But more than effort, West Indies bowlers failed on two fronts: swing and seam. That allowed Strauss, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott to establish themselves and subsequently build partnerships. It says much when their best bowler on the day was Sammy who, despite only bowling medium pace, had the most number of appeals, including a caught behind off Trott, which he decided not to review, despite replays showing the faintest of edges. But Sammy would be the first to admit it was just not luck that went against West Indies.
The first signs of trouble were visible when Edwards did not return after a four-over opening spell. He had failed to move the ball once, and allowed the England openers to settle down quickly. At the other end, Roach, who was coming into the series on the back of finishing as the best bowler in the home Test series against Australia, tried hard in his extended spell of 12 overs, bowling from both sides of the wicket, on various lengths, to try and induce a false shot.
When Cook did play on, Roach didn't expect it, at least from his reaction to the wicket. He was bowling from around the stumps, wide of the crease, down the slope, the ball pitched on middle, on length, and Cook perished cutting a delivery that was a little too close to him. But the vital first session had England on top.
The West Indies bowlers maintained a much better line and control immediately on resumption as no run came off the bat in the first 21 deliveries. Roach even bowled the first maiden of the innings in the 26th over.
But how long could West Indies keep England in check? Pertinently, how long could the bowlers keep their control? Sammy became too predictable for Trott, who understood the West Indies captain was trying to move the ball into his pads. Over time he became comfortable. At the other end Strauss, who had kept quiet for the first half an hour of the second session, galloped from the 30s to his half-century. The first six overs after lunch only cost seven runs but then Sammy gave up 20 in two overs.
This was not new for England. They know the conditions better than anyone and in the absence of any hostile or skilled bowling, the Strauss-Trott combination consolidated further. Apart from Sammy, the other West Indies bowlers, at least in the second session, did not try to bowl to a plan. There was no strategy to keep Strauss locked in at one end. As England extended their vigil, the silly run-out of Darren Bravo and the even sillier fashion in which some the West Indies batsman had got out on the first day, became only more significant.
Suddenly it seemed Ravi Rampaul's stiff neck had come at the wrong time. Rampaul might lack express pace, but he has the knack and intelligence to work hard on a batsman. He has grown to be more disciplined than the rest of the West Indies fast bowlers. Simultaneously, it also raised another doubt: did the visitors read the pitch, which is slightly slow and dry, wrong? With the forecast for Saturday good, spin is likely to become a vital factor on the final two days.
Despite bowling long spells, all four of West Indies' fast men returned to bowl more effectively in final session of play, in which two wickets fell and the batsmen were forced to play and not just leave the ball.
The task at hand is not easy for West Indies. But Gibson can remind his bowlers about the one suggestion he had on the eve of the Test for them to succeed in English conditions. "The one message I have given them early season in England is the only skill you need to have is the skill of patience," he said. "If you put the ball in the right areas often enough in England this time of the year you will get some reward. It is letting the ball do the work for you rather than thinking you have to bowl the magic balls - just put the ball in the right place and the conditions will aid whether they are swinging or seaming. You do not try to force the conditions."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo