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West Indies staged a wonderful recovery in the Trent Bridge Test through Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy on a day that raised some old questions about the limits of England's four-strong attack.
George Dobell at Trent Bridge
May 25, 2012
It depends, perhaps, whether you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty type of person. The glass half-full types will reflect that, from the depths of 136 for 6, West Indies fought back admirably on the first day at Trent Bridge.
It is certainly true that Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy provided spirited resistance that revived hopes not just for the series but for the future. Samuels, in particular, produced some lovely strokes and provided a reminder of his substantial ability and the generally positive influence of the DRS on our game. It would have been a bitter injustice had his graceful innings been cut short on just 1.
Samuels also produced the best batting performance of his career. While it will take more to silence the doubters - it is consistency that defines a career, after all - it was encouraging that West Indies could provide a decent batting performance without a hugely significant contribution from Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The glass half-empty types will point out, with some justification, that the ease with which West Indies' seventh-wicket pair doubled the score only served to highlight the under performance of the top order. Apart from Chanderpaul, who was the victim of an excellent piece of bowling - "the one ball in the day that turned" according to James Anderson - West Indies' top five were removed with alarming ease.
Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell and Darren Bravo all flashed at deliveries outside off stump in which no self-respecting top order batsman should have been interested while Kirk Edwards, who has now scored 20 runs in six first-class innings on this tour, left a vast gap between bat and pad. When Samuels said afterwards that "the aim was to score 500", it not only served to reinforce his hunger for more runs, but also showed how far short his top-order colleagues had fallen.
Perhaps the partnership between Samuels and Sammy also highlighted a weakness in the England team. The four-man attack has served England well in recent times: it was good enough to win the Ashes in Australia and good enough to inflict defeat upon an India side ranked No.1 at the time and boasting a daunting batting line-up.
But there are times when it can still seem a man short. There are times, indeed, when the absence of a true allrounder such as Andrew Flintoff (at his best, anyway) is still felt.
In such circumstances, when the pitch is this flat and one of the attack is not at their best, the burden upon Anderson and Stuart Broad becomes too onerous. Jonathan Trott would never claim to be a fourth seamer at this level and it is asking a great deal of any finger spinner, even one as accomplished as Graeme Swann, to fulfil anything more than a containing role on the first day of a Test in England in May.
He had not, remember, claimed a single wicket ih his two previous Tests on the ground. It was telling that England were obliged to recall Anderson into the attack, just 10 overs before the new ball was due. Anderson may be fit and willing, but he also needs protecting.
Part of the problem was that Tim Bresnan struggled to contain the batsmen. He conceded a fraction under four an over and looked, by some distance, the least dangerous of the England seamers. Bresnan has a wonderful Test record - a bowling average under 29 and a batting average over 35 - but, since his elbow operation in December, seems to have lost the nip that made him so dangerous.
While last year he regularly reached the upper 80s or even 90 mph, this year he is often under 80. He may well recapture that nip with more bowling but, with Steven Finn making a compelling case for a place in the side, Bresnan may need a telling contribution with the bat to maintain his place.
Harsh though it sounds, Jonny Bairstow may be in the same position. Bairstow has impressed with just about everything he has done since appearing in international cricket, but the fact is that England missed the bowling option that Ravi Bopara would have provided.
It may prove, in time, that Ben Stokes or Chris Woakes can fill such a role, but there are few men in the domestic game who could claim to offer the selectors a genuine allround option. Rikki Clarke is a much-improved cricketer currently producing the best allround performances of his career and would significantly improve England's slip cordon. But, aged 30, he will surely find it tough to convince all those he disappointed when he had his opportunity.
A glance at the scorecard might convince the casual observer that West Indies took a risk in batting first and that England exploited the moisture in the pitch in the morning session. It is not so. Anderson and Broad bowled pretty well, but there was precious little swing and just a little seam movement available to them. West Indies' top-order just played a series of loose strokes.
This pitch is as flat as anything England experienced over the winter - it is a much-repeated myth that England's bowlers can only be effective in England - and West Indies need to add at least 100 to the score to be near a par total. The cynical might suggest this was a chief executive's pitch: the sort of flat track that guarantees the game will go into a fourth or fifth day. In reality, though, it may be more a consequence of the soggy summer and a groundsman playing safe.
"We weren't expecting it to be 130 for 6," Anderson said afterwards. "We were expecting a hard day in the field and we ended up getting it. The pitch just seemed to flatten out."
There is, perhaps, one danger for England. Despite what scientists tell us, the ball at Trent Bridge - like Lord's - appears to swing more when there is cloud cover. If the weather changes - and in England you are never too far from a shower of rain, however good the forecast for the week - it is possible that Ravi Rampaul, in particular, could gain movement to trouble England's batsman. The resistance of Sammy and Samuels has, at least, raised that possibility for West Indies.
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