August 31, 2000

West Indies restore balance of play by stumps on first day

Cornhill Insurance

There were four comforting hours in which England trod with meticulous care towards the high ground in this Test which could confirm the rise in standard of their cricket this summer. And then there was the fifth hour in which they briefly went through a harrowing phase when their captivating effort of the first two sessions threatened to come to nothing.

It was staunch rather than spectacular effort - only 66 runs came before lunch - that guided England to a record breaking 159 without loss. The stand went past the highest for the first wicket on this ground in a Test against West Indies. It had stood at 155, between Sir Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe back in 1928. It is particularly pleasing that it fell to a pair of batsmen who seem to have settled into the role which has caused not a little anxiety in the England batting order.

After the myriad combinations that England have tried, Michael Atherton having had a dozen or so opening partners, Marcus Trescothick has provided the answer with a most impressive display since coming on the international scene in the limited overs competition. He was one of the success stories in England's One-Day triumph this season and then confirmed that his temperament extended to the highest level of the game.

While he will be pleased that his average of 52.50 in the series, before this Test, has gone further up with his 78 today, Atherton will be relieved to have got among the runs at last. His 83 came when he was stuck with a most unlikely average of 17.14.

The fall of five England wickets from the stroke of tea to stumps would have had considerable mitigating effect on Jimmy Adams, the West Indies captain's decision to put England in to bat on a true pitch and under a clear sky. His worries would have been compounded by the fact that neither of his two great fast bowlers, Curtly Ambrose nor Courtney Walsh, despite a few close calls, was able to find a way through the largely defensive batting of the two openers.

As usual most of England's runs came off the other bowlers although the leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo was impressive on his Test debut and set off the rapid fall of wickets, taking the first two to fall in the same over with the total on 159. Later Nixon McLean repeated the feat when he dismissed Atherton and Alec Stewart in the 73rd. over on 184. The usual economy of Ambrose's bowling is reflected in his figures of 1 for 25 in twenty overs.

England captain Nasser Hussain must be more than a little concerned with his own batting form. His five innings in this series have brought him 61 runs and will perhaps get an opportunity, in the second innings, to score enough to boost his confidence before the winter tours.

After having frittered away such a solid foundation, losing five wickets for 55, England have a re-building task ahead mainly through Graham Thorpe who has shown great caution taking two hours for 31 and Graeme Hick. England do bat deep and will hope for a substantial first innings total tomorrow.