August 31, 2000

Almost even honors: England 60%: West Indies 40

Cornhill Insurance

As someone mentioned very early in the piece, "This was old fashioned Test cricket". That was exactly the truth. With England scoring 221 while losing 5 wickets in 89.4 overs, the sold-out crowd of about 19,000 paying patrons could not be dissatisfied. Honors would be about even too, with England, at 159-0 at one stage, winning the first part of the day, up to exactly the tea interval, then allowing that initiative to slip away somewhat as the West Indies rebounded to take five wickets, one immediately before tea, the rest after the second interval of the day. Yes, it was an old fashioned Test day.

When Jimmy Adams won the toss and elected to field first, he took the easier, and in my mind, the better, way out. Okay, the pitch was supposed to do nothing, as the recent Oval pitches have done, for the faster bowlers. If there has been a better batting track during the Test series so far, I have not seen it, but bowl the West Indies had to. When comparing the relative returns of the West Indies team, the bowlers and their efforts far outweighed the batters, so with a 60-40 equation to the bowlers, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Jimmy Adams had no choice but to field first, especially with the thought of trying to square the series at the back of their minds.

Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick started well, and I was sure that Atherton was good for a big innings here. He is much too good a batsman not to score at the right time, especially on this pitch, and he was simply due some runs. My feeling was amplified when he and Trescothick took nearly six overs to get the score board moving. They simply were taking their time, with no rush at all. I was sure then that the West Indies were in for a hard day.

By the time lunch had arrived, with England on 66-0 from 29 overs, one thing was already very evident. For once, Ambrose and Walsh were struggling to maintain the impeccable length and especially line that they are so renowned for. For once, the two great fast bowlers took a session off. That progressed to the second session, as both Atherton, playing majestically, and Trescothick, playing with the aplomb of a veteran after just a few Test matches, looked as if nothing would remove them. Then, wonder of all wonders, Mahendra Nagamootoo, the leg-spinner, struck.

Actually Nagamootoo bowled pretty well. He finished his first day of Test cricket, the 235th (only) person to have played Test cricket for the West Indies, with a very credible 24-7-63-2; not bad figures at all for a player who was brought on this tour to, more or less, learn something about bowling, after being rewarded with this tour for his 31 wickets in the Busta Cup first class series back in the Caribbean this year. That he was selected at all for this Test must have depended greatly on the fitness of the other faster bowlers. He held his own well.

Nagamootoo is a nephew of that wonderful Guyanese and West Indies left-handed batsmen, Alvin Kallicharran. Indeed, he could well have been selected, too, because he has just made his maiden first class century, against Somerset; selected for his first Test because of his batting, even though he is supposedly a leg-spinner. He is also the 4th such bowler that the West Indies have used on tours in the last four years, the others being Dininath Ramnarine and Rajendra Dhanraj, both of Trinidad & Tobago, and Rawl Lewis, of Grenada. At least, Nagamootoo looked more aggressive that any of his predecessors, even if he does not turn the ball as much as perhaps Lewis and Ramnarine.

Once Thescothick had gone for a well made 78, on the tea interval, and Nasser Hussein was also dismissed in the same over, two balls after that interval, for no score, the West Indies were in with a fighting chance of winning the day. The West Indies continued their afternoon effort well with another support bowler, Nixon McLean, beating Mike Atherton, who looked certain for his 15 Test hundred, for pace and removed his off bail with a good off-cutter; Atherton out for an excellent 83, including twelve superlative fours. His only regret could be that he did not eventually make 100. Then both Alec Stewart, playing at home, and Michael Vaughan, were out LBW, and a day when the West Indies would have wondered if they had made the wrong decision came back to some parity.

My own belief is that England are still ahead somewhat, as "real" batsmen Graeme Hick and Graeme Thorpe still remain. Hick was involved, remember, with a partnership with Vaughn, at the last Test at Leeds, which was worth 98, the winning partnership of that game. England's ploy of keeping the extra batsman was again paying off well.

Come Day 2, the West Indies have the option of taking the new ball. Though Ambrose and Walsh did look somewhat out of sorts early in the 1st Day, and somewhat tired at the end of it, Adams will have no trouble in making that decision to get that new ball working first thing in the morning. If the West Indies are to win this game, they must bowl England out before lunch on Day 2, for less than 275. Then they must set about batting for two days. On this pitch, perhaps the words of the West Indies Assistant Coach, Jeffrey Dujon, would come to pass:

"We must endeavor to bat only once," he says, "then we can put the pressure on England to save the game if we have at least a first innings lead of about 150-200."

That is true, and on such a pitch as this, it can be done, but Brian Lara and company will have to bat with blood in their eyes, fight to the death. England might have something to say about that.