July 1, 2000

England have best of early exchanges

    Atherton/Vaughan fend off grim weather and fine bowling

Lord's, teatime: West Indies 267 and 54; England 134 and 109 for two (Atherton 44, Hick 9).

Cornhill Insurance

England, facing a none too easy target of 188 to win the Lord's Test match against the West Indies, were severely handicapped by their own weather on the third morning, when only 11 overs could be bowled. Play continued uninterrupted after lunch, though, and by tea England had enjoyed the better of the day, thanks to a superb fighting partnership of 92 between northerners Mike Atherton and Michael Vaughan. In the final session, England will need a further 79 runs to win with eight wickets in hand - but with the quality of the veteran West Indian bowlers and the recent record of their own batsmen, they would be wise not to consider themselves as favourites yet.

A steady drizzle greeted those optimistic enough to turn up for the third day's play, and by 10.40 large areas of the outfield were in the process of being laboriously covered. However, the rain soon stopped and play eventually started at 11.50.

Ramprakash nudged Walsh to third man for two to avoid his pair, but the England plan was obviously once again to block out Walsh and Ambrose and hope to take easier runs off their back-ups. It hadn't worked before, but only those with skill, confidence and technique can hope to attack the ageing pace pair and get away with it. Ramprakash, on today's and this season's showings, does not have all the necessary attributes - but few have. He had not added to his two when he tried to force Walsh off the back foot and chopped the ball on to his stumps via the inside edge. His career as an England opener may be over. England were three for one, and after eight overs it had progressed no further, with Mike Atherton still to score.

So well did the West Indian veterans bowl and so doggedly did the Englishmen bat that Atherton took 23 balls to get off the mark and Vaughan 29. The first boundary came in the tenth over as Atherton played a fine forcing stroke backward of point off Walsh; two overs later he had the confidence to hook a no-ball Walsh for another boundary to fine leg. But before another ball could be bowled Jupiter Pluvius returned, the drizzle came down and the players went off with England 13 for one (Atherton 9, Vaughan 0). Lunch was then taken.

The West Indies, for their part, would not be too disappointed as the unscheduled break would allow Ambrose and Walsh to return later fully refreshed. Ambrose, despite his lack of a wicket, was sitting on the remarkable figures of six overs for one run.

    Dogged defiance frustrates West Indies bowlers

Play resumed at 1.35, and immediately Atherton's pads latched on to a leg-side delivery by Walsh and earned four leg-byes. An involuntary thick edge later in the over brought a four through the traditionally gaping third-man region. Vaughan hung on doggedly and Walsh had two impassioned appeals against him, for lbw and caught behind, turned down in one over. Vaughan finally got off the mark with a straight drive for three off Walsh. The runs came mainly off Walsh, who was perhaps not quite at his best, and Atherton reached 20 by turning him off his legs past square leg for four. Vaughan, though, found an answer to one ball from Ambrose, pulling him superbly for four past mid-on.

Walsh finally rested after bowling nine overs and was replaced by Franklyn Rose. It spelled instant relief, as Vaughan on-drove for three and Atherton drove to the extra-cover boundary. The 50 came up in the 23rd over. It had been a constant struggle for concentration and survival, and every now and again the concentration snapped and the batsman flashed, but managed to survive. Ambrose finally came off after an exhausting spell of 13-8-13-0.

Vaughan slowly began to catch Atherton, and pulled ahead of him when on 28 he snicked a ball through the vacant third slip position to the boundary. Soon afterwards Atherton was almost run out by bowler Rose going for a quick single; had King's shy hit the stumps, he would have been on his way. Possibly this may come to be seen as the vital moment of the innings.

    England's batsmen v Walsh
    Enthralling contest

Perhaps overdue, Walsh returned from the pavilion end and in his first over picked up a crucial wicket as Vaughan, like so many before him, sparred at a ball moving away marginally outside off stump, got an edge and was caught by keeper Ridley Jacobs for 41. England were 95 for two and a crucial partnership had come to an end.

According to common belief, this was not a situation to be relished by Graeme Hick, but the second ball Walsh bowled to him disappeared like a rocket through the covers off the back foot; by way of reply, Walsh's next ball almost cut him in half. In the next over Atherton nudged King to third man brought up the hundred. King proceeded to give Hick a workover with some vicious deliveries and was given a warning by umpire John Hampshire. With the last ball before tea Hick got away with an unconvincing hook for four off Walsh, ducking at the same time as he played his stroke, but as before during this long afternoon session fortune favoured England. Many would say it is about time.