England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 1st day June 7, 2007

Improved West Indies make England fight

England 296 for 7 (Bell 77*, Harmison 3*) v West Indies
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Jerome Taylor removes Paul Collingwood during West Indies' impressive afternoon session © Getty Images
West Indies produced their most impressive cricket of the series as the opening day of the third Test at Old Trafford offered the most compelling contest of the early summer. England lost four wickets during the afternoon session, but the depth of their batting bailed them out of a potentially more serious hole with Ian Bell and Matt Prior adding 98 for the sixth wicket, until late wickets left the match fascinatingly poised.

After the innings-and-283-run mauling at Headingley today's performance from West Indies was as unexpected as it was heartening. When he was put into the field on a fast-scoring ground Daren Ganga would have happily taken seven wickets by the close. The series desperately needed a hard-fought day; England have to be tested in tough situations to gauge any progress they are making, and the fragile confidence of the young West Indians could have imploded terminally if another thrashing had developed.

For the first time this season England were put under significant pressure, falling from 112 for 1 for lunch to 166 for 5. The inclusion of Fidel Edwards provided much-needed aggression, a stark contrast to the sameness of the other bowlers, and his presence provided new difficulties for batsmen who'd become used to planting their front foot down the pitch.

After being fed runs for the first hour, where they scored at six-an-over, England were forced to work throughout the day. Bell, who didn't field at Headingley with a bad back, took 63 balls to reach 20 before branching out during the final session, again showing his comfort in the middle order, and registering a hard-working fifty off 99 balls.

The two key wickets went to Corey Collymore, who barely managed to move above medium-pace but was a model of consistency throughout his 20 overs. Shortly after lunch he nipped one back between Michael Vaughan's drive, to end a stand of 104 with Alastair Cook, then claimed the major scalp of Kevin Pietersen who pulled a short ball straight to deep square-leg. Darren Sammy, the first St Lucian to play Test cricket, bowls innocuous seam but, crucially, he offered Ganga control which had been severely lacking in the earlier matches.

Ian Bell and Matt Prior pulled the innings around with a stand of 98 © Getty Images
Cook had reached an authoritative half-century off 81 balls, but his next 40 deliveries produced only another 10 runs, and Sammy benefited from the pressure with his first Test wicket when Cook cut hard and low to Dwayne Bravo at point. Cook stood and waited for the umpires, Billy Bowden and Aleem Dar, to confer before being sent on his way and replays confirmed Bravo had got his fingers under the ball.

With England's middle order exposed for the first time, Ganga went back to his two quickmen - Taylor and Edwards - to test Bell and Paul Collingwood. Edwards produced a rapid spell, especially his 10th over when Collingwood was hopping about and taking blows on the body. Suddenly a true contest was emerging and there was previously unseen tension. After his pacy five-over burst Edwards was replaced, but the barrage paid off when Taylor - who began West Indies' day in style by removing the struggling Andrew Strauss - trapped Collingwood moving across the crease with a ball that would have taken leg.

In Prior's two previous Tests he walked in with 363 and 329 on the board against a deflated and tired attack. This was his chance to show he could perform the rebuilding role which is key for a No. 7. He shelved the destructive hitting from Lord's and Headingley, reining in his strokeplay, as West Indies went into a holding pattern by plugging the offside and bowling wide. But they missed a trick in not attacking slightly more and once the innings was back on an upward curve Prior began peppering the fence with his drives. As with Pietersen, though, he was sucked in by a short ball and picked out Runako Morton.

Bell played at his own pace, picking off the loose deliveries, and his straight driving was in fine order, as it was a year ago when he scored a century, at No. 6, against Pakistan. On that occasion he needed the support of the lower order to complete his hundred and a similar picture has developed again. West Indies can be proud of their effort, but it's vital they wrap up the innings swiftly because England's attack won't mind having a dart at a fragile batting line-up.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo