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The pitch was as bare as any in the preceding matches in the tropical Caribbean and just as heartbreaking for the bowlers
Tony Cozier at Chester-le-Street
May 14, 2009
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It might be the Test match ground nearer to the north pole than any other, with the corresponding chill in the air, but the opening day of the Test between the teams at the Riverside Ground was the Antigua Recreation Ground, Kensington and Queen's Park Oval all revisited.
The pitch was as bare as any in the preceding matches in the tropical Caribbean and just as heartbreaking for the bowlers. There was no bounce, no pace, no movement and, consequently, no excitement.
The batsmen, in this instance Alastair Cook and the eager Ravi Bopara, gathered their runs with no fuss, just as Andrew Strauss had done with his three consecutive first innings hundreds in Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad.
Ironically, while Strauss went cheaply this time, Cook and Bopara advanced past their hundreds, Bopara joining the elite company of Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton, Geoffrey Boycott and Graham Gooch as the fifth English player with three in a row.
The slowness of the surface curbed their more adventurous strokes, except for one over when Bopara lofted Sulieman Benn for four, six and four to move to within two of his landmark. He then apparently recalled Kevin Pietersen's extravagance in the Sabina Test back in February when he hit four, four, six, also off Benn, and went for the glory of a six next ball to raise his hundred, only to lob a catch to the keeper. Bopara bided his time and got there with a single a few balls later.
Even England's first day scores were almost identical to those in the Caribbean - 301 for 3 at both the ARG and Kensington; 258 for 2 at Queen's Park; 302 for 2 here.
To their credit, the West Indies bowlers were undeterred by this continuing unfairness and plugged away all day, supported by enthusiastic fielding. One chance was missed, a difficult leg-side deflection off Lionel Baker when Bopara was on 51. A few edges were found and passed but there was nothing for the bowlers.
More like this and, just as Chris Gayle has warned, they will all be trooping off to the IPL and other Twenty20 events where four overs is the extent of their allotment. The main point of Gayle's controversial and widely discussed comments before the match was that, as far as he was concerned, there is now so much cricket that he soon has to make a choice as to what to give up.
As one tournament has followed another -Test, ODIs, Stanford, IPL - he, and a few others in the West Indies team, haven't had a reasonable break for two years now.
Gayle himself has been increasingly sidelined by injuries. Not unexpectedly, he said his choice would be for the shortest form of the game which just happens to be the most lucrative. That inevitably is a threat to what the administrators refer to as the "primacy of Test cricket", but pitches that contribute to give such bland, uneven contests such as this and those recently in the Caribbean and elsewhere, do so equally.
A 101 reasons were put forward for the few thousand spectators sprinkled around stands yesterday - the early scheduling, the cold, the sporting public's interest in the climax of the football season (in this neck of the woods, especially Newcastle United's fight to remain in the Premiership), the recession and so on.
More days like this, without any drama or tension, and with batsmen indulging themselves, will ensure that crowds, and television viewers, diminish even further.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 yearsFeeds: Tony Cozier
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