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February 15, 2009
What an atmosphere
It was like we'd never been away. The music was playing, the stands were almost full and the England flags were strewn around the ARG. Immediately the change in atmosphere was palpable and people were dancing from early on. Even a delayed start didn't dampen the enthusiasm much. When the umpires emerged, shortly followed by the players, they almost received a standing ovation just for getting out onto the pitch. If the ARG had a roof, the first run would have lifted it off and the England supporters made themselves heard with every boundary. This is what cricket in the Caribbean is about.
Everyone was watching how the pitch would behave and the first delivery whizzed past Andrew Strauss's off stump and smacked into Denesh Ramdin's gloves, but it was really remarkably well behaved given the limited preparation - just as Keith Frederick, the groundsman, said it would be. Then all eyes were on the outfield and the first fielder to feel its effects was Sulieman Benn, in the gully, when Alastair Cook's outside edge jumped awkwardly in front of him, slipping away towards third man. But it only went for a single and as Alan Hurst, the match referee, said yesterday there was going to have to be a bit of "give and take".
The England supporters rose to their feet as Strauss and Cook carried their opening partnership to 52, a run more than the entire team managed in the second innings in Kingston. It brought back memories of the stand between Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart in Barbados in 1994 when, responding to England's paltry 46 in the previous Test, they added 171. When they passed their horror-low in that match the England fans at Kensington Oval also gave them a long ovation, which brought a wry smile to the players' faces.
England's 100 was brought up with a crisp straight six by Strauss as he stepped down the pitch to Sulieman Benn. It was a shot that told much about the visitors' mindset; gone was the negativity of Kingston and they were going to lay down a marker. Apart from Kevin Pietersen, England's batsmen barely managed to use their feet to the West Indies spinners last week but the more aggressive mood put the home side on the back foot. That Strauss' shot bounced into the famous Factory Road, well that was even more perfect
Can't go on
All England's players have spoken a good game since crashing for 51 but now it was about backing up the talk. "Walk the walk," as Strauss said before the abandoned game. A century opening stand was better than they could have imagined and when Cook joined Strauss on fifty progress was serene. But Cook has admitted there is a mental pressure to convert half-centuries to centuries when they have stopped coming - as his did in 2008 - and on 52 he cut hard at Chris Gayle and was superbly caught at slip. Still a work in progress, much like the ground.
That's how a No. 3 plays
A platform of 123 runs is what a number three batsman dreams of. The hardwork has been done, the ball is soft and the bowlers tiring. And this time England had a batsman to take advantage. That isn't too say Ian Bell wouldn't have, but given his current form, a painful 20 would have been equally likely. Owais Shah, though, was quickly into his stride with a strong cut first ball and was soon picking off the boundaries. The scoring rate increased, especially after tea, and Shah's mindset would clearly have been helped by the promise of a long run in the team.
Do your job, Jimmy
In the second Test against India in Mohali, Jimmy Anderson was sent in as nightwatchman but took a single to expose Andrew Flintoff who promptly fell to the final ball of the day. Kevin Pietersen was taking no such risks. He drove the ball nicely past mid-off for a comfortable two, but didn't even turn round to see if Anderson was coming back. Anderson was half-way back for second and had to be sent back. He smiled and played out the rest of the over. It's what he was there for, after all.
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