West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua, 1st day

Windies struggle at the ARG of old

Forty-eight hours, almost to the minute, after the players and umpires trooped off the field at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, never to return, they emerged from the famous white-washed pavilion at the ARG to huge cheers

Andrew McGlashan in Antigua

February 15, 2009

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It was a frustrating day for the bowlers as the ARG showed its true colours © AFP
Forty-eight hours, almost to the minute, after the players and umpires trooped off the field at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, never to return, they emerged from the famous white-washed pavilion at the ARG to huge cheers. Seven hours later they left the field with England on 301 for 3 and it was as if the ground's three-year exile had never taken place. It's already become a hopeless task predicting this series, but that scoreline was beyond what anyone had expected in the circumstances - especially Chris Gayle.

Gayle perhaps overheard Keith Frederick, the groundsman, declaring before the toss that whoever won was "guaranteed" to bowl first. He'd have been better off taking heed of Frederick's pronouncement on the eve of the game, when he said that this was "as good as any" pitch that had been produced here. It sounded a fanciful notion after just 36 hours to work on it, but he has so far been proved right. Gayle, though, clearly swayed by all the pre-match talk, was happy to stick England in. He'd also done it two days ago, in a hope to maintain the momentum from Kingston, but at the ARG they struggled to rekindle the Jamaica fire.

In the England team of the Duncan Fletcher era a day like this that didn't go to plan earned the tag a 'Duncan day' because the coach would have to front up to the media. The current West Indies team has 'Dyson days' and their coach admitted that some of the sting had gone from the victory in Kingston.

"With the disruptions of the rain and of course the change of venue, it hasn't been really easy to keep the intensity that we would ideally like, but that is not to take anything away from the England batting performance today. They batted very well and I think the wicket played extremely well."

However, Dyson said criticism over Gayle's decision at the toss was based on "hindsight" and that the consensus had been that the surface would aid the bowlers. A few balls misbehaved; Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen both took blows on the arm, while consecutive balls from Fidel Edwards bowling from the Factory Road End scuttled along the deck after landing on the football centre circle that runs across a good length, but they were the exception.

"The wicket played exceptionally, we thought it might have something in it this morning, particularly as it rained so heavily yesterday," he said. "I think if you asked anyone in the commentary position today given the weather conditions in the last couple of days and perhaps the shortness of preparation, they thought there might be something in it. I think it was a risk worth taking, but in hindsight we should have batted.

"I reckon it was a pretty flat first-day wicket, you've got to expect that a first-day wicket in a Test match, a good wicket, will bounce with a bit of pace and a bit of seam if you are prepared to run in and bowl fast."

Dyson added that Sabina Park had been the "pinnacle" of how West Indies could bowl and that England put pressure on his attack this time. "I think England came out with a positive attitude. They had to bat like that after Jamaica and show that they were going to do something about that innings. Once they realised the wicket is as it is, they went, oh, happy birthday."

The other factor in conditions was the uneven outfield covered in football markings. However, the relaid section held up well and Dyson said it was far better than the pitch they had left two days earlier. "It's not a perfect Test-match surface but its not too bad. It's a lot better than fielding at Jolly Beach".

Towards the end of the day Sulieman Benn had to leave the field after twisting his ankle in his delivery stride. It is hoped that he will be fit to resume his duties on the second day as West Indies will need all the bowlers they can muster. This is, after all, the ARG of old.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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