West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua, 2nd day February 16, 2009

Windies prepare for pitch battle

Andrew Flintoff was nailed by low bounce. He has the chance to get his revenge on the third day © AFP
One over from Andrew Flintoff was enough to show West Indies the task they face to save this Test. He doesn't need a diagram to show him where to bowl, but in this match he has the help of a football marking on a perfect length. That the over was bowled to Chris Gayle merely rubbed in the fact that West Indies had asked England to bat first. No wonder Gayle's swagger was not as noticeable as it was in Kingston.

"When you are consistently hitting that area the ball is misbehaving quite a bit," said Paul Collingwood. "But the other parts of the pitch are behaving quite well and there's not a lot in it for full [length]. The short balls are going through quickly, but the more you hit that halfway area there is inconsistent bounce. Hopefully we can home in on that tomorrow. It looks like Freddie's length and we all know how accurate he can bowl."

In the 36 hours that the groundstaff had to prepare this surface they used a road-roller to try and flatten the ridge as much as possible. England's end result of 566 for 9 showed that the trick worked for a while, but an increasing number of deliveries have started to interest the bowlers.

Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff both received balls that kept low from Jerome Taylor at the Factory Road End. Gayle was then on the wrong end of the opposite extremes as one climbed past his nose before the next kept low by his ankles. The mind-games had started and when Gayle drove lazily to mid-off it was the shot of a distracted man.

However, John Dyson, the West Indies coach, had no qualms about the surface. "There were a few balls that misbehaved, but one of the things I've said about Test wickets in the last 12 months is that some of them are just too good.

"They aren't meant to last six or seven days. You expect them to wear and play a few tricks. Just how many tricks it will play we won't be sure on until we see it tomorrow. The main tricks have been made by the soccer line, not the wicket itself."

In the aftermath of the abandonment on Friday, Gayle joked that this Test should be played back in Jamaica. At the time it was said with tongue firmly in cheek, but the demeanour of West Indies throughout the opening two days has been of a side that doesn't want to be here. Unlike England, they don't appear to have been able to put all the various issues out of their minds.

"I was a little disappointed with the way we bowled today," Dyson said. "On a wicket like that you have to be very patient and we fell back into an old habit of being to be aggressive."

Fidel Edwards was an exception as he ran in hard throughout and bowled with intelligence and extreme pace, and Brendan Nash stood out in the field for the manner he continually cajoled his team-mates. Nash's Australian upbringing shone through, for Aussies don't accept anything except total commitment. It's a trait the home side will need plenty of in the next three days.

In the aftermath of West Indies' stunning victory in Kingston both Dyson and Gayle called for calm. They realised that an evolving team was going to have some days like this. Now they have to show that when the going gets tough they can battle it out. That will be a true test of how far this side has come.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo