Carnival time as England A prepare for semi-final

England A's preparations for their semi-final clash against Guyana had a carnival feel to them this morning as the city of Georgetown was transformed into a theatre of colour and calypso as part of their annual Mashramani celebrations.

All around the Bourda ground where the tourists were training, the streets were filled with crowds of revellers, in fancy dress costume who had turned out to watch a parade of 200 brightly decorated floats and play their music.

The Mash bash, as it is known, delayed the start of the Busta International Shield match by a day but crowds of around 10,000 are expected to return tomorrow to continue their celebrations as the competition reaches its climax.

The prospect of playing a quality side in front of a large partisan crowd was one that appeals to Mark Alleyne who will lead his side out against a full strength Guyana side, skippered by the in-form Carl Hooper, who has accumulated a hefty 798 runs in the tournament so far.

"This is what we came out for," said the captain of England A, who finished third in the Busta Cup after their draw against Leeward Islands in Anguilla on Monday.

"It is good that all the sides are back to full strength. They will have five or six full internationals so we are really looking forward to it. It will be a good atmosphere and different from anything we have experienced so far."

But after seven rounds of matches, Alleyne says he is aware of what England A have to do to qualify for the finals, with the need to win first innings points paramount.

"I'm not mad about this first innings rule in these games because they can often lead to dull cricket with teams trying to stop the opponents from scoring so hopefully this game won't go down that road.. First innings will be crucial because to force a result on this wicket might be difficult.

"The pitch is still quite soft but I'm sure some sunshine today will change it a bit, hopefully. It is a notoriously good batting wicket but we will have to wait until tomorrow to see how it scrubs up."

England A's attempts to build a strong first innings total may be hampered by the lingering doubts over Vikram Solanki's fitness after the injury to his finger in the match against Windward Island two weeks ago has proved slow to heal.

"He doesn't have any problems batting," Alleyne said.

"He had a good net yesterday - no restrictions batting wise but his fielding was still affected. There is no point risking someone who is not fully fit because we do not want to cause any further damage to his finger so if he's not fit, he probably won't be up for selection," Alleyne said.

"It will help if you have good depth in batting but we have that. We have a lot of options on this wicket and our spinners are bowling well and I think they will be useful."

Guyana, who were runners-up in the Busta Cup, will field an array of Test stars including Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Reon King and Ramnaresh Sarwan but Alleyne is confident England A, who drew with them in the third round match in Grenada in January, will prove their equal.

"Guyana were a force in Grenada even without some of their good players and they have played some really good cricket and in some ways were unlucky not to win the Busta Cup. It will be a tough match but it is good for us to raise our standards and measure ourselves up against them," he said.