Cricket: England battling heat and bounce

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Mike Atherton diligently served England's cause in trying conditions against Jamaica at Montego Bay yesterday.

Atherton, the model of concentration, batted through sticky heat during the first session of the opening tour match for 26, as England reached 53 for 1 from 33 overs, losing Alec Stewart in the fourth over for a single. Stewart attempted to leave a nasty lifting ball from O'Neil Richards, but could not drop his hand in time and the ball flew straight to Gareth Breese at second slip.

The early bounce was unpredictable and with long grass on the bumpy outfield, runs were at a premium. Atherton took time on a couple of occasions to prod the pitch with suspicion - and with justification. Some balls shot through below the knee, while others lifted and it was hardly the surface England desired on their first serious day of cricket in the Caribbean.

England's only boundary of the session took 28 overs to arrive, John Crawley lifting Breese over midwicket.

Time and again, Atherton and Crawley had to fend down rising deliveries, and were also obliged to keep out ankle-height balls as Kirk Powell and Richards worked up a lively pace with the new ball on a track that gave them plenty of encouragement.

The pitch began to look easier when the spin pairing of Breese and Brian Murphy were bowling in tandem before the interval.

Atherton had to survive a couple of scares. When he was on just one, a lifter from Powell boomed off his gloves just short of the slip cordon and before Crawley had faced a ball, the captain jabbed Powell just beyond the desperate grasp of Leon Garrick at short leg.

Crawley was called on to keep down a couple of balls which lifted disconcertingly, and on two occasions pushed the ball off his gloves close to short leg. In the 14th over, with England managing to edge along to 15 for 1, Crawley proved that his reflexes were in good working order by keeping out a sharp ball from Powell.

Atherton had won the toss, a decision which at least guarantees England two innings in the first of their two warm-up matches for the First Test against West Indies at Sabina Park in Kingston, which starts on 29 January.

Crawley's selection, plus the choice of Adam Hollioake at No 6, gave the first real hint of the side England may field in the series' opening match. The bowling department carried the same indication, with Andy Caddick, Dean Headley and Angus Fraser sharing the fast bowling duties, with Middlesex left-armer Phil Tufnell the sole spinner.

It looks as if Fraser, now aged 32 and out of the Test team for the past two years, will play a major role in the first Test given the absence of the injured Darren Gough, while Stewart seems set to open the batting with Atherton, with Jack Russell keeping wicket.

David Lloyd, the England coach, said: "It's fair to say we've declared our hand, but nothing is set in stone. There is still room for manoeuvre and no one is left out. "

England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

*M A Atherton not out 26

A J Stewart c Breese b Richards 1

J P Crawley not out 21

Extras (b5) 5

Total (for 1, 33 overs) 53

Fall: 1-2.

To bat: N Hussain, G P Thorpe, A J Hollioake, R C Russell, A R Caddick, D W Headley, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Powell 5-1-7-0; Richards 6-4-4-1; Williams 8-5-6-0; Breese 10- 0-24-0; Murphy 4-0-7-0.

Jamaica: L V Garrick, R G Samuels, W W Hinds, *J C Adams, M D Ventura, T O Powell, L R Williams, A N Coley, B S Murphy, K Powell, O Richards.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and C Fletcher.