Cricket: Fourth Test: England fail at toss and spin

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DEPENDING on the genteelness of one's views, England were either hoist by their petard on the first morning at Bourda or stuffed rotten by sod's law.

Having decided quite rightly, to go into this crucial Test match with two spinners, it was imperative that England should win the toss and therefore bowl last when the pitch would be at its most receptive for spin.

After winning the first three tosses of series, this was a tall order for Mike Atherton and after the coin had rolled a fair distance, it came down the wrong way. The agony was underlined when both Dean Headley and Angus Fraser found that the pitch had pace and bounce.

If only Alec Stewart, who had been so safe in the slips in Trinidad, had hung on to Shivnarine Chanderpaul. For all that Atherton and his fellow selectors made a bold decision in picking off-spinner Robert Croft and his presence could still give England an important advantage.

When he came on after 80 minutes, the two left handers Brian Lara and Chanderpaul, played him as if he was bowling hand grenades. The ball turned, if only slowly, but neither was prepared to pick his bat up and play a stroke. The only one we saw before lunch came when Lara dispatched a full toss wide of mid-on for four.

The odd ball kept low and when Lara aimed a violent pull at a shorter ball, it went through at half-stump height and was within a whisker of hitting the off stump. The danger in allowing a bowler to operate unchallenged like this is that once the psychological advantage has been surrendered it is so difficult to get it back.

When play restarted after lunch, Fraser soon found a spot at the Regent Street End where the ball had gone through the surface and it became increasingly clear that stroke play was going to become more difficult as the match went on. But if you are a batsman of Lara's class, ordinary rules do not apply.

Fraser, of all people was driven for three fours but two of these were from half volleys and the third from a lovely stroke from Lara when he hit through the line of a good length ball on off stump. It was a superb stroke and on this pitch only a batsman of Lara's class could have played it.

It was a joy to watch Lara and Chanderpaul go for their strokes after lunch. They took the initiative back in the first hour in this series in which the bat has been on top of the ball at both ends. It was glorious cricket.