Cork gives England new life

Fourth Test: Young all-rounder's half-century and Watkinson's wiles keep West Indies on back foot
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ENGLAND'S desire for the fight has far outstripped that of their opponents in this Test match. For the third baking day in a row, a full house here saw a spirited and hard-nosed performance from the home side. The batting of Dominic Cork followed by the bowling of Mike Watkinson put England into a commanding position which even the spectres of Trinidad in 1993 would do well to overturn.

Facing a first-innings deficit of 221 runs, the West Indies' reply, though more circumspect than of late, still had its dramas, and three wickets were lost before the hundred had been posted. But Brian Lara countered with an unbeaten half-century (completing a pair of half-centuries for the first time in a Test) while a cautious innings by the skipper, Richie Richardson, left the West Indies on 159 for three, still 62 runs in arrears at the close. England will have to strike decisively this morning if they do not want an awkward total to chase later in the piece.

After the carnage of Edgbaston, England's about-face has clearly perplexed their opponents, though it will not have surprised those used to watching their form dip and surge like a fairground rollercoaster. Under Mike Atherton's leadership, saving their most convincing cricket until they are behind has become the norm for England. In this series alone, England's highs have followed lows with alarming regularity.

But what makes this Old Trafford performance even more amazing is that for all the selectors' talk of consistency, only three players - Atherton, Thorpe and Smith - survive from the First Test. All of which proves the theory that England are over-blessed with talent a notch below true greatness but there are any number of good county players readily interchangeable at the crunch of a bone.

With conditions less sultry than on the first two days, but with an indecent amount of sunshine for this famously damp city, the ball did not swing and Emburey, again turning his first ball sharply was on by the 10th over. Cork, bowling for lbw, too often drifted to leg, though Angus Fraser got some bounce, regularly discomfiting Keith Arthurton, who opened the innings with Sherwin Campbell as Carl Hooper remained under wraps and a cold compress.

Unusually for a side whose abiding philosophy is to hit their way out of trouble, the openers tightened their game, scoring - for the most part - at less than two runs per over. But such denial contradicts the natural flamboyance of these cricketers, so builds its own pressures.

Arthurton, who had been looking solid, suddenly set off for a quick single to Fraser that was never on. Campbell sent him back but not before Fraser's throw found Russell. There was no need for the third umpire. Watkinson's introduction from the Warwick Road End after tea soon bore fruit when he had Campbell caught behind by Jack Russell off one that bounced. In his next over, the dreadfully out of touch Jimmy Adams was caught and bowled off a leading edge, as he played against the spin.

At 97 for three, and with the ball beginning to grip for the spinners, the West Indies could have started to disintegrate, especially as Richardson used to be the one guaranteed bunny Emburey could count on to boost his tally regularly.

With Lara at the other end using his feet to the spin - dancing down the pitch to drive, as well as stepping quickly back to cut - Richardson shored up an end as the pair put on 62 for the fourth wicket.

After Friday's attempts by the West Indies to repeat the hostilities of Edgbaston, yesterday's efforts by their bowlers were noticeably more muted. Courtney Walsh immediately took the new ball, but it had little tangible effect on England's lower order as a hundred runs were added for the last three wickets.

It could have been so different had any of West Indians noticed that Cork's back-foot drive for an all-run four, from the fifth ball of the day had dislodged the leg bail. Cork, who had started the day on three was not about to bring attention to the matter, though Richardson appealed after the umpire, Cyril Mitchley, was called to replace the bail before Walsh's next ball.

That apart, Cork played his part at No 9 - not the usual position for a bright lad - to perfection. He is a hustler who likes to rub any gritty advantage deep into opposition wounds. Fielders were harried into mistakes, as he and Mike Watkinson stole singles and made comfortable ones into twos.

There were glorious shots too, and one back foot drive back past Ambrose, after umpire Mitchley had just warned him for intimidation (wrongly in this case as it was only his first short ball of the over) was a heroic retort.

Watkinson too, batted sensibly, particularly for one just making his debut. His predilection for the front-foot may leave him ill-equipped against these bowlers at this level, but his determination to see England into a strong position was warmly and regularly cheered by his home crowd.

Once Watkinson departed to a catch by the substitute, Stuart Williams, at slip, Cork farmed the tail with all the nous of Eddie Grundy until he ran out of partners. By then England had amassed a heady 437.

The last time England passed 400 was nine Tests ago, against South Africa at Headingley. In the intervening time they have won three, lost five and drawn one. For all its shortcomings in the pace department, England's much maligned bowling attack has, for the most part, out performed the batting. Today they have the opportunity to finish off a great team effort.

Old Trafford scoreboard

(West Indies won toss)

WEST INDIES - First Innings 216 (B C Lara 87; D G Cork 4-86, A R C Fraser 4-45).

ENGLAND - First innings

(Overnight: 347 for 7)

M Watkinson c sub (S C Williams) b Walsh 32

(tumbling catch parried by wicketkeeper to slip; 115 min, 107 balls, 3 fours)

D G Cork not out 56

(140 min, 91 balls, 7 fours)

J E Emburey b Bishop 8

(bowled off midriff; 53 min, 43 balls, 1 four)

A R C Fraser c Adams b Walsh 4

(caught at short leg off gloves; 36 min, 23 balls)

Extras (b18, lb11, w1, nb34) 64

Total (615 min, 136 overs) 437

Fall (cont): 8-378 (Watkinson), 9-418 (Emburey), 10-437 (Fraser).

Bowling: Ambrose 24-2-91-2 (nb13) (4-0-21-0 8-1-33-1 6-1-15-1 6-0-22- 0), Walsh 38-5-92-4 (nb7) (3-0-5-0 12-4-28-2 5-1-8-0 6-0-16-0 2-0-9-0 9-0-25-1 1-0-1-1), Bishop 29-3-103-2 (nb11) (6-1-10-0 5-1-23-0 8-0-34- 0 5-1-18-1 5-0-18-1), Benjamin 28-4-83-1 (nb5,w1) (2-0-6-0 7-1-21-0 6- 0-25-0 6-1-14-1 7-2-17-0), Adams 8-1-21-0 (nb3) (1-0-5-0 7-1-16-0), Arthurton 9-2-18-0 (nb1) (one spell).

Progress: Third day: New ball taken immediately. 350: 488 min, 108.5 overs. 400: 546 min, 121.3 overs. Lunch: 434 for 9 (Cork 54, Fraser 3) 134 overs. Innings closed: 1.49pm.

Thorpe's 50: 142min, 85 balls, 6 fours. Cork's 50: 118 min, 73 balls, 7 fours.

WEST INDIES - Second Innings

S L Campbell c Russell b Watkinson 44

(caught behind off ball with extra bounce; 138 min, 102 balls, 6 fours)

K L T Arthurton run out (Fraser/Russell) 17

(run out after being sent back attempting quick single; 86 min, 74 balls, 3 fours)

B C Lara not out 59

(138 min, 104 balls, 6 fours)

J C Adams c and b Watkinson 1

(simple return catch to bowler; 6 min, 3 balls)

R B Richardson not out 21

(79 min, 53 balls, 4 fours)

Extras (b4, lb 7, nb 6) 17

Total (for 3, 227 min, 55 overs) 159

Fall: 1-36 (Arthurton), 2-93 (Campbell), 3-97 (Adams).

Bowling (to date): Fraser 13-5-22-0 (9-4-10-0, 4-1-12-0); Cork 11-1-44- 0 (nb 3) (4-0-9-0, 7-1-35-0); Emburey 14-5-23-0 (nb 2) (8-4-9-0, 4-0-12- 0, 2-1-2-0); White 6-0-23-0 (nb 1); Watkinson 11-2-36-2 (one spell each).

Progress: Third Day: Tea: 43-1 (Campbell 15, Lara 1) 26 overs. 50: 102 min, 26.5 overs. 100: 152 min, 37.1 overs. 150: 199 min, 48.1 overs. Lara 50: 105 min, 78 balls, 6 fours.

Umpires: H D Bird and C J Mitchley.

TV Replay Umpire: J C Balderstone.

Match Referee: J R Reid.