Cricket: Ambrose casts shadow as Atherton ponders tactics

The pitch again presents Michael Atherton with a conundrum as the England captain prepares for the second Test against West Indies, which starts today.

Derek Pringle reports from Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Calypso is the singing journalism of Trinidad and as topical as any newspaper. With the next two Tests about to be played back to back on Brian Lara's home turf, the lyrics all predict defeat for England. Carnival may be the spectacle Port of Spain is famous for, but for the moment cricket is the hot topic and in the music shops that line Prince and Frederick Street, the rhymes were about Michael Atherton's team "getting a good lickin'," on a pitch "that will be kickin'."

They may not be far wrong, either. After the fiasco at Sabina Park, the 22-yard strip where the essential business of the game is conducted, has been under the kind of scrutiny normally reserved for flesh-eating bugs. But if Sabina, with its cracks and corrugations was obviously sub-standard, this one, well covered with lush green grass, is also raising a few eyebrows.

When grass is left on Test pitches it is usually dead and rolled well into the surface. Here it is live and although the pitch will receive another mowing before play starts this morning, it will still do more than a passable imitation of the verdant Trent Bridge carpet that Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice reigned supreme on in 1981, when Nottinghamshire won the County Championship.

Normally, the captain winning the toss would not hesitate to bowl first. However, that decision will be compounded by the groundsman's action of covering the pitch during the day, a practice normally used to keep moisture in the surface. England did the same thing last summer in order to try to negate Shane Warne. But although England have no one of his calibre, lack of recent rain has clearly made the authorities nervous of the pitch's durability.

All of which suggests that both the amount of grass as well as the covering to keep the sun off, are designed to bind it together. If the game goes the distance, the side batting last will not want to chase more than 150.

For that reason, winning the toss could be a poison chalice. If you insert the opposition and do not bowl them out for under 180, any advantage will be turned on its head if the pitch starts to break up, which is what mostly tends to happen in the Caribbean.

It is this uncertainty that is preventing the England captain from replacing Phil Tufnell with Ashley Cowan immediately. However, the Essex paceman will surely play alongside Caddick, Fraser and Headley should Atherton decide that England's best chances lie in bowling first - which, if the pitch is not given a close shave this morning, they ought to do.

If the surface presents a tricky dilemma, there must be concerns too about England's lack of preparation. Amazingly, the tourists are into their second month on tour, and so far only 13 players have been to the middle. For cricketers used to playing almost every day at home, such inactivity is disorientating and frustrating, and many are clearly still feeling their way.

"It's true that we've been here without playing much meaningful cricket," said Atherton, at yesterday's press conference. With one false start already, the main problem has been to keep focused and Atherton admitted: "Everyone was itching to get the series started."

The same could be said of Lara, his opposite number, captaining the West Indies for the first time in front of his home crowd. "It is very special and significant to play with your home crowd behind you, especially with the series still level," he said. "I'll definitely be looking to produce something special with my bat and with the captaincy."

With Jack Russell, barring any last-minute stomach upsets, set to win his 50th Test cap and bolster the middle order, John Crawley will return to the No 3 role briefly occupied by Mark Butcher in Kingston. On current form, Crawley has yet to look settled. It is the one obvious weakness England have, and one that may expose them should they have to bat first.

England have not won here since Tony Greig's off-spinners bowled them to victory 24 years ago. Since then, batsmen have always had to work hard for their runs at the Queen's Park Oval and the effectiveness of England's top order will surely be compromised by the fact that this is one of Curtly Ambrose's favourites grounds.

Four years ago, England began the final innings of the game needing 194, and were slight favourites to win. At the end of the day's play 15 overs later, England were 40 for 8, laid to waste by the beanpole Antiguan, who bowled one of the heroic spells of all time, as England, eventually all out for 46, succeeded in avoiding their lowest Test score of all time by just two runs.

It was a spell that began with the removal of Atherton first ball. He may not be a street poet like the great calypsonians downtown, but in the sounding-off that often accompanies Test matches, Ambrose, usually a secretive man, is being ominously chatty about his duels with the England captain.

"England need a foundation and that often comes from Athers. If you can knock the chief down, it might make the job a bit tougher for those to come."

When asked why he tended to bowl well at the Queen's Park Oval, he lapsed back into reticence, saying: "I won't be taking anything for granted. You have to prove yourself day in and day out." On this grassy pitch, England will not be unhappy if he decides to delay it a few days.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice