Cricket: Atherton and Stewart give England heart

West Indies 159 & 210 England 145 & 52-0
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IN A Test match that refuses to yield its secrets easily, it was the turn of the quiet and unassuming to have their say. The stage may have been set for Brian Lara and Curtly Ambrose, but it was the efforts of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jimmy Adams and Dean Headley that have so far kept this match on a knife-edge, and England with 10 wickets standing now need 173 today to win and level the series. It will not be easy, and yet as in the last match here, when The West Indies scored 282 to win in the fourth innings, the possibility is there to be made concrete, though England will have to overcome recent history as well as some fiery fast bowling on a cracking pitch to ensure they are victorious.

When England, came to begin their second innings after bowling out the West Indies for 210, the denouement was beginning to resemble the one here four years ago, when England were bowled out for 46, their second lowest score since Test matches began. Instances like that can prey on the mind and with six of that side playing this time, and a seventhth, Mark Ramprakash in the pavilion, there would have been a sigh of relief when history failed to repeat itself and Michael Atherton managed to survive his first ball.

This time not only did Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart survive, they also managed to see off the new ball salvo from Ambrose and Courtney Walsh and pass 50.

In circumstances that did not encourage traditional West Indian strokeplay, Chanderpaul and Adams helped to frustrate England's impressive fightback, which was led by Angus Fraser in the morning given fresh impetus by Headley when he took 3 for 1 in seven balls in the afternoon.

Indeed, when play began, the West Indies game plan was to try and take the game away from England by lunch. To do that Brian Lara needed to treble his overnight score of 30. On the other hand his early dismissal, would give England the important early impetus necessary to bowl the home side out for another low score.

Lara looked a shadow of the batsman he was four years ago, when he plundered what is virtually the same attack to all parts of the Caribbean. When 11 runs had been added to the overnight score, Fraser struck the first of two blows, when a well directed bouncer took the nightwatchman Kenny Benjamin by suprise, as he top-edged his hook shot to a circling Jack Russell. With Lara still at the crease, and looking more fluent by the over England's joy at the early breakthrough was tempered until Fraser manged to nip one back off the pitch to the left-hander, to trap him lbw for 47. It was the fourth time in as many innings that the Middlesex seamer has snared the West Indies captain. As accolades go, it is one of the more worthwhile. So much so that it has earnt him praise locally, and there is now a saying in these parts, that Angus Fraser is as consistent as Angostura bitters - a tally of 20 wickets from 85 overs in 11 days more than bears out.

For Lara, this ground is proving a tough nut to crack as far big scores go. Although it is home and he has the mansion on the hill, as well as a main street (Brian Lara Promenade) named after him, he still hasn't got the century he and his acolytes crave.

When Headley, who bowled far better yesterday, skidded one into Carl Hooper's pads to have the West Indies vice-captain lbw, the Trini Possee, a bacchanalian band of musicians and revllers, were briefly silenced but they were ominously upbeat as Chanderpaul and Adams began putting together what may yet prove to be the decisive stand of the match. Benefiting form the absence of Fraser, who had little left to give even when he did return after lunch, the pair added 56 runs in 24 overs before Chanderpaul wafted at Headley, returning from the Northern End after his marathon two hour spell in the morning.

It was a timely innings by Chanderpaul who mixed sturdy defence with some blistering shots, mainly through the off-side. Only the young Guyanese batsman's downfall will have disappointed him, though it did take a superb one-handed catch by Russell, diving to his left, to secure the edge.

In hot breezy conditions, Headley's stamina was stupendous and he fully deserved the wickets that followed. Getting the ball to reverse swing, the Kent paceman found himself on a hat-trick, after David Williams was lbw for a inauspicious pair, and Ambrose was bowled by a beauty first ball. By this time Atherton, having overbowled Fraser and Headley was rotating his bowlers more frequently than Chelsea do their strikers. With Caddick blowing hot and cold and runs as precious as Headley's diamond ear stud, it was not an ideal tactic, and one Adams took advantage of to score a brilliant half-century the first of the match. It is never easy batting with the tail but the Jamaican farmed them far more profitably than England would have liked, before Fraser wielding the second new ball had him caught by Atherton at mid-off.

In a curiously low scoring game, culprits stand out like a certain fast bowler's ears. By tea only two boundaries had been scored off Angus Fraser, a tally in sharp contrast with Caddick, who had given that many away in his first over after lunch. However, with Fraser spent, largely because Atherton did not dare to overbowl Caddick during a tense morning, the West Indies lead crept above the 200, a mark England will have to pass in good shape today, if they are to level this series.