Cricket: Atherton pays for lacking a plan

THERE is nothing more irritating and frustrating in cricket than having to field through a long last-wicket partnership. England came out on the fourth morning thinking the job was done and all they had to do was to go through the motions until the last West Indian wicket fell.

After their stirring performance in the field on Sunday, it was perhaps difficult to blame them for this. But Michael Atherton should have asked himself before the start what the two Trinidadians would least like to face. They most certainly would not have said two spinners for Trinidadians are reared on a staple diet of spin. Dinanath Ramnarine, in his first Test, would not have fancied Dean Headley's yorkers and bouncers.

In Ian Bishop, the West Indies have a No 8 who has two first-class hundreds to his name and is the best of the lower order batsmen on either side. His debutant partner, Ramnarine, showed that he is no mug either, especially against spin.

When the wicket did not fall in the first few overs, England managed to panic and to let their heads sink on to their chests at the same time. Atherton ran out of ideas, runs came at an alarming rate and the fielding was dreadful, with four chances being missed.

England lived from one ball to the next without any semblance of a plan. When Atherton decided that spin was not the answer - Bishop had forcibly reminded him of this by sweeping Robert Croft for two fours and on-driving Phil Tufnell out of the ground for six - he turned to Angus Fraser and not Headley. His instinct was to rely on the golden arm of Fraser and not on the superior pace of Headley. When he eventually brought Headley on instead of Fraser, it was only for two overs, although he still managed to make life uncomfortable for Ramnarine.

For no good reason, he went back to spin and the two West Indians pushed the ball around as they wished. It was not until Headley was recalled that Ramnarine succumbed. By then the last pair had put on a record 70 and the West Indies had regained all the psychological advantage.

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