Cricket: Battle-weary Atherton takes observation post: England on their way to monsoon territory

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The Independent Online
AFTER a couple of days of rest and reflection in Trinidad, England fly off to Guyana tomorrow bearing little resemblance to the commando unit of three weeks ago. Georgetown is located on the tip of South America's northern coast and has something in common with England's confidence in that it is somewhat run down and lies below sea level.

As an uncomfortable reminder of how quickly things can start going wrong on an overseas tour, Guyana is the nearest thing to India that England will encounter out here. It appears to be in the permanent grip of the monsoon season, is so delightfully disorganised that on England's last visit Guyana Airways managed to 'lose' its one and only plane after putting it in for a routine service in the United States, and has the most volatile of all the West Indian crowds.

However, the fact that all five Test venues here have their own separate identities is not to England's disadvantage should they get their act together, and after Vivian Richards had inflamed the large Asian community here in 1990 by talking about his 'proud African descent', the crowd mostly sided with England.

During the final one-day international here on Sunday, there were more protests directed at the West Indian journalist Tony Cozier for daring to suggest that Phil Simmons, of Trinidad, might be left out of the second Test in favour of Jamaica's Jimmy Adams, and when South Africa played their first-ever Test in Barbados in 1992, there was a crowd boycott when the selectors left out the local favourite, Anderson Cummins.

Presumably, the West Indian selectors will not feel inclined to incite a riot by leaving out Carl Hooper for the second Test if the Guyanese has recovered from his back problem, which will effectively mean a straight choice between Simmons and Adams.

Adams is technically better suited to opening in a Test than Simmons, who has apparently honed his technique from a baseball manual. However, this certainly makes him an exciting batsman to watch, and with Leicestershire having signed him up as their overseas player next summer, the members might spend more time diving for cover than is normally the case at Grace Road.

England's warm-up match for the Test is a four-day game against a West Indian Board President's XI starting at the Bourda Oval tomorrow and, having played in every match so far, Mike Atherton has decided to put his feet up.

As the potted guide to recreational pursuits in Georgetown would be a contender for the world's thinnest book, this is a nobler gesture than it seems, but the England captain will doubtless spend his time watching the match and pondering his options for the Test.

The first thing he can reflect on is his own good form (he has batted for 31 hours and 16 minutes on tour) and the retention of his cheery disposition in the face of mounting evidence that this team will be hard pressed to win a single Test.

Devon Malcolm is unlikely to return, Robin Smith is out of form, Andrew Caddick and Steve Watkin are out of sorts, and the contrast between Chris Lewis' Saturday and Sunday performances did little to shake off the suspicion that Lewis appears to reserve his more energetic displays for occasions when the pressure is largely off.

On the other hand, Atherton will have taken no little pleasure from Ian Salisbury's intelligent bowling on Sunday and the batting from of Alec Stewart and Graeme Hick. If the jury is still out on Hick's ability against fast bowling, then Hick is not ducking (either metaphorically or literally) the challenge of the West Indian pace attack. As with Hick's attitude, this is a time for England to go about their business with as positive an attitude as they can muster.

WI BOARD PRESIDENT'S XI (v England 10-13 March, from): *C Hooper (Guyana), R Samuels (Jamaica), D Jospeh (Windwards), K Semple (Guyana), S Chanderpaul (Guyana), K Mason (Trinidad), K Wong (Guyana), N Perry (Jamaica), R Dhanraj (Trinidad), C Cuffy (Windwards), B Browne (Guyana), F Rose (Jamaica).