Cricket: England onslaught changes the game

Second Test: Atherton's team can contemplate first-innings lead as tourists take cover from concerted attack
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The Independent Online
reports from Lord's

England 283 West Indies 209-6

When the time comes for a spot of teeth gritting, England's customary response is to pop the dentures into a bedside glass and turn out the light. Yesterday, however, they took their first decent bite of the series out of the West Indies, and if they can now produce that comparative rarity - one decent day followed by another one - this second Test match may yet be there for the winning.

Had England's bowlers haemhorraged runs at the same rate as they did in the second innings at Headingley, the West Indies' total this morning would be 504. However, England's refreshingly aggressive pace attack even opened up the prospect of a first-innings lead, and on a pitch becoming more uneven by the session, the tourists will not relish having to make anything higher than 150 in the fourth innings.

In fact, had England not also managed to narrow the West Indian lead in dropped catches in this series by putting four down yesterday, they would be in an even better position. The West Indies' total of 209 for 6 largely revolved around a fourth-wicket partnership of 78 between Jimmy Adams and Richie Richardson, in which time Adams was shelled three times, and Richardson once.

None of them was quite as bad as the two missed by Junior Murray, who looked as though he was auditioning as a Scottish goalkeeper while England's last two wickets added 28 in the morning, but neither of the chances missed by Dominic Cork in the gully, and Graham Thorpe at first slip, were anything other than routine.

England's bowling, though, more than made up for these deficiencies, with Darren Gough almost decapitating Brian Lara with a rapid first-ball bouncer, and Angus Fraser and Peter Martin consistently beating the bat with a series of high-class deliveries.

By no means the least culpable of England's selectorial aberrations in recent years was the omission of Fraser from the Headingley XI, and Fraser's riposte on his home ground could scarcely have been more eloquent. Whenever Fraser bowls a bad ball, he invariably responds by kicking an imaginary cat, but there was not much swishing of the right leg yesterday during an opening spell containing 66 dot balls in 72 deliveries.

There was also the more important moment of the wicket of Lara, lbw to a ball that cut back into the left-hander down the Lord's slope, and there are worse scalps than Lara for your 100th Test wicket. In 25 Tests, Fraser has reached that landmark in the same time as Curtly Ambrose, a statistic that is even more impressive given that he has not had Ambrose's advantage of bowling to English batsmen.

Martin moved the ball around both ways, and after being clattered on the helmet on Thursday by Ian Bishop, neither was he too reticent about inviting the West Indian batsmen to contemplate a change of underwear. He confessed to being "underwhelmed" by Lord's on his previous visits here with Lancashire, but barely slept on Wednesday night, and was overdosing on adrenalin yesterday.

What made it additionally pleasing was that England's attack did not for once look like a United Nations strike force. Not since the Old Trafford Test of 1989 (Fraser, Foster, Emburey, Cook and Botham) have England fielded five bowlers (or any amount come to that) with undiluted allegiance to the country they were representing.

Only Sherwin Campbell's dismissal to the fifth ball of the innings from Gough was the result of a crass shot, and the West Indies drew on hitherto well hidden reserves of discipline once Lara was second out at 28. Even Carl Hooper went about disproving the adage of old dogs and new tricks, taking 36 overs to make 40, without once threatening to lapse into one of his comas.

On the other hand, you would no sooner witness Jimmy Adams throwing his wicket away than Raymond Illingworth lighting a cigar with a pounds 5 note (unless it was somebody else's) and after Martin had bowled Hooper off the bottom edge, and Fraser produced a snorting delivery to find Richardson's outside edge, England greeted Adams's dismissal almost as rapturously as Lara's.

Adams had been in for almost three and three-quarter hours when he shuffled, as he occasionally does, too far across his stumps to Fraser, and shortly before the close, Martin picked up a well deserved second wicket with a return catch off Murray.

England's aggression also resulted in a combustible reaction from Gough when his caught behind appeal against Keith Arthurton drew a blank, and it did not require a degree in lip reading to tot up Gough's expletives to something approaching double figures.

The West Indies are still 74 runs behind, and if England can knock over the tail quickly this morning, they are firmly in with a shout. As they are usually in with no more than a croak this is in itself a cause for rejoicing.

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