Cricket: England optimism fuelled by hosts' eco-friendly attack

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The Independent Online
England 262-5 v Trinidad & Tobago

England's tour of the Caribbean was back on course at Guaracara Park yesterday, despite the pungent fumes being wafted over from the Petrotrin oil refinery, little more than a biggish six-hit away at square leg. But if the pitch had been the hazard at Sabina Park, it was lead poisoning that was the danger here, though the majority of England's batsmen did manage to enjoy a four-star day.

In fact the only thing around that was lead free was the Trinidad & Tobago opening attack, whose distinctly eco-friendly bowling on a sluggish pitch gave England's openers the perfect morale booster before the second Test. By tea, only Graham Thorpe and Adam Hollioake, who both made nought, missed out on spending useful time at the crease which, despite England's fifth week abroad, is still at something of a premium.

Having won the toss and batted, England set off at a cracking pace. Unlike their last innings together, when getting on the front foot amounted to a recklessly act of bravery, both Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart were able to drive with aplomb.

Indeed, only early scares, when Stewart got his gloves perilously close to an Ian Bishop bouncer and Atherton offered a sharp caught and bowled to the opening bowler Nigel Francis, tarnished an otherwise faultless opening stand of 131.

With the outfield proving much faster than the well-grassed fields in Jamaica, boundaries came at a fair old lick. Having played several vintage off-side shots off the seamers, Stewart then waded into the left-arm chinaman bowler, Avidesh Samaroo, following his mighty straight six with a glorious cover drive for four.

It was not until the leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine removed Atherton, who played something of a let-someone-else-have-a-go shot to mid-off just before lunch, that the home side began to stop leaking runs.

With the first innings of this two-day match limited to 90 overs, Atherton will have been as keen to get as many of his top order to the crease as possible. But this sensible gesture backfired slightly once Stewart, heaving wildly at the same bowler, was bowled for 71.

Trinidad appear to have a surfeit of wrist spinners, and it was Denis Rampersad, another leggie, who took the next wicket to fall, that of John Crawley, who is having something of a mixed tour as far as batting form is concerned. Having successfully avoided the pitch at Sabina, his innings here was patchy, with the Trinidad bowlers achieving several moral victories before he was bowled trying to mow Rampersad over midwicket.

The poor shot proved contagious - both Graham Thorpe and Adam Hollioake followed soon after. Thorpe scooping a wide delivery from Ramnarine to cover, while Hollioake prodded the same bowler to Suruj Ragoonath, perched on the off-side at bat pad.

From a position of relative strength at 157 for 2, England had limped to 205 for 5 against a side missing their most potent bowler, the Test quickie Mervyn Dillon. A certain starter in the last Test, Dillon was forced to withdraw at the last moment in Kingston, due to a leg injury sustained during the warm-up before the match.

With that injury likely to linger, the West Indies have called up Kenny Benjamin, whose 8 for 57 for the Leeward Islands in last week's routing of Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval is a timely reminder to England that he remains a potent bowler.

The home side here were also without their captain, Brian Lara, who preferred to sit out the match. He spent most of the day watching play from the stands, sucking flavoured ices. But, if that angered the locals, it was nothing compared to the ire of England's coach, David Lloyd.

Promised the use of the Queen's Park nets, as well as the services of five net bowlers for those England players not needed here, Lloyd was fuming when neither materialised. As a former coach of Lancashire, Lloyd has often had to spend days ringing around Lancashire League clubs in order to provide visiting Test teams with net bowlers at Old Trafford.

Unsure what the pitches at Queen's Park hold for England, it is vital that those not playing stay sharp by having nets, and Lloyd's anger is both understandable and justified.

What is perhaps surprising is that the sloppiness has occurred in Trinidad, one of the few islands in the Caribbean where football has not taken over. Cricket is still the dominant sport.

Trinidad has a long established Asian community - six of the current side are of Indian descent - and its economy, boosted by the recent discoveries of new oilfields, is booming. Considering they had to brave sulphurous air, a 2,000-strong crowd was fairly impressive.

England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

*M A Atherton c Francis b Ramnarine 61

A J Stewart b Ramnarine 73

J P Crawley b Rampersad 33

N Hussain not out 55

G P Thorpe c Roberts b Ramnarine 0

A J Hollioake c Raganooth b Ramnarine 0

R C Russell not out 23

Extras (b4, lb3, w1, nb9) 17

Total (for 5, 64 overs) 262

Fall: 1-131, 2-157, 3-196, 4-197, 5-205.

To bat: R D B Croft, D W Headley, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser.

Bowling: Francis 9-3-37-0; Bishop 10-0-54-0; Simmons 4-1-10-0; Ramnarine 23-2-55-4; Samaroo 10-0-51-1; Rampersad 8-0-48-1.

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: S Raganooth, *P V Simmons, L A Roberts, B Rampersad, D Ganga, R A M Smith, D Williams, A Samaroo, N B Francis, I R Bishop, D Ramnarine.

Umpires: T Birbal and E Ali.