Cricket: England take stranglehold

Second Test: Stewart and company build on the nous of Fraser whose eight-wicket haul creates history
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a day for hardened veterans of ball and bat at the Queen's Park Oval, as Angus Fraser and Alec Stewart combined to put their side in a commanding position. Polishing off the West Indies tail, Fraser finished with career-best figures of 8 for 53. His performance was matched for signifcance on a testing pitch by Stewart's 73, as England ended the pivotal third day of the Second Test 242 runs ahead and still batting.

The visitors have been in commanding positions before on this ground, most notably in 1990 when the West Indies avoided certain defeat by a combination of rain and a cynically slow over-rate. But if that was a match that held anguished memories for both Stewart and Fraser, yesterday was one they will both cherish for different reasons: Fraser as a new benchmark and Stewart for a remarkable and brave innings on a spiteful pitch.

Cricket is littered with comebacks, but none can have been quite so deserved - or as comic-book perfect - as the eight wickets managed by Fraser. On a pitch slowing, yet still deteriorating, by the session, the tall Middlesex bowler bettered his previous best of 8 for 75, achieved in the Bridgetown Test four years ago.

His performance, which followed a vital contribution to England's rearguard action with the bat when he and Nasser Hussain added 42 runs for the ninth wicket, was also the best by an Englishmen against the West Indies. Mind you, it was a record he held previously anyway. "Bowling straight. That's the secret out there," he said later as he put his feet up in the dressing room. "It's just a case of getting the ball in the right areas and seeing what happens."

The milestone means that Fraser has now taken 35 wickets in the Caribbean, a record for England, beating the previous best of 32 held by Jim Laker. "Beating someone like Jim Laker. Well, you're talking about big names here, and it's very satisfying. Mind you, I've never taken 10 wickets in a Test before so I'd like to finish the job off, and not leave it half done."

Having not worn an England cap since the Cape Town Test two years ago, there were many who felt Fraser's international career was behind him. The man himself, however, had never given up hope, and while the concentration and limbs of others bent and wilted in the 100-degree Port of Spain heat, the lumbering old warhorse stuck to his task; blinkered, unstinting and devoted.

With five wickets in his pocket overnight, Fraser quickly removed the remaining West Indian resistance, taking three wickets in 14 balls. Kenny Benjamin, no longer considered a novice with the bat, then tried to prove it, losing his off stump to a ball that squatted slightly in the process. Nixon McLean, a fearsome hitter, then allowed his nerves to get the better of him, and he stabbed an uppish drive straight to Andrew Caddick at short mid-off. And finally Curtly Ambrose, always a sucker for a well-disguised change of pace, obligingly chipped Fraser's slow full toss back to the bowler after advancing his score by 11.

When England batted, Stewart was in silky touch, despite several harrowing blows to the body. When Brian Lara surprisingly gave the new ball to Benjamin and McLean, instead of his own experienced warhorses, Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Stewart, visibly pumped up, punished the error with a stream of cleanly struck boundaries. In contrast, Mike Atherton, realising that England would benefit doubly from his extended presence at the crease - a lengthy occupation would not only help the total but also allow the pitch to further deteriorate - dug in with a vengeance.

A determined man of legendary stubbornness, he knows that although the West Indies will not be broken easily every extra minute of occupation by his side will be another thorn working its way deeper into their opponent's skin.

It was, with the West Indies moved to containment, a tactic that looked like working. But then Walsh, once more resorting to peppering the England captain with fearsome bouncers, broke through when Atherton bottom-edged a pull shot on to his stumps. An over later Stewart, pushing Carl Hooper for a single to wide mid-on, reached a thoroughly well-earned half-century.

The pitch, which appeared to fluctuate between periods of calm and storm, was still far from easy to bat on. Indeed, when McLean returned to remove John Crawley and Stewart, the latter to a ball which knocked the wicketkeeper David Williams backwards, England were once again under familiar siege. Buoyed by his success, McLean managed to lift the home side, who with the ghosts of Pakistan returning to haunt them were beginning to hang their heads.

England may have been well on top, but as previous experiences on this ground have shown, the corpse of West Indian cricket has a nasty habit of suddenly sitting bolt upright in its coffin. This was a jittery period, and when Walsh forced Hussain, on 23, to jab back a return catch - the batsmen felt it was a bump ball, though television replays suggested otherwise - England, 225 ahead, could ill- afford to slip further.

Fortunately Graham Thorpe, in typically pugnacious form, preserved England's commanding position, and he was still there unbeaten on 32 when bad light stopped play with two overs remaining.

Andrew Caddick,

Tony Cozier and

Henry Blofeld, page 18

Second Test scoreboard

England won toss

England - First Innings 214 (N Hussain 61*, A J Stewart 50; C E L Ambrose 3-23)

West Indies - First Innings

S L Campbell c Russell b Headley 1

(42 min, 43 balls; inside edge to nip-backer)

S C Williams c Atherton b Fraser 19

(95 min, 58 balls, 3 fours; top-edged attempted forcing shot)

*B C Lara c Atherton b Fraser 55

(166 min, 100 balls, 7 fours; leading edge to attempted forcing shot)

C L Hooper b Fraser 1

(9 min, 5 balls; bowled behind legs by off-cutter)

S Chanderpaul c Thorpe b Fraser 34

(92 min, 77 balls, 5 fours; edged seaming ball to first slip)

J C Adams lbw b Fraser 1

(21 min, 13 balls; padded up to nip-backer)

D Williams lbw b Tufnell 16

(61 min, 45 balls, 1 four; trapped in front sweeping)

C E L Ambrose c and b Fraser 31

(107 min, 83 balls, 2 fours; leading edge back to bowler)

K C G Benjamin b Fraser 0

(28 min, 22 balls; beaten on back-foot defensive shot)

N A M McLean c Caddick b Fraser 2

(19 min, 9 balls; miscued drive to short extra)

C A Walsh not out 0

(7 min, 2 balls)

Extras (b12, lb5, nb14) 31

Total (328 min, 73.1 overs) 191

Fall: 1-16 (Campbell), 2-42 (S Williams), 3-48 (Hooper), 4-126 (Chanderpaul), 5-134 (Lara), 6-135 (Adams), 7-167 (D Williams), 8-177 (Benjamin), 9-190 (McLean), 10-191 (Ambrose).

Bowling: Headley 22-6-47-1 (nb10) (8-3-11-1 5-2-13-0 6-1-15-0 3-0-8-0), Caddick 14-4-41-0 (nb3) (9-3-12-0 3-0-27-0 2-1-2-0), Fraser 16.1-2-53- 8 (nb3) (5-0-20-2 1-1-0-0 7-0-27-3 3.1-1-6-3), Tufnell 21-8-33-1 (nb2) (one spell).

England - Second Innings

*M A Atherton b Walsh 31

(131 min, 95 balls, 5 fours; bottom-edged attempted pull off wide long- hop)

A J Stewart c Hooper b McLean 73

(231 min, 154 balls, 7 fours; edged quick ball off keeper to slip)

J P Crawley lbw b McLean 22

(87 min, 78 balls; beaten for pace by nip-backer)

N Hussain c & b Walsh 23

(88 min, 62 balls, 1 four; spooned full-length slower ball back to bowler)

G P Thorpe not out 32

(113 min, 83 balls, 4 fours)

A J Hollioake not out 9

(36 min, 15 balls, 1 four)

Extras (b5, lb15, w1, nb8) 29

Total (for 4 (79.4 overs) 219

Fall: 1-91 (Atherton), 2-143 (Crawley), 3-148 (Stewart), 4-202 (Hussain).

To bat: R C Russell, A R Caddick, D W Headley, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Benjamin 15-3-40-0 (nb1, w1) (3-0-6-0 4-2-9-0 8-1-25-0), McLean 12-1-46-2 (nb2) (3-0-15-0 6-0-24-2 3-1-7-0), Ambrose 12-0-36-0 (nb5) (5- 0-20-0 7-0-16-0), Walsh 21.4-4-44-2 (12-3-26-1 9.4-1-18-1), Hooper 19- 8-33-0 (9-4-17-0 3-1-2-0 7-3-14-0).

Stewart 50: 139 min, 102 balls, 6 fours.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and S Venkataraghavan.

TV Replay Umpire: C E Cumberbatch. Match Referee: B N Jarman.