Cricket: Hostilities leave Atherton facing test of leadership

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The Independent Online
THE cast may have changed but the script remains the same and the story has a familiar ending.

England, with seven of their XI playing their first Test in the Caribbean, were undermined, yet again, by persistent, at times uncompromisingly hostile, fast bowling, and by the excellent batting of three left-handers in a West Indies team in which six members were appearing in a Jamaica Test for the first time.

The outcome, and the manner of it, bears a striking similarity to several Tests between the teams in the past 20 years or so.

England's immediate prospects at the start yesterday were forlorn, but it is the long- term psychological effect of a heavy defeat in the opening match of a full series that will bother them even more.

Their young, obviously enthusiastic team twice held the initiative only to have it snatched away in the most depressing fashion.

The captain Mike Atherton and the vice-captain Alec Stewart, whose opening stand is clearly critical to England's batting, went through half the first day together with little bother, adding 121, only to have that base rapidly eroded and converted to 234 all out.

England's fast bowlers made an immediate response, Devon Malcolm removing Richie Richardson and Desmond Haynes, whose combined experience amounts to 184 Tests, and Andy Caddick accounting for Phil Simmons when the total was 23.

Just as it had been on the first day, another encouraging start for England evaporated into nothing through the latter half of the second. Keith Arthurton, in his second Test against England, and Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams, in their first, together restored their team's dominance and gained a lead of 173 that left England with little chance of getting out of the game even with a draw.

Such swift reversals are difficult for any team to cope with, more especially one as patently lacking experience as Atherton's. Nor is it unusual for the modern West Indians to show such resilience.

It will be a genuine test of Atherton's leadership and of the character of his charges if they can disregard this setback and still manage to make a fight of the series.

The West Indies are not likely to let them. Their embarrassing loss in the opening one-day international was, as Richardson himself observed at the time, a blessing in disguise; just the reminder they needed that no opposition can be treated with disdain.