Cricket: King blitz takes careless England by surprise

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England 400-8 & 181-4

West Indies A 434

Match drawn

Mindful that the first Test is just four days away, and that his team need all the difficult cricket they can get, Michael Atherton offered to make a game of this match by setting West Indies A a target of 300 to chase on the last day, provided that they declared behind. With their opponents declining the gesture, the match, despite a mid-innings hiccup when England lost three wickets for 18 runs, petered out to a tame draw.

The main culprit for this stalemate was the pitch, which despite Reon King's late blitz of 3 for 6 in 18 balls, was simply too good for either side to gain a significant advantage over the other. Only a handful of balls misbehaved all match, although England's bowlers will be a little disappointed that they were not able to create more pressure.

Bowling with a brisk bouncy action, King's first victim was Atherton, who, having looked virtually immovable, top-edged a hook to the keeper, one run short of his 50. Nasser Hussain followed, the victim of a snorting delivery that found the outside edge. An over later, John Crawley, clipped lazily to square leg and England were 121 for 4, and barely 90 ahead.

From a position of all calm on the Western front, England were suddenly in a slight bit of bother, although the sight of Jack Russell in full combat kit and cussed mood, along with the firm resolve of Graham Thorpe, soon quelled any chance of an upset - the two left-handers sharing an unbroken stand of 60 runs to make the match safe.

In truth, a stalemate always looked likely once Roland Holder declined Atherton's offer to set a target. Indeed, after England took the three remaining wickets to bowl their opponents out for 434, there was little to be gleaned apart from some dedicated batting practice in the middle.

None were more in need of spending some quality time at the crease than Atherton, Alec Stewart and Crawley, whose positions at the top of the batting order, are a crucial part of repelling the new ball thrust of Courtney Walsh and Co.

A man whose usual back-foot game is well suited to the style and conditions of Caribbean cricket, Stewart has largely been denied his favourite scoring shots. Instead, he appears to have his weight back when he drives, a fact his dismissal, caught at short extra cover driving tamely at the left- arm Pedro Collins, seemed to bear out. Of course, you do not score over four thousand Test runs if you cannot play off the front foot, but it is for ironing out of this kind of gremlin that England could have done with at least another practice match before the opening Test.

Atherton, conversely, has looked in decent form all tour. Having got off the mark with a slash for four just over second slip's head, he batted with the kind of forceful conviction that saw him hook the bustling Nixon McLean clean out of the ground for six, his scoring rate slowing, only as the ball became softer and harder to time. In fact the only real inconvenience he appeared to suffer prior to his dismissal, was when he inadvertantly jabbed himself in the groin with his bat handle. Called through for a hasty single by Crawley, he became tangled with his bat, which jammed in the ground as he tried to run it in.

It was just one of several nervous moments for Crawley, who began skittishly. Having fallen to a lazy shot in the first innings, the Lancashire man needed simply to re-acquaint himself with life in the middle, just to confirm it was a cricket tour and not a video game he was involved in.

After an hour of scratching about, he suddenly blossomed with a brace of trademark drives, effortlessly whipped for four off his legs. Visibly pleased at last, to have felt the middle of the bat, he bettered even those delightful shots with a short-arm pull off the Jamaican all-rounder Williams, that sped to the mid-wicket boundary. It was the kind of virtuoso shot that can only be played on the truest of surfaces and it would have brought a warm glow to Angus Fraser, who having added the big hitting McLean to his overnight haul, finished with 5 for 99.

With Phil Tufnell taking the other first-innings wickets to fall yesterday, to end with 4 for 107 from a marathon 52.5 overs, the Middlesex contingent here have had a satisfying match. A repeat next week, would no doubt be most welcome.

The second match of the World Series limited-overs final between Australia and South Africa was postponed yesterday without a ball being bowled because the outfield at the Sydney Cricket Ground was waterlogged. It has been rearranged for tomorrow. South Africa won the first match by six runs in Melbourne on Friday. The third match, if required, is scheduled for Sydney on Tuesday.

scoreboard

Final day; West Indies A won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 400 for 8 dec (N Hussain 159, G P Thorpe 81).

WEST INDIES A - First Innings

(Overnight: 411 for 7)

L R Williams not out 67

N A M McLean lbw b Fraser 25

P Collins c Stewart b Tufnell 3

R D King c Hussain b Tufnell 2

Extras (b5 lb2 nb11) 18

Total (157.5 overs) 434

Fall: 8-413 9-426.

Bowling: Caddick 37-6-133-1; Cowan 29-10-75-0; Fraser 37-9-99-5; Tufnell 52.5-14-107-4; Thorpe 2-0-13-0.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

*M A Atherton c Hoyte b King 49

A J Stewart c Lewis b Collins 21

J P Crawley c Williams b King 41

N Hussain c Hoyte b King 3

G P Thorpe not out 36

R C Russell not out 18

Extras (b6 lb2 w1 nb4) 13

Total (for 4 dec, 66 overs) 181

Fall: 1-44 2-103 3-116 4-121.

To bat: A J Hollioake, A P Cowan, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: McLean 9-2-42-0; King 15-5-45-3; Collins 13-2-26-1; Lewis 18- 5-34-0; Williams 10-2-23-0; Hinds 1-0-3-0.

Umpires: N Malcolm and T Wilson.

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