THERE is now a nagging fear that England and the West Indies are beginning to operate on a different plane, and the fact that Devon Malcolm was also on a different plane when the players flew out of Jamaica over the weekend, does not bode particularly well for any radical upturn in English fortunes.
While the rest of the team left for their next cricketing appointment in St Vincent on Wednesday, Malcolm, having sat through England's defeat in the second one-day international at Sabina Park, made his way to Jamaica's international terminal for a flight to London, and a medical appointment that may yet result in his spending the rest of the winter in the slightly less tropical climate of Derbyshire.
Malcolm is today booked in for exploratory surgery on what may be serious cartilage damage to his right knee, which began with a slight twinge on the rest day of the Test match, and developed into an ominous swelling by Friday evening.
It rounded off a pretty ordinary week for Malcolm, who had hitherto been in more pain from his Test match bowling figures and the assault on his body from Courtney Walsh's fit of pique after Malcolm's bat had for once made regular contact with something other than fresh air.
Malcolm is so popular with the players that his departure has affected morale far more than the loss of a one-day game. Neither is he the type of character to bear a grudge, but it was hardly surprising when he declined an invitation to Walsh's testimonial dinner 24 hours after coming close to having his next meal through a hospital drip.
If Malcolm is out of the tour, England face the dilemma not only of who to fly in as replacement, but also of whether to rethink their entire bowling stategy for the Test series. Mark Ilott would be the probable choice after his successful A tour to South Africa, but although he offers a different option by virtue of bowling left arm, if England are looking for a straight swap in terms of mph, Martin McCague of Kent is just about the only serious option.
Either way, Mike Atherton - who would already have mentally pencilled in one specialist spinner for the slow turning pitch England are likely to encounter for the second Test in Guyana two and a half weeks hence - might even consider playing both Philip Tufnell and Ian Salisbury in Georgetown.
Other than against the new ball, the West Indian batsmen have treated England's pace attack with something less than respect, and having failed to kick open the West Indian front door here, Atherton may now be wondering whether to try picking the lock.
Looking for good news at the moment is not a particularly rewarding exercise, and even though Angus Fraser came through Saturday's game with no ill effects to his damaged finger, neither does he yet look the bowler he was before the hip injury that stole two and a half years of his England career.
Fraser was England's most expensive bowler on Saturday, a statistic even more worrying for the fact that he was not even operating (being off the field with a mild hamstring tweak) during the height of the carnage that took place during the closing stages of a match that had the locals in such a lather of excitement that Sabina Park was almost like Calcutta without the bonfires.
After a brilliant innings of 66 from Alec Stewart, England's prospective total of around 270 after being sent in on another pitch that looked like the result of a shoeshine boy going to work on the top of Kojak's head, ended in a mildly disappointing 253 for 8 after a clatter of wickets in the final half- dozen overs. This was especially true in the absence of Curtly Ambrose, who, depending on your sources, either had a shoulder strain or was taking a rest.
However, Alan Igglesden (who, miraculous to relate, has been England's fittest bowler out here) and Steve Watkin performed so well with the new ball that the West Indies looked to be in the same paralysing grip that resulted in England's victory in the first one-dayer in Barbados.
Brian Lara, who can bat both like Sobers and a left-handed Malcolm in the same innings, was out to an appalling shot, and in making only 18 in the first 20 overs, Desmond Haynes played like a man who is both out of form and totally bored with one-day internationals. As this was his 237th, it would perhaps be surprising if he wasn't.
However, another downside to Saturday was the way England then managed to bowl Haynes back into something approaching his best form. He had passed 50 for the 72nd time in this type of combat when Graeme Hick not only dismissed him by sticking out a right hand to intercept a venomous straight drive, but also saved the umpire, Steve Bucknor, from being decapitated at the same time.
This was the first of three West Indian wickets to go down in four overs, and when a rain squall arrived to reduce the innings to 47 overs, the home team required an improbable 80 runs off the final 11. However, the local hero Jimmy Adams then sent a ground that in parts was literally jammed to the rafters into near delirium with an innings of such authority that his team trotted in with seven balls to spare.
As England have discovered here, and Nottinghamshire will be hoping to discover next summer, Adams can adapt his batting to any situation. He also keeps wicket, bowls left-arm spin, and is a classy close fielder. If Adams's performances over the past week have made anyone think about jumping off a bridge, it won't have been one over the Trent.
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