Cricket: No holiday for beached England: Test for returning Malcolm's knee comes against a batting line-up that is quite capable of thrashing any attack

AT THIS stage of England's disintegrating tour, it does not so much resemble a visit to Grenada, a golden-beached Caribbean island, as Granada, a service station on the M6. Having almost been cleaned up by a 20-ton juggernaut, England have spotted an 'Ambrose kills - take a break' notice, and pulled in for a leg-stretch and a pot of tea.

Given the current state of play, they probably need something stronger than tea, and 12 months ago, on a stretch of sand just down from the team hotel, the Grenada Constabulary allegedly happened across a different kind of leaf being infused, or rather inhaled, by the Pakistan cricket team.

'Hello, hello, hello, what have we got here then? Waqar baccy?' Criminal charges (for failing to obey the local 'keep off the grass' by-laws) were eventually dropped against Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, but this is where their tour - a good bit earlier than England's - fell apart.

Grenada is as idyllic a place as any for a battery recharge, but there is now an uncomfortable feeling that England do not have enough voltage left to power a 40-watt bulb. After the four-day match starting today against a West Indian Board team (effectively the West Indies 2nd XI) England have back-to-back Tests in Barbados and Antigua, and the emulsion that was being hastily slapped on to the pavilion walls here yesterday morning did nothing to dispel the pervading fear for this tour. Whitewash.

'We will definitely not lose 5-0,' was Michael Atherton's comment after England had gone 2-0 down in Georgetown, and such is the captain's outwardly affable disposition in the face of the rubble that now constitutes his rebuilding process, no one had the heart to ask him whether he still felt the same way after going 3-0 down in Port of Spain.

The worst aspect of England's 46 all out is that it was achieved without the slightest hint of intimidatory bowling and represented the first occasion that the West Indies have polished off any full innings with only two bowlers, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

The spectre of Ambrose, who was said by his own captain, Richie Richardson, to have been 'embarrassed' by his bowling performance in the first Test, is now a haunting one for England. In his three full series against them, Ambrose has taken 22, 20, and 28 wickets respectively.

Here, he is already up to 21 and that represents 91 wickets from 16 Tests against England at an average of 17.62. The odds on him reaching 100 by the end of the fourth Test, never mind the series, would not be particularly generous.

While Ambrose is a special bowler, who has already booked his place in cricket's hall of fame, it remains a fact that any bowler who plays against England has a far greater chance of achieving this celebrity status.

In the last three Ashes series, England have been knocked over by Terry Alderman, Merv Hughes and Shane Warne, while in India last winter, Anil Kumble (having previously been identified by Keith Fletcher as 'ordinary') was a bit like an angler in a purple patch, when he barely has time to rebait the hook before finding another fish on the end of it. Or perhaps tiddler would be more accurate.

England, however, have given almost as many caps to bowlers in the last five years or so than Dunn and Co have sold hats, and yet the last of their pace bowlers to dominate a series was Graham Dilley, in Australia in 1986-87. By way of contrast to England's cupboard, Old Mother Hubbard's looks like the result of a supermarket spending spree.

When he first studied the itinerary, Atherton, who is having this match off, would have identified Grenada as the ideal venue for a spot of rest and recuperation for a settled Test team getting ready for the final push, but the way things have gone the under-employed members of the party - Nasser Hussain, Phil Tufnell and Steve Watkin - are serious contenders for a Test place anyway.

Devon Malcolm was always certain to play here, for the obvious reason of needing to prove his fitness, although his knee may not take too kindly to a ground on which the run- ups are not dissimilar to a ploughed field, and the corrugated outfield might also persuade England that a box and a gumshield are essential equipment when they are fielding as well as batting.

The press box has been built facing the wrong way, which is a curious business, unless of course it is intended as an act of kindness towards those of us not certain whether they can face any more of watching England on this tour.

As if England's morale was not already low enough, they found that a large quantity of equipment had been stolen on their arrival here - mainly bats, pads and sponsored sunglasses. It is a moot point as to whether the bats were stolen before or after their 46 all out and indeed whether they will give priority to replacing the bats first or the sunglasses. England may still end up leaving this island with less confidence than when they arrived.

ENGLAND 12 (probable): * A J Stewart, R A Smith, M R Ramprakash, G A Hick , G P Thorpe, N Hussain, M P Maynard, A P Igglesden, S L Watkin, I D K Salisbury, D E Malcolm, P C R Tufnell.

(Photograph omitted)

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