On a pitch that offered seam movement all day, no one looked at ease. Only Nasser Hussain, taking almost as many bruises as he did quick singles, showed the kind of dogged fight that must accompany innings against this kind of relentless pace attack. Adding 46 valuable runs with Andy Caddick and Dean Headley, Hussain finished the day battered but not broken on 44. Headley gloved a catch behind off a snorter from Curtly Ambrose with the second new ball.
When he won the toss at 9.35am, Michael Atherton, had no hesitation in batting first. With the pitch having been given an early morning shave, it was, on balance, probably the right decision, and one that, even allowing for England's good fortune with the bat, looked to be vindicated when they lunched comfortably on 70 for 1.
But comfort zones are relative against the West Indies bowlers, who tend to bulldoze rather than use a can opener to exploit the chinks in an opponents armour. Once Alec Stewart was the second man out in the 40th over, for a fortuitous 50, a combination of brutal deliveries and soft dismissals, saw the visitors find themselves back in depressingly familiar territory, as six wickets fell for just 63 runs.
Most disappointing, from England's point of view would have been the fall of Graham Thorpe and Adam Hollioake, either side of tea. As England's most consistent batsman, Thorpe was looking comfortable until he played a limp cut shot at Carl Hooper, who was bowling the statutory spinner's over before the break.
Yet if Thorpe is prone to the odd sloppy lapse in concentration, Hollioake's demise, controversially run out trying to take a single to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, was lemming-like in its futility, and the umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan had no hesitation in giving him out.
Hollioake, however, having seen the keeper David Williams knock a bail off prior to gathering Chanderpaul's return, proceeded to remonstrate with the umpire, insisting that a TV replay be called for. Somewhat surprisingly, given that he had already made his decision, Venkat relented. A demand in similar circumstances to Hollioake's cost Hansie Cronje a stiff fine against England in Cape Town two winters ago.
Typically, chaos ensued and although the slow motion replay showed Hollioake to be right, the third umpire, Clyde Cumberbatch, unaware that he was ruling on something other than a line decision, still gave the batsman out. Afterwards the match referee, Barry Jarman, indicated that Hollioake would not be fined for dissent.
After enduring two sessions, in which the ball bounced erratically and moved about off the seam, it was the only piece of ill fortune England suffered, as Ambrose and Co, starting the day cautiously, went into overdrive.
Switching ends away from the one from which he had destroyed England from four years ago, it was the familiar Ambrose who made the initial breakthrough, when he removed the England captain for 11. It was a marvellous piece of fast bowling, and having twice passed Atherton's outside edge in successive balls, the third managed to find its way off a slightly skewed bat to Lara at first slip.
But if Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, bowled within themselves as veterans tend to, Nixon McLean, a 24-year-old from St Vincent, was a throwback to when Caribbean pacemen were raw and fast. Bowling from the Pavilion End, McLean was a yard or so quicker than his colleagues, and had countless moral victories against Stewart, who he beat time and again with pace and movement from his easy high action.
It was not the only good fortune Stewart enjoyed, and apart from surviving a fairly plumb looking lbw appeal from Ambrose early on, the England opener was twice dropped in the slips, on 41 and 43.
When he reached 50, with a neat clip to leg for two off Kenny Benjamin, his luck ran out and he was dismissed by the Antiguan's very next ball, which nipped back and pinned him back in front of his stumps.
It was only a fortnight ago that Benjamin enjoyed an eight-wicket haul here playing for the Leeward Islands, and again he was probably the pick of the home side's bowlers. However, the arrival of Hussain, who joined the becalmed John Crawley, forced him to slip his leash. Later in the day, after Walsh had removed Caddick lbw, Benjamin struck Headley a nasty blow to the side of the helmet, as the England bowler ducked into a short ball.
With Ambrose putting Crawley out of his misery - the Lancashire batsman, though rarely in trouble, managed only 17 in 100 balls - and with quick wickets tumbling after tea, England's way back, despite Hussain's brave fightback with the tail, was becoming a cul-de-sac, albeit one that looked strangely familiar.
First day; England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings
*M A Atherton c Lara b Ambrose 11
65 min, 52 balls, 1 four
A J Stewart lbw b Benjamin 50
171 min, 126 balls, 7 fours
J P Crawley c S Williams b Ambrose 17
150 mins, 100 balls, 1 four
N Hussain not out 44
227 min, 145 balls, 3 fours
G P Thorpe c D Williams b Hooper 8
21 min, 18 balls, 1 four
A J Hollioake run out 2
26 min, 18 balls
R C Russell c S Williams b McLean 0
5 min, 2 balls
A R Caddick lbw b Walsh 8
45 min, 23 balls, 1 four
D W Headley c D Williams b Ambrose 11
69 min, 57 balls, 1 four
A R C Fraser not out 2
12 min, 4 balls
Extras (b6, lb5, nb11) 22
Total (for 8, 399 min, 89 overs) 175
Fall: 1-26 (Atherton), 2-87 (Stewart), 3-105 (Crawley), 4-114 (Thorpe), 5-124 (Hollioake), 6-126 (Russell), 7-143 (Caddick), 8-172 (Headley).
To bat: P C R Tufnell.
Bowling: Walsh 22-7-48-1 (nb2) (6-2-13-0, 9-5-12-0, 7-0-23-1); Ambrose 20-13-17-3 (nb1) (5-3-4-0, 3-1-3-1, 7-5-8-1, 5-4-2-1); McLean 17-7-25- 1 (nb4) (6-2-13-0, 2-0-5-0, 3-1-4-0, 6-4-3-1); Benjamin 20-3-60-1 (nb2) (3-0-13-0, 11-3-30-1, 6-0-17-0); Hooper 7-3-6-1 (1 -1-0-0, 4-1-5-1, 2- 1-1-0); Adams 3-0-8-0 (nb1) (1-0-4-0, 2-0-4-0).
Progress: 50: 93 min, 20.4 overs. Lunch 70-1 (Stewart 39, Crawley 9) 27 overs. 100: 200 min, 45 overs. Tea 114-4 (Hussain 13) 53.1 overs. 150: 335 min, 74.2 overs. New ball 83.4 overs, 170-7. Stewart's 50: 170 min, 125 balls, 7 fours.
WEST INDIES: S C Williams, S L Campbell, S Chanderpaul, *B C Lara, C L Hooper, J C Adams, D Williams, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, K C G Benjamin, C A Walsh.
Umpires: S A Bucknor and S Venkataraghavan. TV replay umpire: C E Cumberbatch. Match referee: B N Jarman.Reuse content