Cricket: Pressure forces soft centre to rise to the surface again

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The Independent Online
England lost the first of the two Test matches here in Trinidad because they did not know how to win and played soft cricket at the end when the West Indies needed 282. This softness manifested itself again on the second day of the third Test when England were bowled out for 145.

The bounce on Saturday was uneven enough to make survival, let alone stroke play, hard work. Three of the main batsmen, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher, fought it out for more than two hours, each against the fast bowlers and then died soft deaths against spin.

Over the years, Carl Hooper has thrived on the scathing criticism meted out to his off-spin bowling by Geoffrey Boycott and has become much more than an occasional bowler. But, even so, one would not have expected him to remove Stewart and Thorpe on a pitch which allowed him only the slowest of turn.

The truth was that both batsmen relaxed at the sight of a spinner and their concentration snapped. What made it worse was that Thorpe had been out in identical fashion in the last Test and when Hooper came on the warning light should have flashed.

These two dismissals were bad enough although Hooper has to take some credit for drifting one away with his arm which accounted for Stewart and for finding a fraction more bounce for Thorpe. Butcher had no such excuse for his departure in Jimmy Adams' first over of innocuous left- arm spin. He pushed a hard volley gently back to the bowler.

The softest wicket of all was that of Andrew Caddick. Jack Russell turned Adams to short fine leg and Caddick set off from the non-striker's end. He was halfway down the pitch when Russell sent him back and, seemingly extremely reluctant to get there at all, Caddick was beaten by Brian Lara's sweeping pick-up and throw to the bowler.

Caddick's softness did not end there. Amazingly, after taking 5 for 67 in the first innings when he had made a bad start before recovering well, Caddick began to bowl again as if he had not the slightest idea of what was expected and he was set upon by Stuart Williams. It could hardly have been a more feeble piece of bowling.

Talking to Mike Atherton later, he made the point of what a poor training ground county cricket is for Test matches like these in the Port of Spain. In domestic cricket in England, there is nothing remotely comparable and some players are unable to cope with the acute pressure they find. No names, no pack drill, but Caddick, and Dean Headley too, cannot have been far from his thoughts.

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