THE last time England were in Georgetown they spent more time contemplating boating practice than batting practice, and the only partnership Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe would have formed in 1990 would have been in the double sculls.
However, while England's flight from Trinidad arrived just in time for the first rain here for the thick end of three months, the grey clouds that scudded ominously across the Bourda Oval, on the opening day of the pre-Test warm-up game against a West Indian Board President's XI, failed to deliver.
Happily, Ramprakash and Thorpe did deliver, although they were rather fortunate to find a two-man pace attack vainly banging it in on a pitch that was closer to mango-soft than coconut-hard. Otherwise, they grazed contentedly against four undemanding spinners, who got some occasional slow turn from a surface right next door to the one mapped out for next week's Test.
They both played well enough in a second-wicket liaison that yielded 158 runs in 199 minutes, and in Ramprakash's case, his unbeaten 154 more or less guarantees his selection in next week's side. Thorpe's 84, on the other hand, rather confuses the issue, although there is precious little evidence that England are currently any less than confused about almost everything.
Mike Atherton, having already given himself his first match off on tour, also decided to rest Alec Stewart for this game in order to take a look at all four of his junior batsmen. However, Thorpe had made only 16 in his six previous innings before yesterday, and making runs against spinners on a tired pudding of a surface bears little resemblance to what will be served up in the Test.
There is also the suspicion that Atherton and the team manager, Keith Fletcher, are at odds as to what kind of attack to go in with next Thursday. Fletcher, by all accounts, wants two spinners, but the captain - who changed his mind about fielding even one in Jamaica - has begun to blow cool about a strategy that looks to have a better chance of success than churning out the habitual conveyor belt of medium pace.
With Alan Igglesden unfit for this game with a shoulder strain, Atherton is sufficiently worried about his seam attack (with sound reason) to arrange a straight contest here between Andrew Caddick and Steve Watkin. However, as this resulted in the omission of Philip Tufnell, whose last first-class bowl was against Barbados nearly a month ago, the sagacity of this decision is not apparent to everyone.
Neither was another failure for Robin Smith calculated to inspire confidence that the worm (ie. England) is about to turn. Ramprakash played extremely well, particularly off the back foot, and was justifiably excited enough at the completion of his century to greet it with an animation not entirely in keeping with a soporific day. On the other hand, if England are to make a fist of this Test series, Smith is undeniably the key batsman.
Smith, who has never captained a side before yesterday, was unlucky to be caught at slip for eight, unlucky in the sense that the two other offerings that came Keith Semple's way (when Ramprakash was on 26 and 62) both went down.
There is a theory that without the presence of players like Gooch, Gower or Lamb, Smith has been less comfortable as the batsman with most expectation on his shoulders. True or not, Smith was averaging 76 before the Jamaica Test, since when he has made 145 runs from eight innings at an average of 18.
Ramprakash, having batted throughout the day, will go back in again this morning in company with Matthew Maynard, who is 40 not out and in with a decent chance of clawing back some of the ground lost to Thorpe. However, the odd delivery is beginning to splat through at ankle height, which is not such good news for Nasser Hussain.
(England won toss)
ENGLAND - First Innings
* R A Smith c Semple b Browne 8
M R Ramprakash not out 154
G P Thorpe b Dhanraj 84
M P Maynard not out 40
Extras (b2 lb3 nb17) 22
Total (for 2) 308
Fall: 1-44 2-202.
To bat: N Hussain, R C Russell, C C Lewis, A R Caddick, I D K Salisbury, S L Watkin, A R C Fraser.
Bowling: Cuffy 17-4-46-0; Browne 17-3-59-1; Perry 17-1-54-0; Dhanraj 27-3-101-1; Hooper
14-5-32-0; Chanderpaul 4-0-11-0.
WEST INDIES BOARD PRESIDENT'S XI: R G Samuels, D A Joseph, K F Semple, S Chanderpaul, *C L Hooper, K Mason, K A Wong, N O Perry, R Dhanraj, C E Cuffy, B StA Browne.Reuse content