Cricket: Ramprakash leads the way back

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND, needing to put the abject misery of last week's humiliation in Port of Spain behind them, took the first steps towards rehabilitation against the West Indies Board XI. Each one of their first three batsmen passed 50 and, although heavy rain had cut the morning session in half, they raced along at almost four runs an over.

Mark Ramprakash, a makeshift opener in the absence of Michael Atherton, led the way with 91 but the free- scoring tone was set by Alec Stewart with a swift half-century in an opening stand of 99.

Roland Holder, the home captain, had inserted England on a pitch he must have felt had been freshened by overnight rain, and he clearly expected better things from his opening bowlers. They made little impact with the new ball, however, and Stewart was determined not to miss out.

Ramprakash, unsurprisingly given his recent Test scores, was more circumspect and picked up his early boundaries off thick edges down through the vacant third man area. However, one flashing square drive off Andy Cummins brought an end to his edginess. It is curious that Ramprakash, who reached his 50 from 108 balls, has looked a fine player in every game but the Tests.

Heavy rain brought a prolonged halt to proceedings after 60 minutes. Keen to get as much play as possible, Keith Fletcher asked the umpires whether lunch could be taken early. Apparently it could not. The food truck had apparently been held up in the Easter weekend traffic.

Other events were also shrouded in mystery, as the new press box faces the sea rather than the pitch - invasions, presumably, being more interesting to cover than your average cricket match.

When play eventually restarted, Eugene Antoine, a tall lad from Trinidad, took up the challenge, but his medium-pace brand of Ambrosia did little to stem the flow of runs from Stewart's scything blade. With Cummins as ineffective as he was before the stoppage, Stewart raced to his fifty from only 62 balls.

In order to stem the flow of runs, Holder turned to the wily leg-spinner Rawl Lewis. With an action like a fiddler crab, he clearly had Stewart in two minds. Blocking his first over for a maiden, he set about assaulting his second as if he had heard the three-minute warning. In a sequence that went six, four and out, the final airy drive being nonchalantly held by Gibson at deep mid-off, Stewart had gone from cultured opener to village blacksmith.

Ramprakash and Graeme Hick then joined in a partnership worth 206. Hick seems to have the ability to smash bowlers who are unable to intimidate him and until Antoine had him lbw playing across the line, no bowler had troubled him in an innings containing seven boundaries.

His departure brought out Smith, who desperately needed a big score, and he started positively with some weighty drives off the seamers. Opting for the same approach against Lewis, he struck the Windwards' leg- spinner for a huge straight six before a top-edged sweep off the same bowler proved his undoing.

Meanwhile, Ramprakash, who had played second fiddle in all of the day's main partnerships, began to open up. With a rifling square cut off Gibson reaching the cover fence, his hard work looked likely to be worth the century he had so painstakingly set out to achieve. It was not to be. Pulling extravagantly at a short ball when perhaps deft placement would have served him better, he top- edged the shot to mid-wicket where Philo Wallace took a simple catch.

This game heralds the return to first-class cricket of both Phil Tufnell and, more importantly, Devon Malcolm. Having announced himself fit in net practice on Friday, he promptly thudded one into Matthew Maynard's jaw for good measure. England have badly missed this kind of hostility and Atherton would gladly have traded half of England's precious first-innings lead in Trinidad to have had the brawny paceman in his attack.

(First day of four: WI Board XI won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

* A J Stewart c Gibson b Lewis65

M R Ramprakash c Wallace b Gibson91

G A Hick lbw b Antoine59

R A Smith c Browne b Lewis36

G P Thorpe not out11

S L Watkin not out3

Extras16

Total (for 4, 76 overs)281

Fall: 1-99 2-206 3-257 4-277.

To bat: P C R Tufnell, N Hussain, D E Malcolm, A P Igglesden, M P Maynard.

WEST INDIES BOARD XI: P V Simmons, P A Wallace, S C Williams, * R I C Holder, S L Campbell, R D Jacobs, C O Browne, A C Cummins, E C Antoine, O D Gibson, R N Lewis.

Umpires: J W Holder and G Johnson.

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