Cricket: Ramprakash's obstinacy rallies English hearts

West Indies 352 and 75-4 England 170
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The Independent Online
SHOWING the kind of spirit and application that would have served them better earlier in the match, England managed to avoid the follow-on against the West Indies at the Bourda yesterday. That they managed to do so, was largely due to Mark Ramprakash, who scored an unbeaten 64, though some bizarre captaincy by Brian Lara, as well as some careless batting by his team, also gave England's men, drowning in self-pity the previous day a few more straws to cling to.

For Ramprakash, it was, apart from his vital 48 at The Oval against Australia, probably the most important innings he has played for England and certainly his most satisfying. Before yesterday he had played 21 innings against the West Indies and never passed 29.

But if the innings was a personal corner turned, he needed help to make it count for England, his cohorts coming in the unlikely shapes of Robert Croft and Phil Tufnell, the latter sharing a tense 25 minutes together for the last wicket, before the follow-on was saved.

The efforts by Ramprakash and the tail, clearly spurred the bowlers on. The West Indies, resuming their second innings with a combination of the cavalier and the calamitous, were quickly in trouble after Stuart Williams was well caught by Alec Stewart as he drove at Dean Headley in the bowler's opening over.

The response, after Williams had been booed off by the crowd was was a flurry of boundaries by Sherwin Campbell and Lara, before Campbell, flicking Angus Fraser off his hip, was brilliantly caught by Ramprakash at short-leg.

A ball later, Hair had to seek the help of the third umpire watching the TV replay after Shivnarine Chanderpaul, setting off for a quick single, narrowly lost out to a brilliant direct hit by Nasser Hussain, as he swooped on the ball from cover.

It might have been even better for England, had two chances from Lara, on 5 and 9, not gone begging. The first a blistering whip shot to square leg off Headley would have been one of the catches of the series had Mark Butcher managed to cling on. He did not, but at least he attempted the catch which was more than Atherton did, when the left-hander chipped a leading edge into the covers off Fraser. Shortly after tea, the fourth wicket went down when Butcher did catch Lara, a smart take as the West Indies captain unwisely advanced down the wicket to Tufnell.

In spite of the late heroics by bat and ball, Atherton's team remain in a parlous position. However, the portents, at least as far as Ramprakash is concerned, are encouraging, and the Middlesex captain showed that his nerves are no longer as taut as piano wires when the going gets tough. For underachievers like Ramprakash, it is important to win the little battles like this one and next time he faces the abyss, he probably will not even teeter, let alone fall in.

The crusty, broken nature of this pitch, now slowing as well, has caused many of batsmen to adopt strange tactics, but none as strange as the decision made by Lara, the world's best batsman, when he declined to bowl Curtly Ambrose, the world's best fast bowler at England's tail.

Whether Lara was saving Ambrose for England's second innings, or whether he had been reading Mike Brearley's discourses on captaincy, his tactics were far too erudite in a situation that probably required little more than brute force.

Cricket has often been likened to chess, but rarely the way the West Indies like to play it. In fact it is a lot more basic and Lara will now realise that you first have to get to A, before you can contemplate B, and it was ironic that the follow-on was avoided due to a sloppy misfield by him, when Ramprakash deftly dabbed Carl Hooper his way at slip.

Ambrose's absence, for the whole of the morning session, allowed Ramprakash and more especially Robert Croft, never previously at ease against the throat ball, to settle. To be fair to Croft, who wore a daffodil in the strap of his right pad,to commemorate St David's Day, has worked hard at this weakness. It paid off now, and he managed to keep Ramprakash company for 31 overs adding 64 runs, before attempting an exotic cut off Hooper, he edged to Lara at slip.

If the stand, which had taken England to within 14 runs of the follow- on had brought some belated comfort the collapse that followed, would have made the hearts of those players watching, palpitate once more.

Dean Headley, so stoic at the crease in Trinidad, was timid here and he edged Hooper to Williams for a duck. A few overs later, Fraser, having been protected from the wiles of Dinanath Ramnarine by Ramprakash, at last found himself facing the leg-spinner.

With Ambrose still nowhere to be seen, Fraser clearly fancied himself for a few. Unfortunately his sweep shot was poorly executed and Lara duly trotted round from slip to catch the top edge.

Tufnell's appearance, with 13 runs still wanted, was not a situation that even the wildest of City speculators would have taken on lightly. Mind you, it is only when the bowling is above medium pace that Tufnell looks like a shivering kitten, and he never really looked in trouble until Ambrose, bowling for the first time with the second new ball, had him caught at cover.

By then Tufnell had batted for over an hour and made sure England would not have to bat until after West Indies second innings.