Cricket / Second Test: Atherton stirs an England fightback: Smith shares in historic stand with his captain before Ambrose makes late breakthrough

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England . . . . . . . . . . . . . .258-5

West Indies

ON A cricket ground that has spent a fair chunk of its history doubling as an aquarium, and the English lion coming into this match in not noticeably ruder health than one of Georgetown's stray cats, the combination of brilliant sunshine and England's batsmen getting stuck into the West Indian bowlers here yesterday was almost enough to make you believe it was all a mirage.

However, if ever there was a time for Mike Atherton to lead from the front, and for Robin Smith to recapture something approaching his best form, this was it - and the most encouraging aspect was not so much an acceptable first-day total of 258 for 5, but evidence that, however deficient in performance England have looked at times, it is still possible to throw a pebble into the well of team spirit and hear a splash.

Atherton and Smith put on 171 together, eclipsing the previous third-wicket record for any country at the Bourda of 150, set by Hutton and Compton in 1954, although the statistic becomes slightly less impressive in the knowledge that (through a combination of politics and monsoon) this was England's first day's play in a Test match here for 20 years.

Smith, whose poor form had made him decide to turn teetotal until his next Test score of 75 or better, survived a routine slip catch to Brian Lara when 27, but finally made it to the bar for a beer last night with nine runs to spare. However, he would probably have been driven to drink in any event at the thought of clipping a half- volley straight down square leg's throat with a century there for the taking.

Atherton, though, went on to make his fourth Test century for England, and there is not much doubt that the captaincy has lifted him as a player. Since taking over from Graham Gooch, Atherton has now made 974 runs in 18 innings as captain at an average of 60.87. He may also be that most precious of animals, a lucky captain, in that if Richie Richardson had chosen to bat first against England's attack (and heaven only knows why he did not) the series might have been effectively dead and buried this morning.

The Atherton-Smith liaison sprang from the mildly unpromising position of 2 for 2, which, given that England have squandered promising starts so often against the West Indies, was a different way of going about it. Get the collapse in early for a change. On the other hand, losing Alec Stewart and Mark Ramprakash inside the first 19 deliveries might purely have been down to shock that they were batting at all.

This is precisely the pitch that was forecast, flat, slow, and liable to become more uneven as the game goes on, and if Atherton was visibly puzzled when Richardson asked for time to ponder after winning the toss, it would not have taken much more than a feather to knock him over when he was finally invited to bat first.

Whether it was a case of beware West Indians bearing gifts, or just a reflection of their own lack of confidence, Smith was striding out at No 4 so soon in the day that in a perverse way it probably had a calming effect on such a notoriously nervous starter.

Courtney Walsh's fourth delivery accounted for Stewart, dragging on to his stumps after a jerky prod away from his body, and Ramprakash went to the first ball of Walsh's second over, playing outside a full- length delivery with a drive that carried no conviction. Unless, that is, it was a conviction for driving without due care and attention.

At that stage, you would scarcely have given a fig for England's chances of surviving the day without another drain on morale. They had dubiously preferred the three- seamer option to two spinners, and with the West Indies replacing Carl Hooper with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and preferring Jimmy Adams to Phil Simmons, it leaves England with four left-handers to bowl at in the top six.

Once the news had spread that Chanderpaul, a local favourite and the first teenager to be picked for the West Indies since 1973, was playing, a thin early morning crowd filled out steadily during the day. However, parochialism invariably plays a part in West Indian team selection at home, and Simmons will probably be back for the next Test in his native Trinidad for fear of either a crowd boycott, or having the pavilion burned to the ground.

Atherton settled some old scores with Walsh, after his working over in Jamaica, and he ploughed heroically on to 131 not out despite being hit on the helmet by Curtly Ambrose. However, some of the gloss was taken off the day when a similar bull's-eye unsettled Hick enough for Ambrose to get him - jabbing the second new ball to slip - and Graham Thorpe made a protracted zero before bottom-edging Ambrose on to his stumps. Surrey's contribution to the cause yesterday (0 and 0) was not a huge one.

(Photograph omitted)

Hudson's century, page 38