Cricket: Stewart crucial to England's morale: Only rain looks capable of saving tourists from defeat in second Test and 2-0 deficit in series

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The Independent Online
A REST day after the fourth day of a Test is a little unusual, but unless England require a fleet of gondolas rather than the team bus to get them to the Bourda Oval this morning, it is unlikely to mean anything other than a stay of execution.

They are owed a favour from the rain after being deprived of an unbeatable 2-0 lead in Trinidad in 1990, but good luck is a rare visitor to those most in need of it, and it is odds on a morale-deflating 2-0 deficit by this evening.

England are still 115 runs away from making the West Indies bat again, and in order to survive a full day's play, it will almost certainly require a big hundred from Alec Stewart. The England vice-captain has made a bristlingly aggressive 72 not out, and if he and Mike Atherton both get centuries and ducks in the same Test, it will represent one of the more unusual England batting statistics.

However, what is also unusual, and of no little relevance in the lengthy list of England's failed rearguard actions, is the fact that of the 17 Test centuries shared between England's front-line batsmen, not one of them has come in the second innings. The only players here to have managed one batting second are Jack Russell and Chris Lewis, both in losing causes.

This is especially odd in view of the fact that, unlike most of their opponents, England's batsmen invariably get a second innings, neither are they normally using it as a quick cavalry charge towards a declaration. Evidence perhaps that deep- rooted experience of battling to avoid defeat does not necessarily make you any better at it.

The biggest problem for England today is the uneven bounce in the pitch, and the fact that bowlers like Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh tend to discourage batsmen from employing what is absolutely crucial on surfaces such as this, the front foot.

Russell and Smith will recall that in similar circumstances in the Barbados Test in 1990, they were still batting (with five wickets in hand) at the final drinks break, when the first ball from Ambrose after the refreshments scuttled all along the ground and bowled Russell. Ambrose then cleaned up the last four wickets in as many overs.

This Test match has also revived lingering suspicions about Graeme Hick's vulnerability against short-pitched bowling, in that it was clearly being hit on the elbow by Kenneth Benjamin that left him looking anxiously for another short one, and resulted in his next-ball dismissal. The common denominator among the great Test batsmen was that they never took their eyes off the ball. When it lands half-way down, Hick's eyes are normally either shut, or pointing towards first slip.

England have not been helped either by their negative approach to this game, partly excused by their wretched bowling form, but hardly conducive to the essential concept of meeting the enemy eyeball to eyeball. Get a draw here, and regroup in Trinidad has been the underlying theme.

However, apart from Devon Malcolm's return, it is hard to see how they can do a great deal in selection to improve their prospects, and despite Russell's indifferent performance behind the stumps, there are apparently no plans to give the gloves to Stewart for the next Test.

England's best chance, perhaps, lies not in their own selection, but the opposition's. Despite the success of Shivnarine Chanderpaul here, there was more than a suspicion of giving the local lad a game on his home ground, without quite getting the return through the turnstiles that their strapped- for-cash cricket board might have expected.

In Trinidad, they are already kicking up at Phil Simmons' exclusion from this Test, and the board will not need reminding that when the local favourite, Anderson Cummins, was left out of the Barbados Test against South Africa two years ago, there was a crowd boycott.

However, what is disturbing for England is that the West Indies probably feel that, against the current opposition, they could pick a politically acceptable team for each venue (as opposed to what they consider to be their best) without it making a jot of difference.

Australian victory, page 34