Cricket: Superb surface suits Stewart

Barbados 472-6 dec; England 178-2
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WHAT a gem Alec Stewart is. After fielding like a teenager for nearly nine and a half hours, he came out to open England's innings against Barbados and enjoyed this splendid pitch as much, if not more, than anyone, reaching his 50 from 49 balls with 11 fours.

There is nothing like a start of this kind to take the pressure off colleagues sitting with their pads on in the pavilion, let alone the batsman at the other end who happened to be his brother-in-law Mark Butcher.

Stewart has done his best all series to play his strokes realising that this is the only way to success against Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh; now he looked in the sort of form which brought him two separate hundreds in the Test match here four years ago which were his last two innings on this ground.

Two fours to Stewart off his legs off Pedro Collins and a steer to third man set him off. Butcher played a fine cover drive off Ottis Gibson and on it went, as bright as the sunshine.

After tea, Stewart raced to his fifty with three fours in the space of four balls off Marlon Blagrove. In the next over, Butcher hit three fours off successive balls from Collins, which brought up the hundred. It was scintillating stuff.

The unsung hero has been the former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler, Richard Edwards, who is the ground and pitch supervisor. He promised to produce a surface with pace and bounce and he has been as good as his word.

Stewart had only scored two more runs when he played back to Collins and was given out caught at second slip although he obviously thought the ball had not carried to Roland Holder. Nasser Hussain took his place and his chance for important practice against a none too ferocious attack. By the close, he was on the way to rehabilitation as was Butcher until he was lbw playing back to a leg-break just before the end.

Mike Atherton needs something similar, but having rested himself here he is not relaxing after his ordeals on less friendly pitches than this one. He is having a long spell each day in the excellent nets at the Wanderers Club.

In the first day and half of this three-day match, England's second string bowlers were simply not up to it, showing what a huge task awaits Angus Fraser later in the week. In the Test here four years ago, Fraser took eight wickets in the first innings. He will bowl well again on this pitch, but it is imperative he receives better support from Dean Headley and Andy Caddick.

This match has suggested that Caddick will come back and that Robert Croft will be selected as the only spinner while Jack Russell will hang on to the gloves.

The centrepiece of the Barbados innings was 158 by Holder, who had made 183 for West Indies A in Jamaica before the first Test. Perhaps it is fortunate for England that he is a member of that enigmatic list of talented batsmen who appear unable to make the jump to Test cricket.

Second day of three; Barbados won toss

BARBADOS - First Innings

*P A Wallace c Croft b Caddick 68

S L Campbell c Russell b Silverwood 21

A F G Griffith c Hussain b Caddick 21

R I C Holder run out 158

F L Reifer c Ramprakash b Croft 60

R L Hoyte c Cowan b Caddick 64

T Rollock not out 28

O D Gibson not out 24

Extras (lb5, w1, nb22) 28

Total (for 6 dec, 130 overs) 472

Fall: 1-47, 2-120, 3-124, 4-257, 5-401, 6-427.

Did not bat: P Collins, M Balgrove, W E Reid.

Bowling: Caddick 30-3-119-3; Cowan 21-3-71-0; Silverwood 16-2-71-1; Croft 42-10-114-1; Hollioake 12-1-59-0; Ramprakash 9-3-33-0.

ENGLAND - First Innings

A J Stewart c Holder b Collins 52

M A Butcher lbw b Rollock 79

*N Hussain not out 24

G P Thorpe not out 3

Extras (lb4, w1, nb15) 20

Total (for 2, 48 overs) 178

Fall: 1-17, 2-168.

To bat: M R Ramprakash, A J Hollioake, R C Russell, R D B Croft, A R Caddick, A P Cowan, C E W Silverwood.

Bowling: Gibson 13.4-1-56-0; Collins 10-1-50-1; Blagrove 6-0-25-0; Reid 9.2-3-24-0; Rollock 8-4-17-1; Reifer 1-0-2-0.

Umpires: M Jones and D Holder.