Cricket: Thorpe and Brown set a new tone

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Under a full moon and with the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, England put the West Indies to bed, winning their second match in Sharjah by four wickets. In a land where rich men's dreams turn fantasy to fact, England's stolid efficiency, so often absent overseas, appears to be proving mightily persuasive on these nude pitches.

It was nip and tuck though, and England, chasing a modest total of 198, were made to battle all the way, their hard-fought victory coming with 25 balls to spare. This, however, was not the same West Indies so recently broken on the forbidding plains of Pakistan.

Having been galvanised by Carl Hooper's fighting response to the crisis that befell them in the first over of the match, when Philo Wallace and Brian Lara both went for nought, they bowled and fielded like men gratefully awakening from a nightmare to find their faculties intact.

They were led, inevitably, by their fast bowlers, and England's batsmen were forced to seek alternative plans to chasing victory. Indeed, once Alistair Brown and Alec Stewart had fallen, the latter to a mistimed drive, an extra spring appeared in the bowlers' steps.

They made the ball bounce too, though not as high as both Nick Knight and Adam Hollioake suspected when they perished hooking at the tall, pacy Mervyn Dillon, Knight to a quite brilliant diving leg-side catch by the diminutive keeper David Williams.

With Graeme Hick's departure for 28, superbly run out by Shivnarine Chanderpaul at extra cover, it was clear that chasing moderate totals was not in England's game plan. The pitch, last used on Thursday, had, if anything, a tad more bounce than first time around, though sighting the dirty ball was still a problem for the new batsman as the match approached a thrilling denouement.

Enter Graeme Thorpe whose 57-ball half-century was, like Hooper's hundred, the key innings for his team. The left-hander is probably the best player in England when the ball bounces above the pads, which is what it did when Walsh and Co bowled.

When he was out, caught behind cutting at Hooper, the reliable Mark Ealham negotiated the home straight with an unbeaten 28, his partner Dougie Brown, unbeaten on 18, proving the one-day value of having a surfeit of all-rounders.

But if some tentative England batting made the game more interesting than it should have been, it was their bowling and fielding that made victory probable and restricting any team to under 200 these days in this form of cricket is quite a feat.

Of course, taking two wickets in the first three balls of the match, including that of Lara, is as good a place to start as any, and although Dougie Brown was found wanting in England's first game against India, he will have enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame last night.

A Scotsman, who by playing here has renounced his right to play for his home country in the next World Cup, Brown knows how fickle cricket can be. After looking short of pace against the Indian openers, his opening delivery yesterday knocked back Wallace's off stump. Two balls later, he beat his new Warwickshire captain Lara on the inside, to win a marginal lbw decision. Lara did not look amused.

During the past year, getting rid of Lara early has had the same effect on his team mates as the cutting of Sampson's hair. Ever since his world record in Antigua, the pressure on the little Trinidadian has been enormous. As the West Indies have begun to discover the losing habit, it has mounted to intolerable levels and the once ready smile has been replaced by a scowl.

One man's woe is another's opportunity and Lara's step back has allowed Hooper to take another forward in shrugging off the underachiever's cloak that he looked like wearing for the rest of his career. Coming in at No 4 to face only the fourth ball of the innings, Hooper took until the last to reach a meticulous century.

It was an innings that mixed savvy with some delightful strokes through and over the covers. In a game where batting has become very much crash bang wallop, it was a pleasure to watch someone size up the situation rather than simply the distance to the boundary boards.

He might have been run out for nought, had Alistair Brown's throw from extra cover hit the stumps. With a Test century as well as last night's already this week, many are saying that Hooper's time has now come.

The familiar faces of Kent's three England bowlers will also have helped, though none, particularly the metronomically accurate Ealham, were prepared to give him a helping hand. As against India, England bowled like dripping taps (a compliment to their persistency) and fielded like gazelles. In contrast to the West Indies, who also fielded an unchanged side, they had had a day's rest to recharge the batteries.

Unlike two nights ago, when Matthew Fleming, the colourful, well-balanced Etonian (surely a contradiction in terms) took the plaudits, the wickets were shared around. Worthy of mention though, was Thorpe's stinging reaction catch to get rid of the hard-hitting Stuart Williams.

Stationed at short-midwicket, the Surrey player pulled the ball down as if nonchalantly scrumping an apple. Only by his team-mates' ecstatic reaction was the true difficulty of the task appreciated. In a month's time it will be a very different mission, involving very different men as England play their first game on the West Indies tour.

Sharjah scoreboard

West Indies won the toss

WEST INDIES

P A Wallace b D Brown 0

(1 min, 1 ball; missed nip-backer first ball)

S C Williams c Thorpe b Headley 22

(51 mins, 37 balls, 3 fours; skimmed drive to short midwicket)

B C Lara lbw b D Brown 0

(1 mins, 2 balls; misread line)

C L Hooper not out 100

(189 mins, 135 balls, 6 four; played around slower ball)

S Chanderpaul lbw b Ealham 16

39 mins, 39 balls, 1 four

P V Simmons c Croft b Hollioake 29

(57 mins, 46 balls, 1 four; chipped slower ball to midwicket)

D Williams run out (Stewart TV replay) 4

(9 mins, 9 balls; failed to beat wicketkeeper's underarm throw)

R N Lewis b Fleming 13

(22 mins, 22 balls, 1 four; played over top of yorker)

F A Rose not out 11

(10 mins, 11 balls, 2 fours)

Extras (nb2) 2

Total (7 wkts, 193 mins, 50 overs) 197

Fall: 1-0 (Wallace), 2-0 (Lara), 3-50 (S Williams), 4-77 (Chanderpaul), 5-143 (Simmons), 6-151 (D Williams), 7-181 (Lewis).

Did not bat: *C A Walsh, M Dillon.

Bowling: D Brown 7-1-28-2, Headley 7-1-24-1 (nb2), Ealham 10-1-28-1, Croft 10-0-40-0, Hollioake 8-0-41-1, Fleming 8-1-36-1 (one spell each).

Progress: 50 in 49 mins, 77 balls. 100 in 118 mins, 184 balls. 150 in 156 mins, 243 balls.

Hooper 50: 114 mins, 81 balls, 5 fours. 100: 189 mins, 135 balls, 6 fours.

ENGLAND

A D Brown c Lewis b Walsh 10

(21 mins, 18 balls, 1 four; miss-pulled shot to backward square)

A J Stewart c Walsh b Rose 23

(45 mins, 25 balls 3 fours; toed drive to mid-off)

N V Knight c D Williams b Dillon 10

(46 mins 30 balls; gloved short ball to 'keeper)

G A Hick run out 28

(69 mins, 54 balls, 2 fours; run-out by direct hit from extra cover)

G P Thorpe c D Williams b Hooper 57

(121 mins, 75 balls, 2 fours; caught behind cutting at off-spinner)

*A J Hollioake c Chanderpaul b Dillon 9

(21 mins, 15 balls; caught hooking at long leg)

M A Ealham not out 28

(73 mins, 49 balls, 3 fours)

D R Brown not out 16

(20 mins, 18 balls, 1 four)

Extras (lb7, w4, nb6) 17

Total (6 wkts, 211mins, 45.5 overs) 198

Fall: 1-21, 2-45, 3-53, 4-100, 5-123, 6-173.

Did Not Bat: M V Fleming, R D B Croft, D W Headley.

Bowling: Walsh 9.5-1-51-1 (nb5,w1) (6-1-28-1 3-0-13-0 0.5-0-10-0), Rose 10-0-38-1 (nb1) (8-0-28-1 2-0-10-0), Dillon 10-0-38-2 (w2) (5-0-19-1 3-0-12-1 2-0-7-0), Lewis 6-0-34-0 (nb3,w1) (5-0-27-0 1-0-7-0), Simmons 2-0-8-0, Hooper 8-1-22-1 (one spell each).

Progress: 50 in 59 mins, 77 balls. 100 in 114 mins, 146 balls. 150 in 167 mins, 221 balls.

Thorpe 50: 106 mins, 67 balls, 1 four.

Umpires: B C Cooray and K T Francis. TV Replay Umpire: C J Mitchley.

Match Referee: P J P Burge Man of the match: C L Hooper.

England won by four wickets

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