Cricket: W Indies openers pick up challenge

England 403 & 233-3 dec West Indies 262 & 71-0
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The Independent Online
WINNING POSITIONS are not something that have come regularly to Michael Atherton and his side were once again guilty of hesitating at the expectation of success. Setting the West Indies 375 to win, the England bowlers looked anything but potential matchwinners as Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace once more put them to the sword with an opening partnership worth 71.

It was a stand that England, and their 8,000 supporters, could well have done without and the Kensington Oval will be no place for the faint-hearted should the West Indies, now needing 304 runs to winm both the match and the series, continue in much the same vein today.

For England and their captain, it was the second time in the match that the bowlers had been humbled by the flailing bats of Lambert and Wallace, a pairing that sounds as if it should be making toffee rather than striking fear into the hearts of nervous pace bowlers everywhere. In five torrid overs they scored 35 runs, before Phil Tufnell slowed the pace.

It was riveting stuff and neither batsman seemed intimidated by the fact that only two teams in history have achieved higher totals to win. Two days earlier, similar treatment had caused the England captain to proffer his now well known two-fingered send-off to Wallace.

But if those actions were made through frustration, England had only themselves to blame. Two balls after the third umpire, Halley Moore, had curiously ruled Wallace in after a direct hit from Alec Stewart - the replay clearly showed his bat to be in the air - Dean Headley, fielding at square leg, dropped the local hero after he had top-edged a sweep off Tufnell.

The England captain once again saw his saw the positive work, including his own 64, being quickly unravelled by two bold batsmen collaring some unimaginative bowling. Anyone watching England's bowlers yesterday would think that slower balls had been outlawed.

Atherton may occasionally stray from the straight and narrow path his critics would have him follow as captain of England, but back him into a corner and all his fighting qualities come scurrying to the fore. He was at it again yesterday, scoring his first half-century for 17 innings, the last coming against Australia at Lord's in late June. Clearly, the best way to get runs out of Iron Mike is to engineer a crisis.

Until England bowled, that timidity, was not in evidence yesterday, and with a plan to bat until 40 minutes after tea, both he and Stewart began briskly, the Surrey man taking three off-side boundaries from Courtney Walsh's second over of the morning. Less fluent than his partner, it was not until Atherton struck Walsh back past mid-on off the back foot that his timing returned. He even got his weight shifting backwards and forwards, instead of falling away to the off, something easily done on poor pitches.

He kept pace with Stewart, too, no mean feat with Walsh and Curtly Ambrose bowling, although no doubt mindful that the Antigua Test begins on Friday, Lara kept the latter back until just before tea, after his initial spell proved fruitless. The tactic meant lengthy spells for Ian Bishop and Carl Hooper, something the England openers took full advantage of, at least thy did until Bishop removed them both after lunch.

Following the controversy over the bump ball that dismissed Shivnarine Chanderpaul - well fielded, but not caught by Stewart at second slip - the Surrey man has not been popular. Indeed, as far as the West Indies players are concerned his lack off sportsmanship in not calling Chanderpaul back has been far more emotive than Atherton's half-hearted V-sign to Wallace, and Lara was seen giving Stewart a piece of his mind on the pavilion steps late on Saturday evening, before the start of England's second innings. Even so, the incident did not prevent Clayton Lambert from attempting to do likewise, when Stewart glanced Hooper off his legs. Taking the catch on the half-volley, Lambert, fielding at leg gully threw it high into the air before being persuaded by David Williams, that further celebration would be foolish.

After lunch, both Stewart and Atherton perished cutting at Bishop, as they attempted to increase the pace. With two new batsmen at the crease, it could gave gone horribly wrong for England. Neither Mark Butcher or Nasser Hussain have been among the big runs recently and it would have been easy for time to have been eaten up while they played themselves in. But this pitch is not like the minefields that have preceded it, and it wasn't long before both batsmen were finding the gaps in Lara's defensive field.

If it occasionally required the unorthodox, as in Hussain's outrageous reverse sweep off Chanderpaul, the importance of the prize made the risk worth taking. Taking liberties can have its downsides too, and Butcher, driving at a wide one from Ambrose, was brilliantly caught by a diving Lambert at extra cover.

It was not Ambrose's normal way of taking wickets. However, clearly upset by the way the West Indies batsmen squandered their wickets on this good pitch, Ambrose was never likely to get much above second gear.

After tea, with Lara off the field it was Graham Thorpe, playing as he did four years ago who took the initiative. In one over, he pulled Ambrose to the mid-wicket fence three times for four, as he and Hussain put on 50 in 47 balls. Not long later, Atherton declared, and the parameters for today's denoument, for once crucial to both teams, were set.

Bridgetown scoreboard

West Indies won toss

ENGLAND - First innings 403 (M R Ramprakash 154, G P Thorpe 103; C L Hooper 5-80).

WEST INDIES - First innings 262 (C B Lambert 55).

ENGLAND - Second Innings

(Overnight: 2 for 0)

*M A Atherton c Williams b Bishop 64

(188 mins, 157 balls, 6 fours)

A J Stewart c Lara b Bishop 48

(147 mins, 103 balls, 6 fours)

M A Butcher c Lambert b Ambrose 26

(97 mins, 69 balls, 2 fours)

N Hussain not out 46

(97 mins, 72 balls, 5 fours)

G P Thorpe not out 36

(43 mins, 35 balls, 5 fours)

Extras (b1 lb6 nb6) 13

Total (for 3 dec, 288 min, 71 overs) 233

Did not bat: M R Ramprakash, R C Russell, D W Headley, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

Fall: 1-101 (Stewart), 2-128 (Atherton), 3-173 (Butcher).

Bowling: Walsh 12-1-40-0 (9-1-31-0, 3-0-9-0); Ambrose 12-4-48-1 (nb7) (7-4-8-0, 5-0-40-1); Hooper 21-5-58-0 (10-3-26-0, 11-2-32-0); Bishop 14- 1-51-2 (nb3) (5-1-9-0, 9-0-32-2); Chanderpaul 5-3-13-0 (3-2-2-0, 2-1-11- 0); McLean 7-0-16-0 (one spell).

Progress: Fourth day: 50: 81 min, 19.2 overs. Lunch: 87-0 (Atherton 40, Stewart 43) 34 overs. 100: 81 min, 19.2 overs. 150: 163 min, 54.5 overs. Tea: 173-3 (Hussain 26) 61 overs. Innings closed: 3.46pm.

Atherton 50: 164 mins, 138 balls, 6 fours.

WEST INDIES - Second Innings

C B Lambert not out 28

(88 mins, 52 balls, 5 fours)

P A Wallace not out 38

(88 mins, 62 balls, 7 fours)

Extras (lb5) 5

Total (for 0, 88 mins, 19 overs) 71

To bat: *B C Lara, S Chanderpaul, C L Hooper, R I C Holder, D Williams, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, I R Bishop, C A Walsh.

Bowling: Caddick 4-0-18-0; Headley 2-0-14-0; Tufnell 7-3-9-0; Fraser 4-0-22-0; Ramprakash 2-1-3-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Fourth day: 50: 54 min, 11 overs.

Umpires: C J Mitchley (SA) and E Nicholls (WI).