Cricket: West Indies smell blood of Englishmen: Atherton reeling from headbangers' ball. Martin Johnson reports from Kingston as the tourists try to regroup

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THE FIRST rest day of the series here yesterday saw England more in need of a week on a health farm than a brief stretch of the legs. In terms of this Test match, it is not just backs to the wall, but backs to the wall with a last cigarette and a blindfold, and a firing squad may indeed be required for one or two players when the second Test comes around in Guyana in three weeks' time.

As England, 93 runs behind with only six second-innings wickets in hand, reflect this morning on the rough equivalent of scaling Jamaica's Blue Mountains on a pogo stick, their batsmen have also had their first real reminder that there is a slight difference between the cooling breeze of a Caribbean trade wind, and the warm draught of a cricket ball nipping past the nose at around 90mph.

Michael Atherton has also discovered that when the West Indies identified him as the 'if the head falls, the body follows' target on this tour, they were not merely talking metaphorically. As far as the Cambridge University history graduate is concerned, the line about keeping your head while all around are losing theirs has more to do with Courtney Walsh than Rudyard Kipling.

Walsh may be the old man of this West Indian attack, but the 14-consecutive-over spell he reeled off on Monday night was more torrid than anything Atherton will ever have faced. Walsh it was who finally got his wicket, although it was Winston Benjamin, bowling at a pace rarely witnessed by the members at Grace Road, Leicester, who bent the grille of his helmet visor with a delivery that spat from just short of a length.

Everything that took place in the last couple of hours on Monday was a reminder not only to England, but also to the International Cricket Council, that limiting bowlers to one bouncer per batsman per over is not about to reduce the queues outside X-ray departments in this part of the world.

In fact, this regulation almost makes it more dangerous, in that bowlers like Walsh, Winston Benjamin and Curtly Ambrose are able to remain within the strict letter of the law with deliveries that fly towards the throat when the batsman is already half crouched, thereby not fulfilling the requirement for a recognised bouncer - namely, a ball passing over shoulder height in the batsman's normal stance.

It then follows that the umpires (independent or not) are less likely to make their own interpretation on what qualifies as intimidatory bowling, and invoke the Law 42 unfair play clause. Once again, perhaps even more so, we are back to Keith Fletcher's quote when he faced the West Indies as a player, he said then that he even used to watch the television highlights from behind his sofa.

This pitch, upon which the occasional ball scuttles through like a marble, also suits the West Indian length, in that a shooter is far more likely to get you out when you are playing back. Otherwise, however, the comment from one former player in the press box yesterday that the pitch is a little bit two- paced, suggested the observation that it certainly is: West Indies' pace, and England's pace.

By far the most depressing aspect of the tourists' performance so far, the profligate way in which some of their wickets have been tossed away notwithstanding, has been the fact that professional international bowlers (with Alan Igglesden the one exemption) have been totally unable to bowl to their field placings.

The major culprit in this department, given that Devon Malcolm has never been chosen for virtues of nagging line and length, is Chris Lewis. If it is fair enough to feel sorry for Atherton in several respects, then in this one, it most certainly is not. There was no justification for Lewis's selection for this match, and even in terms of the tour, Lewis's inclusion suggested that England's overseas travel agents ought to be called Gullible's Travels.

Despite Angus Fraser's costly unavailability, if England were going to call on four seamers (and even here, Atherton should have stuck to his pre-match instincts and gone in with a spinner) then Steve Watkin was a far more worthy pick than Lewis, who remains a complete enigma.

Until Walsh began his assault on Monday evening, the fastest bouncer of the match (two balls from the close of play on Sunday) was delivered by Lewis. Otherwise, he ran in as though he was wearing a pair of cement galoshes, and there is really no logical explanation of Lewis's unfathomable moods.

The plain fact is that Lewis has been given yet another chance to turn on his undoubted talent, on the off chance that he feels like doing so. He was also chosen because England are historically so numbingly negative in team selection - once again filling a bowling spot with someone who might just score a few more runs than someone else.

It is partly the result of playing so much one-day cricket. Captains get it into their heads that everyone must be able to do bits of this and bits of that, instead of specialising in what they do well.

The usual fatuous argument that cricketers are fond of promoting whenever the team gets criticised is that it is 'easy to be wise after the event'. In England's case, it is about time (and not too difficult if they sift the evidence more thoroughly) that they started trying to be a touch wiser before the event.

(Third day: England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings 234 (A J Stewart 70, M A Atherton 55; K C G Benjamin 6-66).

WEST INDIES - First Innings 407 (K L T Arthurton 126, J C Adams 95no, B C Lara 83).

ENGLAND - Second Innings

* M A Atherton c Adams b Walsh28

(112 min, 78 balls, 4 fours)

A J Stewart run out (K C G Benjamin)19

(41 min, 27 balls, 2 fours)

R A Smith c Adams b Walsh2

(18 min, 12 balls)

G A Hick not out24

(87 min, 51 balls, 2 fours)

M P Maynard c Murray b W K M Benjamin0

(4 min, 3 balls)

R C Russell not out6

(33 min, 21 balls)

Extras (lb1)1

Total (for 4, 151 min, 32 overs)80

Fall: 1-34 (Stewart), 2-39 (Smith), 3-58 (Atherton), 4-63 (Maynard).

Progress: 50: 99 min, 21 overs.

To bat: G P Thorpe, C C Lewis, A P Igglesden, A R Caddick, D E Malcolm.

Bowling (to date): Ambrose 8-2-18-0 (6-1-14-0, 2-1-4-0); Walsh 14-3-35-2; W K M Benjamin 8-2- 21-1; K C G Benjamin 2-0-5-0 (one spell each).

Umpires: S A Bucknor and I D Robinson.

(Photograph omitted)

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