Cricket: West Indies Tour: Benjamin seizes the initiative: Familiar batting failings return to undermine England after openers provide a solid foundation

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IF THE first Test of any series invariably sets the tone for the whole, then the West Indies have hit the right notes on a bare pitch here at Sabina Park. After a long sleep over team selection, Michael Atherton spent half the day helping his side to a dream start over the West Indies and the other half watching them fritter it away in a flurry of ill- advised shots on a pitch beginning to lose its bounce.

As we have seen before, once Richie Richardson's team gets a foothold, the casual approach as witnessed last Wednesday soon evaporates. With a fierce sense of purpose and some intelligent bowling by Ken Benjamin, who finished the day with 4 for 50, they clawed their way back with a combination of patience and shrewd bowling.

Despite an excellent start, and after captain and vice-captain had both shown an admirable sense of purpose with an opening stand of 121, another collapse by England's shaky middle order saw six wickets fall for just 51 runs.

Atherton, his usual watchful self, coped admirably at the start, clipping and nudging his way to 22, when he became the fortunate recipient of a rare dropped catch at slip by Brian Lara.

One edge from Alec Stewart had already fallen perilously close to Lara, so when the England captain pushed forward over a stiff front leg to a full- length ball, the latest West Indian batting hero should have been alert. Perhaps it was because he had come up a yard after the previous edge failed to carry, but the ball popped out of his midriff and momentarily into the clutches of his Trinidadian team-mate, Phil Simmons, who grounded it.

As if living up to his new superstar status were not enough, Lara has had a rough old time of it these last few days. Since Wednesday, he has attended the funeral of his brother-in-law (the victim of a hit-and-run) and had all his cricket gear stolen from a hire car. Life, it seems, can be just as cruel at the top.

Having passed 50 with a clip off his legs for two, Stewart widened his repertoire of shots with a few lusty hooks, and although Richardson rang the changes among his bowlers, he was forced on to the defensive.

However, it was Ken Benjamin who reaped the first bowling dividends of the day when he had Stewart caught behind by Junior Murray. Stewart went to pull a ball that skidded through lower than he anticipated, and it took the thin top edge of his bat as he tried to adjust.

Some 12 runs later, with the score on 133, Atherton was out to the same keeper-bowler combination. With Ken Benjamin getting just a hint of reverse swing, Atherton edged a wide half-volley low to Murray, who had been bending lower and lower as the innings went on.

In came Robin Smith with a muscular twirl of his bat. 'England expects . . . ' the gesture shouted, but Courtney Walsh's inswinger defeated his meek forward push and the crowd roared its approval as his stumps were scattered before he could score. If Smith's arrival, and departure, had brought about an expectant buzz around the ground, the advent of Hick made it a lion's den. Walsh, urged on by his home crowd, gave him a thorough working over with the new ball.

Apart from an airy swat that he top-edged to fine leg, Hick made a concerted effort to exorcise his failings against the short ball. On this pitch, it is a pity he could not have done the same with his favourite cut-shot as well. After two near-misses he eventually succeeded in chopping the ball on to his stumps, much to the delight of the bowler, who had given England much of their morning momentum with an assortment of long-hops.

With Ramprakash not selected, Thorpe usurped his role instead in a dour enactment of trench warfare. He was bowled for 16 after a long, turgid stay at the crease. A few balls later Jack Russell, another left-hander, missed one of Ken Benjamin's straight deliveries for lbw.

Maynard, who had been brought into the side for his combative nature, did not have time to find an ally to right England's parlous state. In fact, by smashing Adams back over his head, he probably did the tail a disservice, for it prompted the return of Curtly Ambrose and Walsh, the former promptly dispensing with Lewis, who flipped him casually to square leg.

Never one to worry too much, Maynard proceeded to take two spanking boundaries off the tiring Ambrose. England will be hoping he continues in the same vein today.

(First day; England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

*M A Atherton c Murray K Benjamin 55 A J Stewart c Murray b K Benjamin 70 G P Thorpe b Benjamin 16 R A Smith b Walsh 0 G A Hick b Adams 23 M P Maynard not out 24 R C Russell lbw b Benjamin 0 C C Lewis c Adams b Ambrose 8 A R Caddick not out 3 Extras (b2 lb5 nb3) 10 Total (for 7) 209

Fall: 1-121 2-133 3-134 4-172 5-172 6-172 7-194.

To bat: A P Igglesden, D E Malcolm.

Bowling: Ambrose 22-8-46-1; Walsh 23-6- 41-1; K C G Benjamin 20-6-50-4; W K M Benjamin 15-6-34-0; Adams 10-1-31-1.

WEST INDIES: D L Haynes, P V Simmons, * R B Richardson, B C Lara, K L T Arthurton, J C Adams, J R Murray, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, K C G Benjamin, C A Walsh.

Umpires: I Robinson and S Bucknor.