Ambrose and Walsh expose old failings

England's batsmen conjure another collapse against familiar foe as Adams' unpredictable captaincy pays dividends

It is perhaps just as well that the England selectors chose to announce their squads for the winter tours early. The theory, as far as it went, was that an early declaration of intent would leave England's finest to concentrate on the important job of beating the West Indies here.

It is perhaps just as well that the England selectors chose to announce their squads for the winter tours early. The theory, as far as it went, was that an early declaration of intent would leave England's finest to concentrate on the important job of beating the West Indies here.

Yet, judging by the ways in which the majority of the batsmen have approached the task over the last two days, most will be grateful that the ink has dried on the page.

With rain disrupting the afternoon's play to the extent that 46 overs were lost, the morning session was crucial. In the event, both sides appeared to adopt a stand-off and nothing much happened except that England scored 34 runs and contrived to lose three wickets when they should have been looking to take the game away from their opponents.

Given that the West Indies need to win this match to save the series, and with it a longstanding record, their defensive approach, particularly with the second new ball, was mystifying. For one thing, few could understand why they removed Courtney Walsh, the leading wicket-taker in the series, after just eight balls and replace him with Nixon McLean.

Yet, as he had done on the first day when he inserted England against all logic, Jimmy Adams managed to pull a rabbit out of his maroon cap. With memories of Headingley still haunting him, and in particular the way Michael Vaughan and Graeme Hick had taken the match away from his team by running quick singles, he set a ring of fielders to stop them.

England, perhaps nonplussed that someone should have cut off their avenues of scoring, played without imagination though Ambrose, with consistent seam movement throughout the match, was never easy to get away. In short, they spent most of the morning going nowhere.

Graham Thorpe, who had played with purpose and grit the previous evening, took 29 balls to score his first run. He only added eight more, the victim for the second time in the series of Walsh's doodlebug of a slower ball.

The excuse from Old Trafford, where Thorpe was lbw first ball to the deception, was that he did not see it. However, because his first instinct is to duck, as he shaped to do both here and at Manchester, he must presumably feel the ball to be headbound. To fall for the same sucker punch twice is embarrassing at this level, especially on your home ground.

Of course, news that Thorpe had insisted that the windows of sponsors boxes above the sightscreen be specially whitened to help them blend in only increased the irony.

What made Thorpe's departure more exasperating is that it followed just five balls after Hick had fallen lbw to Ambrose in the 19th over of the morning. In some ways it was a dismissal that encapsulated Hick's Test career as a "nearly man".

It is no disgrace to get out to Ambrose, who was again the pick of the bowlers. Yet Hick had come through the main blitz when the ball was new, and had only to see off a last few salvoes before receiving a bit of light relief. Having coped with 56 balls yesterday, many of them testing ones, he promptly missed one that had little mystery about it.

Dominic Cork followed for a duck, the fifth lbw victim in a row, a sequence unusual for a bouncy pitch like The Oval. Last week Cork made an unbeaten double century for Derbyshire against Durham. But there is a saying in the shires that "you're only as good as your last innings," and after a fresh-air hack and a walk across his stumps (at which juncture McLean had him lbw), Cork was back amongst the tail-end charlies.

With the first prolonged shower of the day arriving on the stroke of lunch, play was held up until 3.35pm. When it did restart, England's reticence was put into perspective when Caddick struck Walsh to the cover fence. It was a fine shot though it told a sorry tale: it was England's first boundary for 258 balls, a fact that spoke of a side unsure of how to go about this match.

Caddick's blow did not open the floodgates, however, and attempting to hook a short one from Walsh he skied to Wavell Hinds stationed near the square-leg umpire. Hinds had dropped a dolly at Headingley in the same position, but this time he clung to the ball with something akin to relief.

A few lusty shots from Gough, and some refined ones from White, took the England score to 281 whereupon Gough lost his off-stump trying to cover drive Walsh on the up.

After more rain Gough and Caddick charged in with the new ball on a pitch still offering movement. In his second over Gough came close to having Sherwin Campbell caught at third slip but the ball narrowly failed to carry.

Caddick, too, came close, but the umpire David Shepherd gave Adrian Griffith - offering no shot to one that came back at him - the benefit of some very slender doubt. If Brian Lara enjoys the same today, England could have a real struggle on their hands.

THE OVAL SCOREBOARD

West Indies won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

M A Atherton b McLean 83 281 min, 214 balls, 12 fours M E Trescothick c Campbell b Nagamootoo 78 239 min, 192 balls, 12 fours N Hussain c Jacobs b Nagamootoo 0 1 min, 2 balls G P Thorpe lbw b Walsh 40 205 min, 158 balls, 1 four A J Stewart lbw b McLean 0 3 min, 3 balls M P Vaughan lbw b Ambrose 10 38 min, 26 balls, 2 fours G A Hick lbw b Ambrose 17 117 min, 73 balls C White not out 11 67 min, 40 balls, 1 four D G Cork lbw b McLean 0 13 min, 6 balls A R Caddick c Hinds b Walsh 4 27 min, 17 balls, 1 four D Gough b Walsh 8 21 min, 21 balls, 1 four Extras (b4 lb15 w1 nb10) 30

Total (511 min, 123.4 overs) 281

Fall: 1-159 (Trescothick) 2-159 (Hussain) 3-184 (Atherton) 4-184 (Stewart) 5-214 (Vaughan) 6-254 (Hick) 7-254 (Thorpe) 8-255 (Cork) 9-264 (Caddick) 10-281 (Gough).

Bowling: Ambrose 31-8-38-2 (nb5) (10-5-8-0, 6-0-11-0, 15-3-19-2); Walsh 35.4-16-68-3 (nb5) (5-3-5-0, 12-5-37-0, 4-2-6-0, 4-2-2-0, 10.4-4-18-3); McLean 29-6-80-3 (7-1-25-0, 5-1-15-0, 6-2-21-2, 5-0-9-0, 6-2-10-1); Nagamootoo 24-7-63-2 (6-1-22-0, 18-6-41-2); Adams 4-0-13-0 (one spell).

Progress: First day: 50: 97 min, 23.3 overs. Lunch: 66-0 (Atherton 30, Trescothick 30) 29 overs. 100: 172 min, 42.4 overs. 150: 232 min, 59 overs. Tea: 159-1 (Atherton 71) 61.3 overs. 200: 300 min, 76.5 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.59pm, close 221-5 (Thorpe 31, Hick 2) 89.4 overs. Second day: New ball taken after 90 overs at 223-5. Rain stopped play 11.30-11.41am 230-5 (Thorpe 31, Hick 7) 97 overs. 250: 432 min, 107.2 overs. Lunch: 255-8 (White 1, Caddick 0) 115 overs. Rain stopped play 1.46-3.34pm 256-8 (White 2, Caddick 0) 116.5 overs. Innings closed: 4.07pm, tea taken.

Atherton's 50: 206 min, 151 balls, 7 fours. Trescothick's 50: 173 min, 131 balls, 9 fours.

WEST INDIES: S L Campbell, A F G Griffith, W W Hinds, B C Lara, *J C Adams, R R Sarwan, R D Jacobs, M V Nagamootoo, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, C A Walsh.

Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and D R Shepherd (Eng). TV replay umpire: B Leadbeater. Match referee: R S Madugalle.

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