For periods it was like watching the West Indies of old. Fidel Edwards and Tino Best were bowling with pace and hostility and an excitable crowd were enjoying every minute of it here at Sabina Park yesterday. Batsmen were being hit on the head, stumps were flying through the air and survival seemed the only concern for the tourists. Runs seemed irrelevant. England's top order were more worried about breaking bones than records.
Then it all changed. Lunch allowed England to take stock of what had just taken place and the youthful enthusiasm of the inexperienced West Indian fast bowlers was replaced by a less reckless and more defensive approach. The field was set back and the West Indian bowlers attempted to bore rather than blast England's batsmen out.
It was bad day for Brian Lara. Not only did he get his tactics wrong, but he finished the day with a dislocated little finger on his right hand, failing to catch Mark Butcher. Even the late dismissal of Butcher two balls after the West Indies captain left the field did not allow the home side to make up the ground they gave away during the afternoon session. Following the early loss of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, England were there for the taking, and at the time Sabina Park was buzzing and the West Indies total of 311 looked a long way away. This was the time to go for the kill but Lara's lack of trust in his bowlers allowed England to claw their way back into the match.
Lara's mistake was not the only reason for England's fight-back and great credit should be given to Nasser Hussain and Butcher. Courage and experience gained from previous tours here helped the pair survive the initial onslaught and, once set, they made the home side pay for their caution. By tea they had put on 112 valuable runs and taken England to 145 for 2.
Crucially this partnership was broken during the 3.1 overs that were possible after a two and a quarter hour delay for rain. Lara, following an animated conversation with the two umpires about the light, Larashelled a difficult catch at slip and immediately left the field with a dislocated finger but before being taken for a precautionary x-ray he would have heard the cheer signalling the fall of a wicket.
The rain returned six balls later and the true cost of Butcher's dismissal will be seen only today. It was, however, just the tonic the West Indies needed.
Butcher's preparations for this Test have been far from ideal. The Surrey opener has had only one innings on this tour and in it he scored a solitary run. Matters worsened for the left-hander when he spr ained his left ankle in a freak fielding accident and since then his prime objective has been to prove his fitness to the selectors.
England will be relieved that they went for Butcher even if the first 30 runs of his half-century contained several edged fours through third man. Once accustomed to the pace and bounce of this excellent pitch he replaced these unconvincing shots with a solid defence and several pleasant attacking strokes.
During their time at the crease it was not only the techniques of Butcher and Hussain that was tested. Both were struck on the head by the fiery Best and each took further painful looking blows to the body. In such circumstances players with less pride and fight would have been seen off but these two veterans just gritted their teeth and got on with it.
The current crop of West Indian fast-bowlers may not possess the quality of those from days gone by but they can still get the ball down the other end at a fair lick. Just ask Trescothick and Vaughan who each had their first true experience of what it is like playing cricket in the Caribbean.
Watching from the safety of the press-box Michael Atherton and David Gower were both asked whether they fancied a bat but neither expressed any desire to strap on their pads and get back out in the middle.
This was just the start the West Indies needed and England feared. The Caribbean is a place where it is important for a visiting side to silence the home crowd because when the game is not going according to plan they take their frustrations out on their own side. If, however, things are going well and wickets are being taken they can then act as a twelfth or thirteenth man. The excitement generated by the crowd seems to inspire their own players to great deeds and intimidate opponents.
Trescothick was the first English batsman to fall when he edged a quick delivery from Edwards on to his off-stump. This outcome, however, had as much to do with the previous ball which nearly took the left-hander's head off.
After a couple of wayward attempts Edwards managed to pitch one in just the right spot to Trescothick, who saw it only at the last minute. Ducking his head in the manner a tortoise withdraws its into a shell Trescothick evaded the ball but the pace of it beat the outstretched dive of Ridley Jacobs and thudded into the advertising boards.
Shocked by the pace of the 93 mph thunderbolt Trescothick failed to react to the next ball at 94.4 mph and watched his off-stump go cartwheeling through the air.
Lifted by this Edwards hustled in with even more vigour and hit Butcher on the wrist with the next ball. He did not have to wait long for the scalp the West Indies wanted most. Vaughan had looked in superb form in the build-up to this match but the England captain appeared unsettled by Edwards. After pulling and driving the Bajan for four he went for another expansive drive and edged a catch to Lara at first slip.
This proved to be the West Indies last success before the tea interval. The time lost to rain yesterday will be made up over the coming days and play will start 30 minutes early this morning.Reuse content