Crushing win restricts England's batting practice

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is hard to believe that Ian Botham and David Gower would be found practising in the nets on the morning after a two-day tour victory. The first half of the day for the two former England Test players would have been spent recovering from the night before and the afternoon enjoying a long, sociable lunch at an exotic location.

This, however, is where Michael Vaughan's side were to be found after Saturday's crushing victory over of an inadequate Vice Chancellor's XI. Winning any game by an innings and 85 runs gives great satisfaction but the England captain and his coach, Duncan Fletcher, know that the final warm-up game before the first Test only gave the players limited practice.

On a poor pitch encouragement could be taken from the batting of Vaughan, Nasser Hussain and particularly Graham Thorpe, whose time at the crease proved he had overcome the back problem which kept him off the field on Friday. England's other eight batsmen, however, mustered 38 runs between them and greater productivity is needed if the tourists are to post match-winning totals against the West Indies.

Mark Butcher was the main beneficiary of this additional practice session. After he sprained ankle ligaments in the first practice match, it was feared he would miss the first Test. However, although he wore a support on his ankle, he batted for 15 minutes and showed little sign of discomfort. The real test will come when he is required to run between the wickets and field but the improvement suggests England will be selecting from a full squad on Thursday.

It will be the decision of whether to risk playing Butcher ahead of Paul Collingwood that will occupy the selectors' thoughts in the meantime. Collingwood scored a good hundred against Jamaica but Butcher is a proven Test match performer. He has averaged more than 42 for England in the last two and a half years.

The bowlers, aided by atrocious batting from the Vice Chancellor's XI and the inconsistent bounce offered by a cracked pitch, had a wonderful time at the Mona Bowl. They bowled with aggression and discipline, and dismissing a team for 119 and then 70 looks good on paper but the quality of England's attack can only be assessed when it has been watched for a prolonged period.

In their second innings the Vice Chancellor's XI collapsed even more embarrassingly than in the first, when they lost eight wickets for 31. After reaching 41 without loss the hosts were then bowled out in 12 overs for the addition of just 29 runs.

Matthew Hoggard, who strained his neck in the nets yesterday but is not thought to be a doubt for the Test, has gained the most since England arrived in the Caribbean. Before the squad for this tour was announced, there were doubts over whether the Yorkshireman would be selected but he now looks set to open the bowling at Sabina Park in three days' time.

"I was sweating over my selection for this series over Christmas," he said. "It was quite a nerve-racking experience but I have given myself a good shout for the first Test. I have bowled reasonably well and my control has been quite good. I came into this tour attempting to play to my strengths, which is to hit a good line and length and be boring.

"I cannot bowl at the pace of [Stephen] Harmison, [Simon] Jones and [Andrew] Flintoff who are up in the late 80s and early 90s [mph]. I try and get my wickets through being patient and through drying the runs up." England will hope Hoggard can do this against Brian Lara and Co on Thursday because it is this approach which has proved successful here in the past.