England toil as Simmons runs riot

West Indies A 574-8d England 134-2
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The Independent Online

Whatever plans England had for starting life under Andrew Strauss they may not have included the continuing onslaught at Warner Park yesterday. At times it became so laughably grotesque that it was easy to believe that this was where the brothers who bear the same name as the ground made all those horror movies.

West Indies batted on and on and on until after tea on the second day by when they had made 574 for eight. It made a nonsense of the parlous state of the game in the Caribbean. Each run that came from the dashing blade of Lendl Simmons, and there were 282 of them, seemed to ask: "Crisis, what crisis man?"

Tired, hot and generally hacked off though the tourists doubtless were at being asked to field for so long in a three-day match, and downright worried at then being reduced to 134 for two in reply, it might, perversely, have been precisely what they required. There is precious little cricket played in preparation for Test matches these days – it precludes burn-out – and England's bowlers all needed bowling. They got it, which could not be said for Alastair Cook, out first ball, and Ian Bell, out when he had got in yet again, in the batting department.

At the close, Stephen Harmison was almost chipper. On the flattest of flat pitches – think pancake after being steamrollered – he finished with four for 101. In the context of things it was a triumph. Harmison needs overs under his belt and if he is still uncertain of his pace he was delighted to have found some reverse swing.

Similar points could be made about Ryan Sidebottom and Jimmy Anderson, both also vying for places in a team which will be extremely difficult to pick, especially if Andrew Flintoff is passed fit. Sidebottom, who had not bowled in a match for almost six months, was easily the most parsimonious of the seven bowlers England used. There was less movement than in a 10-ton statue for him but he offered control and accuracy. Anderson, like the others, displayed the virtue of persistence if not penetration.

It was Sidebottom who eventually removed the resplendent Simmons, when he was leg before after batting for nearly 10 hours. There were 26 fours, laced throughout the innings, and eight sixes, each one of which seemed to go longer and higher than the last.

There was also a seven, an indicator of how weary and irritated England understandably were becoming. Simmons cut to off for an easy single, Harmison threw haplessly at the stumps and the batsmen ran two overthrows, Anderson threw at the opposite stumps only to see the ball hit them and run for four. Nobody seemed to see the funny side.

There were some deliberately extravagant celebrations when Simmons eventually departed but several England players were gallant enough to shake the batsman's hand – perhaps recognising they might see him again before the Test series is done.

He had offered only one clear chance, an inside edge off Anderson using the second new ball the night before, which Prior failed to hold after it jagged back to him at knee height. Prior needs to start holding a few in succession for his own peace of mind and the team's well-being.

In the sunlit evening, easily the best part of the day, England had to face 29 overs. Alastair Cook poked his first ball to point and it was possible to fear embarrassment for a fatigued team.

Strauss and Bell both reached fifty before Bell was bowled essaying a forcing shot. Strauss survived a hair-raising start against some extremely fast bowling but its wayward direction demonstrated that the Caribbean production line has yet to regain its former quality control.