Lessons in class and guts

Henry Blofeld

The two hours were an object lesson. Superb fast bowling, albeit by practitioners beginning to show their age, was held at bay by high-class batsmanship. It will be hard for this match to come up with a more gripping session.

The two hours were an object lesson. Superb fast bowling, albeit by practitioners beginning to show their age, was held at bay by high-class batsmanship. It will be hard for this match to come up with a more gripping session.

In probably their last Test match together, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose gave it everything - although both will have known that the West Indies should have been batting first.

There have been too many occasions in the last 10 years when England captains have chosen to field for the same reason which convinced Jimmy Adams to do likewise: fear at what the opposing fast bowlers might have done to his own batting. As it was, Adams's blushes were spared by the carelessness of England's batting after tea.

It took Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick five overs to get England off the mark. Walsh and Ambrose found their way past the outside of both bats and once or twice they took the edge as well. They were kept out by classic batting although they will have been sure that, say, five years ago they would not have gone wicketless until lunch.

There is nothing new to say about Atherton's guts, phlegm and sheer Lancashire cussedness when he is fighting for the cause in this type of situation. Atherton himself needed runs and England were anxious to win - or, at least, not to lose. Time and again these have acted as the motivating spurs for Atherton to regenerate himself.

His technique was admirable and he did not allow himself to be squared-up by the fast bowlers as he sometimes is. Of course, his nerve held and, when these two fine bowlers had been frustrated for a fascinating first hour and their length and line began to flicker, he was ready for them.

He opened the face and ran the ball to third man, then he picked up his bat and drove square or through extra cover. After that, he was on the back foot punching the ball through the covers or turning it off his body before dropping another at his feet and scampering a single. This was Atherton in excelsis and we have come to expect that and have relished it for some time. It took Trescothick longer to get off the mark and yet from his composure it was almost as if he had not been aware of it himself.

He has perfected the technique of playing deliberately inside the line, which must be irritating for fast bowlers. He had one lucky dip at Walsh outside the off stump and a taller fielder than Sherwin Campbell might have held on at slip.

He and Atherton spoke frequently and, in the way of the best partnerships, they thrived on each other as well as the bowling.

The things one notices the most about Trescothick are his excellent temperament, the straightness of his bat and also a feeling of security when watching him, which is unusual for someone playing in his third Test match.

When the West Indies went into lunch they would have thought they were staring a big score in the face. Their batsmen will also have been unsettled when one or two balls kept low so early on in the match.

The England batsmen, after their morning of self-denial, came out after the interval and let their hair down for a time. The leg-spinner, Mahendra Nagamootoo, was driven by Atherton and Walsh was a couple of times dismissed to the cover boundary by Trescothick as he went to his fifty.

Atherton then produced the best stroke of the day, a peerless cover drive off Nixon McLean played with just a touch of jauntiness.

England should have been a long way down the road to safety, but a silly shot by Trescothick in the over before tea was to have far-reaching consequences.

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