For two hot months last winter England trekked round the Caribbean and could hardly buy a wicket. On a fresh spring afternoon at Lord's yesterday they found them as cheap as chips.
The place occupied for a few brief overs by Graham Onions, the debutant fast bowler, lay somewhere between dreamland and nirvana. He took five for 38, the first four of them in seven balls. Finding movement and some bounce, he was, in that brief spell, simply irresistible.
If he was a surprising choice for the first Test, he was clearly an inspired one. The selectors picked him because he was in form and because good batsmen advised them of the fact. That sounds straightforward, but it is sometimes as elusive to England selection panels as bringing peace to the world.
But Onions was but one of England's bowlers to imperil West Indies. The rest of them at various times all looked threatening and incisive. Neither perspiration nor inspiration worked for England on tour during February and March, yesterday they hardly had to break sweat. Men who had defied them for over after over, day after day, came and went, two of them twice in the day. The tourists finished 225 behind on first innings after being bowled out for 152 and after following on lost two more wickets. If it goes beyond tomorrow there will have been a fightback of epic proportions which looked utterly beyond West Indies last night, the weather has been completely unco-operative or MCC members have decided to turn the whole place over for a shopping mall and multiplex cinema. Scrutinising the state of things, the last of those options is probably the favourite.
Onions benefited from being brought into the attack with West Indies already in some disarray at 117 for five. The early damage had been inflicted by Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, who was playing his first Test in England and whose off-spin, turning away from the opposition left-handers, was almost as incisive as Onions pace.
Swann, who appears to be a cricketer ready and willing to thrive in the big time, had already put a considerable stamp on the proceedings by making an enterprising, unbeaten 63 from 85 balls, batting at No 9.
West Indies simply capitulated, evoking dire memories of so many grim days in England during earlier years of this decade. Their last six wickets fell for 35 runs in 32 balls and the first match of the npower series was going only one way.
The tourists could and should have restricted England to many fewer than 377 – the state of their fielding was epitomised by the first ball of the day when Fidel Edwards let a ball through his legs at mid-off – but they also had little inclination to knuckle down. This was completely at odds with the hard-nosed manner in which they triumphed only weeks ago.
After launching a ferocious assault Chris Gayle was the first to fall, cramped for space by Broad and playing on to his stumps. It was a bizarre opening and Gayle, who arrived only on Monday, after playing in the Indian Premier League, seemed to be confusing Test and Twenty20 cricket. Broad then captured Ramnaresh Sarwan, playing a loose drive to a wider ball.
Enter Swann. Or rather not enter because he had, astonishingly, opened the bowling. Spinners have taken the new ball before for England but not since 1988 when John Emburey did it against West Indies. But then there were only two overs left at the end of a day. Here it was obviously a tactical ploy.
If it did not quite work – Swann came off after two overs – his return was immediately successful. With his first ball back, Swann bowled Devon Smith through the gate with a ball that held its own, with the second he accounted for Shiv Chanderpaul with a lovely off-break which the world's No 1 batsman obligingly edged to slip. The obdurate Brendan Nash followed in similar fashion.
Just as it seemed Swann might run through West Indies, Onions intervened. He had bowled five fairly uneventful overs, with some swing, when he got one to lift to Lendl Simnmons. It flew off the top of the bat to slip where Andrew Strauss clung on. Before the over was out, Jerome Taylor had followed a leg-side ball and touched it to the wicketkeeper and Sulieman Benn had driven to third slip. The first ball of Onions' next over brought him Denesh Ramdin's wicket, clearly leg before and by now he deserved a five-wicket haul.
He might have been denied when Paul Collingwood shelled a slip chance, doing nothing for Durham relations, but eventually hit Lionel Baker in front. His wickets had come in 27 balls. Would that it could always be as easy for him.
There was time for Gayle and Sarwan to succumb to Jimmy Anderson and England could yet win by an innings. West Indies were awful most of the day, using the new ball badly as Ravi Bopara and Swann put on 93 for England's eighth wicket, though Edwards deserved his wickets for his efforts the previous day.
England's day by a mile and MCC's members, who again turned out in droves, must have been delighted. Only the sight of Andrew Flintoff in the Pavilion stand, tieless and jacketless (not to mention wearing a top bearing the logo of the sports goods manufacturers who do not sponsor England) could have marred it. But not much.
West Indies collapse: When the wickets fell
Gayle 28 (Broad) 2.32pm 46-1
Sarwan 13 (Broad) 2.51pm 70-2
Smith 46 (Swann) 3.24pm 99-3
Chanderpaul 0 (Swann) 3.27pm 99-4
Nash 4 (Swann) 4.07pm 117-5
Simmons 16 (Onions) 4.09pm 117-6
Taylor 0 (Onions) 4.12pm 117-7
Benn 2 (Onions) 4.17pm 119-8
Ramdin 5 (0nions) 4.25pm 128-9
Edwards not out 10
Baker 17 (Onions) 4.58pm 152
Stat of the day
England tail-ender Jimmy Anderson is still duck-free after yesterday's innings. Just. A squirted single was enough to take the fast bowler to 47 Test innings not having been dismissed without troubling the scorers. He leads the way among those Test players never to have been rolled over without scoring.
Moment of the day
Graham Onions trotting down to fine leg and doffing his cap to spectators in the Mound Stand after receiving a standing ovation for taking three West Indies wickets in an over. Can life get any better for the Durham bowler? Maybe getting his hands on that urn against the Aussies in August.
Ball of the day
Graeme Swann's dismissal of "The Rock". It was beautifully flighted, turned enough and proved too good for even a master batsman like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who could only edge the ball to slip.
First npower Test at Lord's
West Indies win toss
England 1st innings (overnight: 289-7)
R S Bopara c Nash b Taylor 143, 426 min, 284 balls, 17 fours
G J Swann not out 63, 128 min, 89 balls, 9 fours, 1 six
J M Anderson c Ramdin b Edwards 1, 27 min, 19 balls
G Onions b Edwards 0, 2 min, 1 ball
Extras (b 1, lb 5, w 7, nb 9,) 22
Total (492 min, 111.3 overs) 377
Fall: 1-28 (Strauss), 2-92 (Cook), 3-92 (Pietersen), 4-109 (Collingwood), 5-193 (Prior), 6-262 (Broad), 7-275 (Bresnan), 8-368 (Bopara), 9-377 (Anderson), 10-377 (Onions).
Bowling: Taylor 24-2-83-2 (nb2,w1) (7-1-29-1 2-0-8-0 4-1-8-0 3-0-8-0 1-0-4-0 3-0-16-0 4-0-10-1); Edwards 26.3-4-92-6 (nb7,w1) (4-0-18-0 6-2-15-3 7-2-18-1 2-0-2-0 6-0-38-0 1.3-0-1-2); Baker 24-5-75-0 (w2) (10-4-15-0 1-0-12-0 3-0-16-0 4-0-16-0 6-1-16-0); Benn 27-4-84-2 (8-2-25-0 9-0-32-0 9-2-23-2 1-0-4-0); Nash 2-1-2-0 (one spell); Simmons 5-1-24-0 (w3) (3-1-12-0 2-0-12-0); Gayle 3-0-911-0 (2-0-5-0 1-0-6-0).
Progress: Second day: New ball taken after 91 overs at 293-7. 300 in 395 min, 92.4 overs. Bad light stopped play 11.25-11.41am 313-7 (Bopara 123, Swann 23) 95 overs. 350 in 442 mins, 102.1 overs. Lunch 377-8 (Swann 63, Anderson 1) 111 overs. Innings closed 1.44pm.
Bopara 50: 148 min, 102 balls, 6 fours. 100: 282 mins, 207 balls, 12 fours. Swann 50: 85 min, 73 balls, 8 fours, 1 six.
West Indies 1st innings
*C H Gayle b Broad 28, 37 min, 34 balls, 6 fours
D S Smith b Swann 46, 89 min, 50 balls, 7 fours
R R Sarwan c Prior b Broad 13, 18 min, 12 balls, 2 fours
L M P Simmons c Strauss b Onions 16, 56 min, 30 balls, 1 six
S Chanderpaul c Collingwood b Swann 0, 2 min, 1 ball
B P Nash c Collingwood b Swann 4, 18 mins 18 balls, 1 four
†D Ramdin lbw b Onions 5, 17 min, 6 balls, 1 four
J E Taylor c Prior b Onions 0, 2 min, 2 balls
S J Benn c Swann b Onions 2, 4 min, 3 balls
F H Edwards not out 10, 40 min, 16 balls, 2 fours
L S Baker lbw b Onions 17, 32 min, 23 balls, 2 fours
Extras (lb 10, w 1) 11
Total (162 min, 32.3 overs) 152
Fall: 1-46 (Gayle), 2-70 (Sarwan), 3-99 (Smith), 4-99 (Chanderpaul), 5-117 (Nash), 6-117 (Simmons), 7-117 (Taylor), 8-119 (Benn), 9-128 (Ramdin), 10-152 (Baker).
Bowling: Broad 11-0-56-2 (7-0-38-2 4-0-18-0); Swann 5-2-16-3 (2-0-7-0 3-2-9-3); Anderson 7-0-32-0 (w1); Onions 9.3-1-38-5 (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: 50 in 37 min, 9 overs. Bad light stopped play 3.31pm – early tea taken 99-4 (Simmons 6, Nash 0) 20 overs. Restart 3.52pm. 100 in 97 min, 20.1 overs. 150 in 158 min, 31.5 overs. Innings closed 4.58pm.
West Indies 2nd innings (following on)
*C H Gayle c Swann b Anderson 0, 17 mins, 11 balls
D S Smith not out 26, 59 mins, 37 balls, 3 fours
R R Sarwan b Anderson 1, 14 mins, 12 balls
L M P Simmons not out 7, 26 mins, 18 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 0, lb 5, w 0, nb 0, pens 0) 5
Total (2 wkts, 59 mins, 13 overs) 39
Fall: 1-14 (Gayle), 2-22 (Sarwan).
Bowling: Anderson 6-2-22-2, Broad 5-1-9-0, Bresnan 1-0-2-0, Swann 1-0-1-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: bad light stopped play 6.11pm.
Umpires: S J Davis and E A R de Silva
TV replay umpire: I J Gould
Match referee: A J Pycroft
High chance of showers in morning, becoming drier later. High of 17C.