England rotated so much yesterday that they nearly ended up on their backsides. If they managed to stay upright, it was still not a position from which they are likely to win the third Test.
West Indies made 280 for 8, more than England expected after winning the toss and inviting them to bat. Quite how many of these runs were down to the decision to field a second-string attack, albeit accomplished, is an open question.
Some might presume it was not many considering how well the replacements responded in their contest within a contest. Graham Onions, Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan, who was part of the first string this summer, were all on the money on a pitch that was not as sporting as it might have been after days spent under covers.
Others, more critical, might consider it was loads because of the consequences elsewhere of those decisions. England were not only replacing bowlers but also fielders.
In all probability the top-notchers would have had their hands full in containing the sublime Marlon Samuels, a batsman in the form of his life.
Samuels came on this tour as a largely unfulfilled talent. A Test player at the age of 19, he had scored only two hundreds, six years apart, the most recent four years ago after which he was banned for two years for associating with a dodgy bookmaker. It is as if he recognised that this was now or never. He made 76 yesterday, his fourth successive score above 50 taking his series aggregate to 386, and simply looked world class. Denesh Ramdin assembled a neat fifty which made it the tourists' day.
When the match at last started after two abandoned days England took the field without their regular opening bowlers. Stuart Broad joined Jimmy Anderson in being rested. Within five overs the wider ramifications were startlingly evident. It was not that the replacement bowlers lacked a cutting edge, it was the potential effect of other changes in the field which nullified their efforts.
Ian Bell, at third slip, put down a chance edged straight to him off Onions, who was playing his first Test match for 30 months. Bell, who usually has a safe pair hands at short leg or in the outer, has never been an England slip fielder. Yet he was ushered in because Anderson, who had taken a blinder in the second Test at Trent Bridge, was not there and Bresnan, a frequent stopgap, was bowling at the other end.
If that was a sitter offered by Adrian Barath, Bell then mucked up a dolly. Barath, surprised by a ball from Finn that lifted, edged it almost in an arc to Bell whose upraised palms it burst through. The opportunities obviously needed to become much easier before Bell at last snaffled one and the catch he eventually took from a splendid bouncer by Bresnan, to the debutant Assad Fudadin, looped gently to him. His heart was doubtless in his mouth until it was safely lodged.
Few observers disagree with England's intention to rotate their bowlers. The sheer weight of their schedule, which would bear down on the stoutest of shoulders, is the reason for it. That and the fact they had already won this series. But it is also true that this is the first time in four years and 54 matches that neither Anderson nor Broad have appeared in England's Test team.
It is difficult to think of a period when England were as endowed as they are now with such a depth of gifted fast bowlers. Onions took a little while to settle in length but his chief virtue of accuracy was always present. Finn was genuinely fast in his initial spell, coming on as first change. Bresnan, who took the new ball, made the breakthrough by having Kieran Powell caught at second slip, where Bell was not fielding.
Barath, failing to make the most of his lives, was lbw to Onions. If it was a narrow decision, the review by the batsman upholding the umpire's decision, it squared matters up. Barath had been the close beneficiary of an England review earlier when Andrew Strauss might have been eager to get Onions a wicket.
It was now Finn's turn to strike, which he duly did having Darren Bravo caught and bowled neither driving nor defending. Samuels illuminated the afternoon and before Bresnan unexpectedly pierced his defences, England made the mistake of engaging him in banter. He is much too cool to fall for this nonsense. Chris Gayle, the coolest man in world cricket, arrives shortly to play in the one-day series. Samuels makes him look uptight.
England won toss
West Indies – First innings
A B Barath lbw b Onions 41/106/4/1
K O A Powell c Swann b Bresnan 24/43/2/0
A B Fudadin c Bell b Bresnan 28/110/4/0
D M Bravo c & b Finn 6/16/1/0
M N Samuels lbw b Bresnan 76/114/10/1
N Deonarine c Strauss b Onions 7/29/1/0
†D Ramdin not out 60/108/7/0
*D J G Sammy c Strauss b Finn 16/35/2/0
S P Narine b Onions 11/17/1/0
R Rampaul not out 2/10/0/0
Extras (b2 lb6 w1) 9
Total (for 8, 98 overs) 280
Fall 1-49, 2-90, 3-99, 4-128, 5-152, 6-208, 7-241, 8-267.
To bat T L Best.
Bowling G Onions 24-7-56-3; T T Bresnan 26-8-74-3; S T Finn 22-6-65-2; G P Swann 21-5-61-0; I J L Trott 5-1-16-0.
England *A J Strauss, A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J M Bairstow, †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, S T Finn, G Onions.
Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (SL) and A L Hill (NZ).
TV Umpire Aleem Dar (Pak).
Match referee R S Mahanama (SL).
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