England seized control of yet another Test match against West Indies yesterday, moving to 148 for 3 after yet another batting collapse. Some time tomorrow, today if the tourists conjure up something really terrible, they can expect to move into a 2-0 lead in this series and their fifth Test victory of the year against this opposition.
Considering comparatively recent history and a 20-year period in which England took many fearful batterings, some fairly serious pinching is required to believe this state of affairs. The difference between the sides, as it was when England were doing the losing, is comprised of organisation, talent and self-belief. West Indies have some talent but little of the other commodities.
England were propelled to a first-innings lead of 230 by a sudden burst of bowling from their left-arm spinner, Ashley Giles, who took 4 for 5 in 33 balls. The tourists lost their last six wickets for 13 runs in 63 balls. Batting is supposed to be the stronger part of their game, but despite their undoubted gifts their fragility has been exposed too many times to make them anything but vulnerable.
The lead had grown to 378 by the close and although England lost three wickets, this largely self-inflicted damage was repaired by Marcus Trescothick. The left-handed opener made an unbeaten 88 and will probably turn it into his second hundred of the match in the early overs this morning. He hit one six and 12 fours from the 137 balls he faced.
In three matches, Giles has become the stock bowler in the side. The late-summer pitches have probably helped his cause, but he is a man transformed from the poor bloke who was thinking of giving it all up for who knows what only two months ago. He has now taken 19 wickets in the last three matches and more surely await him tomorrow. Giles, more than any player in the England side, embodies how fickle cricket can be.
Trescothick is the latest England batsman to run into prime form. He has had his critics in recent months, but his stand-and-plunder approach has usually worked for him sooner or later throughout his international career. It was as well that he stayed around yesterday after England chose not to enforce the follow-on, since they lost three wickets fairly quickly.
They all fell to Jermaine Lawson, and all three batsman concerned, Andrew Strauss, Robert Key and Michael Vaughan, played a significant part in their own downfall. Neither that nor England's dropping of two catches could halt their progress, though. Vaughan, to general disbelief, put down the gentlest of lobbed chances at short midwicket, the sort that any cricketer would expect to take 100 times out of 100. When England learn to catch more they could be some side.