West Indies put new spin on familiar tale

Debutant Nagamootoo hits back to spark middle-order collapse after England openers forge record opening stand

It was the last-ditch gamble that looked as if it had gone horribly wrong as Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick added a record-breaking partnership for the first wicket. But, as Jimmy Adams well knows, England are almost as prone to collapse as his own side and by the close of the first day's play his decision to put them in on a placid Oval pitch was not as barmy as it had first looked.

It was the last-ditch gamble that looked as if it had gone horribly wrong as Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothick added a record-breaking partnership for the first wicket. But, as Jimmy Adams well knows, England are almost as prone to collapse as his own side and by the close of the first day's play his decision to put them in on a placid Oval pitch was not as barmy as it had first looked.

If he was honest, the West Indies' captain would probably admit he had got out of jail. Needing to win this match to retain the Wisden trophy, for what would be a record 14th successive series, Adams decided to place his attacking options in the hands of his opening bowlers Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

With his batsmen traumatised by their recent defeats few will have blamed him and for a few overs with the new ball, as the England openers fished at fresh air, it looked a 50-50 decision, but no more. By the time the debutant wrist-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo strolled up to bowl the last over before tea, with England 159 for 0, it looked nothing less than a resignation issue.

But, whatever Adams was thinking at that point, he was saved by a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of Trescothick, who had played wonderfully well to that point. Whether contemplating a first Test century, or just a well-earned cuppa, the left-hander dabbed an innocuous-looking ball to Sherwin Campbell at slip.

After the break, worse was to follow as Hussain edged his second ball to the keeper. A good player of spin when he is in form, Hussain appeared too eager to get bat on ball. With just 61 runs in this series and a paltry 74 for Essex, he is having the proverbial shocker.

With Nagamootoo suddenly turning innocuity into wickets, and striking a blow for the West Indies' much-criticised second string, it became the turn of Nixon McLean to pull a few rabbits out of the hat. With 0 for 40 at tea, he suddenly trimmed Atherton's bails with a skidder that appeared to beat the opener for pace. Three balls later he removed Alec Stewart too, the Surrey man plumb lbw as he fell across his crease. It was a strange way for Stewart to succumb, but the Surrey player, who normally stays back on leg-stump when he plays pace, is a man of theories. On his home pitch, so far the best batting surface of the series, he tried to get across his stumps, but to no avail.

Michael Vaughan, after a couple of trademark boundaries - a neat clip through mid-wicket and a rasping cut past point - became indecisive at the return of Ambrose, who had the Yorkshireman lbw not offering a stroke in his first over back.

In fact Ambrose, who finished the day with the amazing figures 20-5-25-1, found he was getting some reverse swing and he eschewed the new ball. As the light dimmed it might have been worse for England, but for Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick. Between them, they kept him and Walsh at bay, until bad light ended play on the stroke of 6pm.

The home side's slide from 159 for 0 to 221 for 5, while not catastrophic, still betrayed first-night nerves. England have not been in this kind of position to beat the West Indies since 1969 and their post-tea hiccup undid the superb work of the openers, who batted with an aplomb and purpose all to rare in this series.

As at Lord's, it was vintage essence of gritty Atherton, who once again did exactly what he says on the tin. In Test cricket the key areas of importance are the opening partnerships with bat and ball. Atherton and Trescothick's opening partnership of 159 exceeded the previous record set on this ground against the West Indies by Hobbs and Sutcliffe in 1928.

Perhaps more significant, in view of England's moderate record over the last 10 years, is that it was the first century opening stand at The Oval since 1991, when Graham Gooch and Hugh Morris also notched one against the West Indies.

The pair complement each other well, though one or two dicey moments occurred when they tried to continue the quick single routine so successfully applied at Headingley. For one thing, the West Indies' fielders were more aware of it and Adams stationed his mid-on and mid-off two yards closer. On one such occasion, when Atherton dropped one down on the off-side just after lunch, Trescothick might have been run-out, but Adams missed the stumps.

If Atherton was content to play a waiting game, and score in ones and twos, Trescothick's weight of stroke ensured that anything vaguely loose was punished with a boundary. Even Walsh, normally such a phlegmatic performer, was given to the odd grimace as the left-hander dismissed any mild experimentation with regal disdain. In fact, a brace of cover drives as the tall Jamaican tried to probe from around the wicket had the power and placement of vintage Graeme Pollock.

Yet, despite the opening pair's dominance, it is still not safe for the sandwich-board men to proclaim that the end of an era is nigh. Hussain knows this and, after coming back into this match, so do the West Indies.

Scoreboard

West Indies won toss England - First Innings M A Atherton b McLean 83 281 min, 214 balls, 12 fours M E Trescothick c Campbell b Nagamootoo 78 239 min, 192 balls, 12 fours N Hussain c Jacobs b Nagamootoo 0 1 min, 2 balls G P Thorpe not out 31 119 min, 89 balls, 1 four A J Stewart lbw b McLean 0 >3 min, 3 balls M P Vaughan lbw b Ambrose 10 38 min, 26 balls, 2 fours G A Hick not out 2 35 min, 19 balls Extras (b4 lb6 nb7) 17 Total (for 5, 360 min, 89.4 overs) 221 Fall: 1-159 (Trescothick), 2-159 (Hussain), 3-184 (Atherton), 4-184 (Stewart), 5-214 (Vaughan). To bat: C White, D G Cork, A R Caddick, D Gough.

Bowling: Ambrose 20-5-25-1 (nb3) (10-5-8-0, 6-0-11-0, 4-0-6-1); Walsh 23.4-11-49-0 (nb4) (5-3-5-0, 12-5-37-0, 4-2-6-0, 2.4-1-1-0); McLean 18-4-61-2 (7-1-25-0, 5-1-15-0, 6-2-21-2); Nagamootoo 24-7-63-2 (6-1-22-0, 18-6-41-2); Adams 4-0-13-0 (one spell).

Progress: 50: 97 min, 23.3 overs. Lunch: 66-0 (Atherton 30, Trescothick 30) 29 overs. 100: 172 min, 42.4 overs. 150: 232 min, 59 overs. Tea: 159-1 (Atherton 71) 61.3 overs. 200: 300 min, 76.5 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.59pm-close.

Atherton's 50: 206 min, 151 balls, 7 fours. Trescothick's 50: 173 min, 131 balls, 9 fours.

West Indies: S L Campbell, A F G Griffith, W W Hinds, B C Lara, *J C Adams, R R Sarwan, R D Jacobs, M V Nagamootoo, C E L Ambrose, N A M McLean, C A Walsh.

Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and D R Shepherd (Eng).TV replay umpire: B Leadbeater. Match referee: R S Madugalle.

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