England pay the price for recklessness

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Cricket

MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Headingley

England 199 West Indies 236-5

Where England are concerned, optimism rarely survives the opening Test match, and while it is a touch too early to start altering the theme tune from "here we go" to "here we go again", there are not too many signs yet that they have managed to mislay the losing formula.

England sometimes bring in new selectors, regularly swap captains, and change their players more often than their socks. But the grand design remains the same. Occasional periods of efficiency, interspersed with desperate spells of near farcical incompetence.

Yesterday, England's approach to a tricky batting situation was not dissimilar to Damon Hill clambering into tomorrow's grand prix car after downing 10 pints of Old Peculier, while their seam bowlers - invited by their captain before the game to display a bit of discipline - had a good deal more in common with a blunderbuss than a sniper's rifle. And just in case there was any doubt about the resemblance to last winter's model, one of their fast bowlers spent the afternoon session on the physiotherapist's couch.

"Go Get 'Em Goughie" was the message from one of the supporters' banners, the "'em" presumably referring to the West Indies rather than pain-killing tablets. Gough, out first ball, and off the field with a back strain for over a session after three expensive, wicketless overs, did not have the kind of day the adoring Yorkshire public were hoping for.

However, even though the West Indies resume this morning with five wickets still available on which to build upon a lead of 37, they too are prone to periods of indiscipline, and as long as England can contain the deficit to less than three figures, the traditional end of first Test scoreline of 0-1 might yet be avoidable.

England's decline from their overnight 148 for 4 to 199 all out in 75 minutes was, even by the recent standards, a highly impressive case of collective suicide. It is one thing to be positive against West Indian fast bowling, but quite another to be positively reckless in a situation crying out for sensible shot selection.

Mark Ramprakash cut carelessly to backward point, Alec Stewart was caught at second slip attempting a legside whip to a ball not full enough for the shot, and while Gough was always liable to take the bait of a bouncer, no one quite expected him to swallow the first maggot that came along. Curtly Ambrose took the catch at long leg and, in the space of six balls, Ian Bishop had taken 3 for 0.

Ambrose then took his first first-class wicket on tour when Peter Martin's hideous slog clipped the bottom edge, and although Phillip DeFreitas and Richard Illingworth rallied with a ninth-wicket partnership of 42, Kenneth Benjamin wrapped up the innings by dismissing DeFreitas and Devon Malcolm in five deliveries. Two of them to Malcolm were bouncers, prompting Dickie Bird to go into one of his agitated lathers. Benjamin's first delivery aimed at the stumps found Malcolm's bat a good 18 inches away from a successful interception.

All in all, England's last eight wickets fell for 57, and even with the huge boost of Malcolm's first ball lifting and cutting away just enough for Carl Hooper to edge to first slip, Malcolm, Gough and Martin then decided (somewhat against all previous evidence) that the place to bowl to Brian Lara was about half way down the pitch, and two feet wide of off stump.

Hardly surprisingly, the upshot of this was total carnage. Malcolm's figures disintegrated to 2-0-24-1, Lara raced to 50 off 35 balls, and with Sherwin Campbell also dipping his bread into the gravy boat, the West Indies were 95 for 1 in 17 overs.

At this point England got a break when Lara, overdosing on excitement, gave Illingworth a pre-selected charge, and his outside edge was pouched by Graeme Hick at slip.

The West Indies' next wicket also took the form of a donation when DeFreitas' brilliant pick-up and throw ran out Campbell by about a centimetre on the television adjudication, but there then followed a stand of 73 between the two left handers, Jimmy Adams and Keith Arthurton.

Adams made a cultured 58 until Hick, having been brought on as a negative option, tempted him into the sweep. Adams was as startled as everyone else when Martin took a highly athletic tumbling catch.

It was less of a surprise to see Richie Richardson hiding down at No 6, and still less of one when the wretchedly out of form captain was out for a duck, playing all around a straight one from Martin. It was a good fightback from England, but then again, no one has more experience in having to fight back.

Henry Blofeld,

County , page 25

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