Folly of new-ball decision

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The West Indies spurned a heaven-sent opportunity for late relief on the second afternoon at Old Trafford yesterday. They had backed themselves into a corner by their careless batting on the opening day and were hanging on grimly as England capitalised on an even pitch and the lack of variety in their attack when the clouds banked up and the lights suddenly shone out brightly from the scoreboard.

England were already well in the lead and the second new ball was due. Had Richie Richardson claimed it, all it required was a couple of bouncers from Ian Bishop to influence the umpires into offering the batsmen the chance to head for the pavilion. Instead, the West Indies captain chose to play out the overs, and England's advantage was pushed a further 54 runs to the good.

So instead of resuming this morning with a still shiny hard ball in the hands of fast bowlers refreshed by their overnight rest and England not yet with a winning lead, the West Indies now find themselves in the difficult, if not hopeless, position of having to erase a deficit of at least 150 before they can even save the humiliation of an innings defeat.

They paid the price yesterday for their inept batting, and the absence of Carl Hooper, confined to the dressing-room with a fractured right index finger, denied them the important variety his off-spin has offered to their pace-based attack.

In the circumstances yesterday, he would have been good for 20 overs in the middle of the afternoon as Bishop, Curtly Ambrose and company strove to overcome England's resolute batsmen on a pitch offering them little assistance. Once again, the West Indies' policy of pure pace was exposed for its lack of variety in good conditions.

Serious thought was given here to including their one specialist spinner, Rajindra Dhanraj, particularly given knowledgeable local opinion that the pitch would respond to turn throughout the match. The Trinidadian leg-spinner is the leading wicket taker on tour with 36, and if he was not chosen here, he is unlikely to be chosen anywhere.