High time that batsmen learned from the past

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The Independent Online
at Edgbaston

It would be revealing to know Michael Atherton's thought processes or indeed the influences upon him, before he made the fateful decision to bat first on a pitch which, from its appearances, had the word untrustworthy written all over it in capital letters.

The old dictum has it that a captain who is thinking of putting the other side in should, when he wins the toss, think about it a little more and then decide to bat. This does not take into account a mottled, piebald, zebra-like surface such as this.

This was one situation where it is not simply a question of being wise after the event. The evidence was there and obvious.

Having said that, England's batsmen played some bad shots on Thursday and only Graham Thorpe had legitimate cause for complaint, although the behaviour of several balls which did not get wickets will have hardly settled nerves in the England camp.

At the end of the first day, though, it looked as if the West Indies must win the match and that England's form at Lord's was yet another cricketing mirage.

Thirty-eight years ago, on the evening of Thursday 30 May, 1957, the first day of the West Indies' first-ever Test match , the England side would not have been feeling any happier.

They had won the toss and batted and, at the first time of asking in that series, Sonny Ramadhin, without the assistance of his spinning partner, Alf Valentine, had carried on where he had left off in England in 1950.

He had taken 7 for 49 as England were bowled out for 186.

It got no better for the next day and a half, either, when innings of 161 by Collie Smith and 90 by Clyde Walcott took the West Indies to a first-innings lead of 288. When England batted again, Ramadhin soon dismissed Peter Richardson and Doug Insole. One can only imagine the state of the England dressing-room at that point.

The score was 113 for 3 and the arrears 175 when Colin Cowdrey came out to join his captain, Peter May. As history knows, they put on 411 for the fourth wicket, which is England's highest stand for any wicket, and the Test record for the fourth wicket.

Cowdrey made 154 and when the declaration came on the last day May was 285 not out. England led by 295. Just as significantly, Ramadhin's figures were 2 for 179 in 98 overs, the most bowled by one man in a first-class innings.

There was never enough time for the West Indies to have won but, by the end, England's answer to "Ram and Val", Jim Laker and Tony Lock, with important help from Fred Trueman, had reduced the West Indies to 72 for 7.

Ramadhin had been rumbled and was never again the same threat, and England went on to win the series 3-0. As a turnaround it is probably the only one really to match Headingley in 1981 when Ian Botham's 149 not out and Bob Willis's 8 for 43 beat Australia by 18 runs.

Why shouldn't England do it again? It has to be unlikely; but it is not impossible, although there is one disconcerting thought. Do England have two batsmen with the discipline to bat for as long as May and Cowdrey? Or has the constant drip of the one-day game eliminated even that remote possibility?