Old entertainers return to centre stage

Martin Johnson sees West Indies make a winning start to their tour
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The Independent Online
It is a long-standing tradition for England to invite their summer guests for afternoon tea on the castle lawns before retreating across the drawbridge to prepare the boiling oil, and it provides no serious portents for the forthcoming battle.

Had it, for instance, been taken as evidence of England's intention to man the ramparts with less elderly troops, the choking noises coming from the tourists' dressing-room would have had more to do with mirth than a cucumber sandwich going down the wrong way.

The roped-off wheelchair area was conveniently sited within easy reach of the home changing-room, and had the Duchess asked her husband, Colin Cowdrey, to clamber into his whites rather than stroll around the grounds for a spot of social badinage, it would not have had a significant effect on the average age of her XI.

In fact, given that all 18 first-class counties were in action, it was a pretty good achievement for her even to raise a quorum. Retired, overweight and arthritic of joint appeared to be the criteria for selection, and the West Indies were generous enough to spin out the proceedings with bowling that could only have been friendlier had they chosen their ammunition from one of the cream-bun stalls.

By such charitable means did the owner of a Nottingham dried-flower emporium, a Mr D Randall, notch up a century that was roughly the same total as his team's losing margin, and it was he who contributed even more to the afternoon's entertainment by dropping a simple catch during the West Indian innings.

At that point, Carl Hooper had made 62 of his 173 runs off 140 deliveries, including nine sixes. One caused the now traditional spectator injury, given this is a fixture which invites closer scrutiny of hampers and champers than anything which might be taking place in the middle.

When it comes to not paying attention at crucial moments, however, Hooper's only serious rival in contemporary Test cricket was getting his head down inside the press tent, composing his piece for the Sunday Express. David Gower, though, still managed a Test average of 44. For someone of Hooper's class, 31 runs per visit to the crease is a chronic abuse of talent.

Promoting him to open the innings was possibly part of a wider plan. The two men chosen to succeed Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes have yet to suggest they can successfully open a tin of beans, and shoving him in first may be one way of getting Hooper to concentrate. On the other hand, Richie Richardson appears to have volunteered to take this burden upon himself, adding to the even greater pressure of captaining a losing West Indian team.

The old Richardson, the happy-go-lucky cricketer with the wide-brimmed hat, now sports a seriously grim expression underneath a maroon helmet. Quite why he wanted armoured headgear against the Duchess's pop-gun attack was a little bemusing, but by far the saddest aspect of it all is that one of the few instantly identifiable Test cricketers has now joined the massed ranks of anonymity.

Those who had come to see Brian Lara or Curtly Ambrose were disappointed, as Ambrose spent the day plugged into a Walkman, and Lara, as he does whether he is on the field or not, passed the time practising his golf swing. Making him bat with a nine-iron this summer would represent a pretty fair piece of handicapping.

On the other hand, the English weather might still have a patriotic part to play. While a steel band incongruously bashed out their full repertoire of sunshine calypsos (one), the tourists' only real concern at Arundel was trying to avoid frostbite. The hot potato stall cleaned up, but the Bognor Ice Cream Company van could barely have covered its petrol money.

David Graveney ensured that the England selectors were represented (always assuming that he gets a vote under the Illy system) but only because he was playing, and the one note he will have made is to advise Raymond against adopting the West Indies' extravagant limbering-up routine.

England's bowlers will doubtless find enough ways of getting injured without adding half a dozen torn hamstrings during the pre-game warm-up.