Pitch produces seeds of doubt

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The Independent Online
The West Indies arrived at Edgbaston in desperate need of some inspiration. Events of the past week - the defeat at Lord's, the banishment of Winston Benjamin, the humiliation of Hove - would have taken toll of collective morale and a typical spell of incisive fast bowling from Curtly Ambrose or a blazing hundred from Brian Lara, for instance, was what was needed. Instead, unexpectedly they received the help they needed from the groundstaff.

This is a most strange pitch, the likes of which may not have been seen at a Test match in England before. From short of a length one end to short of a length at the other, it carries a healthy covering of grass. Beyond that there are two bare stretches. It clearly has been deliberately done, although the intention is not entirely clear.

When England won the toss Michael Atherton must have considered his options long and hard. But the sight of the grassless ends, the inclusion of Richard Illingworth and the presence of Graeme Hick along with the forecast of continuing dry weather influenced him into going in first.

It was not long before it was evident that these conditions ideally suited the tall West Indies fast bowlers. The removal of Atherton himself in the first over and Hick in the second provided immediate lifts to the spirit and the generous bounce that Ambrose achieved from the City End, and the contrasting lowness that consistently battered the batsman at the opposite end, were sufficient to sow the seeds of appreciable doubt.

When Graham Thorpe counter-attacked with a succession of authoritative strokes, the balance was shifted back to the West Indies by the capricious surface. The delivery that claimed almost perpendicularly from Ambrose to take his glove and lob to gully was virtually unplayable - not what any batsman has a right to expect an hour into the opening day of a Test. Robin Smith might well have perished the same way when a similar lifter took him on the glove first ball, and he had to show all his customary fight to survive.

Even the groin injury that obliged Ambrose to leave the field in the 15th over could not deter the West Indies' advance. At this stage Kenny Benjamin delivered a crucial spell of controlled fast medium bowling from the City End. He went for 13 consecutive overs and only when he tired and conceded three boundaries to Smith in the last did he lose length and line. It was just what the West Indies required from their support bowler.

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