Reluctant tourists lose their way

CRICKET West Indies 242 Gloucestershire 137-2
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The Independent Online
THE BEST joke at Bristol yesterday was a statistic. It was an even better joke than most of the West Indies' batting, which would have been regarded as an anti-climax in a one-day slog.

The West Indies fielded six of the world's best batsmen, and yet none of them scored as many runs as Gloucestershire conceded in extras. Stuart Williams was the top scorer with the bat with 48, but the largest contribution to the West Indies total came from one bye, three wides, four leg byes, and no less than 36 no balls. Extras totalled 49, or 20.25 per cent of the West Indies' first-innings total of 242.

This ought, on the face of it, to be a great day in the history of Gloucestershire cricket. It took place on another fine day on a parched field in front of a decent crowd, and yet there was no sense of shared achievement between the home players and the spectators, even when Gloucestershire closed the day at 137 for two, only 105 behind.

The tourists do not concentrate hard during these three-day county games, but Gloucestershire's contribution was not especially keen either. Since their two best players - Jack Russell and Javagal Srinath - were both rested, their replacements are among a minority that will not forget this day.

The 21-year-old fast bowler, Kamran Sheeraz, took six for 67, including the wickets of Brian Lara and Richie Richardson, before dismissing four tail-enders for only 11 runs.

Sheeraz's pace and hostility can be judged on the fact that four of the five catches taken by Reggie Williams, the substitute wicketkeeper, came from his bowling. One of Williams' catches, diving low to his left to remove Courtney Browne, was one of the day's more scintillating moments.

Another occurred during Lara's brief stay, which lasted only 33 balls but included six fours, four of them coming in successive deliveries from Richard Williams - three drives and a pull. But Lara was out flailing at Sheeraz outside his off-stump. One enthralling moment was rather less than the crowd had hoped for.

The day had promised so much more. Williams and Sherwin Campbell had put on 50 by the seventh over, and the smartest guess in the press box seemed to be the one that had them scoring 440 in the day. But none of the batsmen stayed. Carl Hooper, using the game to prove his fitness after breaking his right index finger, was forced to retire when he was on five, and added only two more when he returned after lunch, the first of the last six West Indies wickets to fall for 66 runs.

When Gloucestershire batted, Curtly Ambrose bowled at noticeably less than full pace off a relatively short run. If the worst comes to the worst, the West Indians will begin to apply themselves, as they did on the last day against Somerset last week. They might not care too much, but they have no desire to repeat the innings defeat they suffered at Sussex.

Their performance may have been slack, but they are much better sportsmen than they sometimes appear in the Test arena. Robin Smith had looked in before the start of play yesterday for a chat with Russell. Steroids have reduced the swelling of his cheek, and the only evidence of the operation to treat his compressed fracture is a neat scar above his ear.

The one other person he wanted to see was Ian Bishop, the West Indian fast bowler who had inflicted the injury. The message? No hard feelings.