Smith and Thorpe fight fire with fire

Second Test: Herculean stand underpins rousing performance to take England to within sight of a historic victory over West Indies

reports from Lord's

England 283 and 336 West Indies 324 and 68-1

Not many people plan ahead to watch England on the fifth day of a Test match, on the not unreasonable assumption that they are likely to witness nothing more exciting than the groundsman hosing down the square. That was certainly the case at Headingley, but there may be an impressive Monday morning sick note count today as England press for their first victory over the West Indies at Lord's since 1959.

There is also the prospect of the West Indies pooping the party in what has been a wonderful match - so far removed from the cosmetic appeal of the one-day game that it is like comparing a five-course banquet, rounded off by brandy and cigars in leather upholstered seats, with a plate of jelly and blancmange while perched on a whoopee cushion.

After England were bowled out for 336 on a pitch devious in both bounce and movement, the West Indies were left to make 296 in a minimum of 109 overs. After 19 of them, they are 68 for 1, and, as is their custom, have not so much reached for the steel hats and trenchcoats, as counter-attacked with a shrill blast on the bugle.

Carl Hooper, who would not get much of an argument from the Inland Revenue were he to register as an official charity, has already departed to a crass swish to mid-off, and Brian Lara's respect for English bowling has thus far resulted in seven boundaries in his 38 not out off 44 balls.

England's own batting was underpinned by two herculean performances from Robin Smith and Graham Thorpe, and if Thorpe's innings is what results from a blow to the head, the traditional chorus of "good luck" might now be replaced by a hefty whack with a mallet when England's batsmen set off for the middle in future.

Thorpe spent Saturday night in hospital after being struck first ball by Courtney Walsh's unintentional beamer, and if the matron had tuned into the West Indian bowling yesterday, she would not only not have bothered changing the sheets, but made up a bed for Smith as well.

Anything up around the rib-cage almost qualified as a good length ball, and although Smith batted for two and a bit sessions without serious mishap, neither would he have been playing too many ditties on a pub piano last night after a ball from Walsh jammed his left hand on to the bat handle, burst a blood vessel, and resulted in badly swollen digits.

"If this is my last Test, I intend to enjoy it," Smith said before the game, but not only is he here for the rest of the summer after innings of 61 and 90, not even Smith's preference for pace over spin would have qualified as enjoyment as he hopped around his crease yesterday.

It is a measure of the attritional nature of England's struggle yesterday that Smith made only 29 runs in the morning session, and 29 again in the afternoon. He has made nine Test centuries, but never worked as hard nor deserved one more than he did here.

It was the second new ball that did for him, lbw to Curtly Ambrose on the only foot that he had employed in six hours and four minutes at the crease - the back one - and his performance was recognised by a standing ovation from the full house crowd. With a fair share of the strike, Smith's 90 was chiselled out of the 279 runs England scored while he was at the crease.

If Smith's place is now secure, the same cannot be said for Mark Ramprakash, who was out for nought for the second time in the match. The only other pair on view yesterday belonged to a female streaker emerging from the Mound Stand, and although this produced the customary round of cheering, it was the cricket itself which kept the crowd more animated than anyone could remember at a Lord's Test.

Ramprakash's dismissal came to the third ball of the day, a thick edge to second slip for which Ramprakash oddly declined to walk. It may simply have been a mixture of disbelief and dismay which made him wait for the umpire, and come next weekend, the selectorial finger may now be raised on a batting average of 17.33 in 30 Test innings.

The one disappointing note about England's cricket over the weekend was their failure to knock over the West Indian tail quickly enough to avert a potentially decisive deficit of 53 on first innings. When Australia won in the Caribbean a few months back, the West Indies' lower order was dispatched in short order every time, by the simple expedient of a dose of their own short-pitched medicine.

However, if England's bowlers were not aggressive enough on Saturday, Graeme Hick, despite his invaluable 67, probably overdid it the other way. His remedy for his previous failings against the short stuff is to hook, but as he does this with his eyes closed, it will be a mild surprise if he gets through the series with the same helmet.

The crucial liaison between Smith and Thorpe was finally ended when Thorpe's back foot slash at Curtly Ambrose was very well caught in the gully by Richie Richardson, and it was a spell of 3 for 0 with the second new ball from Ambrose after tea which led to England losing their last four wickets in 26 balls.

However, this was always likely on this sort of pitch, and of more significance was the kind of bristling approach displayed by the likes of Dominic Cork and Darren Gough. For too long, England have come through this kind of attritional, pivotal day, like wet lettuces, and the key to victory now lies in getting rid of Lara. Easy, really.

Sunday League reports

and scoreboard,

Nick Cook, page 24

LORD'S SCOREBOARD

(England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings 283 (G P Thorpe 52, R A Smith 61).

WEST INDIES - First Innings 324 (K L T Arthurton 75, J C Adams 54; A R C Fraser 5-66)

ENGLAND - Second Innings

(Overnight: 155 for 3)

G P Thorpe c Richardson

b Ambrose 42

(141 min, 99 balls, 4 fours)

R A Smith lbw b Ambrose 90

(364 min, 227 balls, 11 fours)

M R Ramprakash c sub (S C Williams)

b Bishop 0

(11 min, 10 balls)

D G Cork c Murray b Bishop 23

(66 min, 50 balls, 3 fours)

D Gough b Ambrose 20

(48 min, 44 balls, 3 fours)

P J Martin c Arthurton b Ambrose 1

(18 min, 6 balls)

R K Illingworth lbw b Walsh 4

(15 min, 10 balls, 1 four)

A R C Fraser not out 2

(4 min, 4 balls)

Extras (b6 lb27 w2 nb7) 42

Total (446 min, 99.1 overs) 336

Fall (cont): 4-155 (Ramprakash) 5-240 (Thorpe) 6-290 (Cork) 7-320 (Smith) 8-329 (Gough) 9-334 (Martin) 10-336 (Illingworth).

Bowling: Ambrose 24-5-70-4 (nb4 w1) (7-0-35-0, 14-3-33-1, 3-2-2-3); Walsh 28.1-10-91-3 (nb3) (10-1-39-2, 8-5-17-0, 7-4-18-0, 3.1-0-15-1); Gibson 14-1-51-0 (4-0-22-0, 4-0-13-0, 6-1-16-0); Bishop 22-5-56-3 (nb3 w1) (15- 4-42-2, 7-1-14-1); Hooper 9-1-31-0, Adams 2-0-4-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Fourth day: 200: 238 min, 53.1 overs. Lunch: 232-4 (Smith 60, Thorpe 39) 67 overs. 250: 325 mins, 73.5 overs. 300: 395 min, 88.5 overs. Tea: 315-6 (Smith 89, Gough 9) 93 overs. New ball taken after 93.2 overs at 318-6. Innings closed: 4.33 pm.

Hick's 50: 92 min, 67 balls, 9 fours.

Smith's 50: 197 min, 125 balls, 8 fours.

WEST INDIES - Second Innings

C L Hooper c Martin b Gough 14

(23 min, 18 balls, 3 fours)

S L Campbell not out 14

(85 min, 52 balls, 2 fours)

B C Lara not out 38

(60 min, 44 balls, 7 fours)

Extras (lb2) 2

Total (for 1, 85 min, 19 overs) 68

Fall: 1-15 (Hooper).

Bowling: Fraser 7-3-23-0, Gough 6-0-27-1, Illingworth 3-1-8-0, Martin 3-0-8-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 58 mins, 13 overs.

Umpires: D R Shepherd and S Venkataraghavan.

TV Replay Umpire: A G T Whitehead.

Match Referee: J R Reid.

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