Stewart strains to sustain England

TEXACO TROPHY: West Indies' bowling attack demonstrates a remarkable return to form CRICKETEngland 199-9West Indies 76-1
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The Independent Online
The 999th one-day international (a triumph for gluttony if ever there was one) has now become one of those deeply unsatisfying two-day one-day internationals, and unless something dramatic takes place today, it will vacate the memory even more speedily than most of the previous 998.

As far as England are concerned, 999 is also a relevant number in terms of the emergency they find themselves in this morning, and although it comes as a mild surprise to discover that 199 is a total that has won more matches than it has lost, it will be an even bigger surprise if England increase this ratio today.

There is enough in the pitch to leave them not entirely without hope, but from 76 for 1 from 19.5 overs, one suspects it would require one of the West Indies' occasional lapses into the St Trinians' school of discipline rather than anything England's bowlers might be capable of.

England, whose insertion yesterday was probably made on the back of a dodgy weather forecast, rather matched the overhead conditions with their batting. As the sky became progressively greyer, so did their innings, and while Alec Stewart struck 11 fours in his 74, it was not until the 44th over that Mark Ramprakash became the only batsman other than Stewart to record a boundary.

It was, therefore, scarcely surprising that England's total was compiled in front of what might have been, for all the noise they made, an audience of cardboard cut-outs. There was not even much vocal encouragement when England hit a boundary, given that it merely allowed spectators to indulge in the current one-day fad of waving yellow cards containing the number "4!". This was, however, such a rare event, that spectators would have had more exercise from bits of paper with "leg bye!" scrawled across them.

The West Indian pace bowlers might have made an indifferent start to the tour, but their arrival in Robin Hood country coincided with a much improved accuracy, and England (Stewart and Ramprakash excepted) found them uncommonly difficult to get away. There was not even the customary assistance to be had from Extras, and with the West Indies bowling only one no-ball and five wides, England had only 56 overs to bat instead of their usual 58 or 59 against this opposition.

Even more surprising was the fact that 18 of the official allocation of 55 overs were shared by Carl Hooper and Keith Arthurton, and on slow pitches such as this, spinners are often harder to get away than the quicker bowlers.

Curtly Ambrose looked as though he is still a touch short of the bowler England are hoping not to be reminded he can be, but Courtney Walsh looks in ominously good rhythm, and the biggest bonus of all for the tourists is that Ian Bishop might yet provide them with the extra cutting edge that has been missing from their attack since his long absences with back trouble.

Bishop has also learned to swing the ball, as Neil Fairbrother discovered when he almost fell over trying to adjust his feet to a delivery that moved several inches to knock back the left handers' leg stump, and when Stewart was deceived in the flight and bowled (off pad and boot) by Hooper, England were in serious trouble at 125 for 5 from 38 overs.

Ramprakash did his best to take England to the 230 or so that would have represented par for the conditions, but was eventually out in curious circumstances when Walsh bowled him with a full toss that went from his box on to the off stump. Ramprakash then went through the odd ritual of running a single, and, having arrived at the other end, was then informed by the umpire that he might as well carry on running to the pavilion. If Ramprakash had been anticipating a call of no-ball for an above waist high full toss, it was not a good idea for him to be seen rubbing away at his nether regions while taking the run.

Phillip DeFreitas, whose record as an all-rounder did not quite appear to warrant promotion to No 7, was run out in a cock-up with Ramprakash, and any hopes of a few late pyrotechnics from Darren Gough were cut short by a brilliant swivel and direct hit from Hooper.

Hooper and Sherwin Campbell then got the tourists off to a fine start with 66 runs in 17 overs for the first wicket, and although Hooper was out for a familiarly disappointing 30 odd, it was an unplayable delivery from Dominic Cork that got him, a fast leg break - at twice the pace of Shane Warne - that pitched middle and hit off.

By and large, though, England's bowlers were a good deal less threatening than the weather, and although a terminal looking sky twice cleared during the day, bad light and drizzle finally guaranteed a return trip today. Not many of yesterday's spectators will be able return today, and a ripping up of tickets is also on the cards for all those clutching betting slips on England.