Thorpe's power puts England in control

FOURTH TEST: Wayward West Indian bowling and fielding facilitates impressive England progress to sizeable first-innings lead
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reports from Old Trafford West Indies 216; England 347-7

England have grafted and chiselled their way back into business after the trauma of Edgbaston, which is no less laudable for the fact that - appropriately enough for a team sponsored by a Caribbean beach resort - the West Indies have thus far responded by easing the recliner back a few notches and ordering another rum punch.

The indiscipline in the tourists' batting on Thursday was yesterday followed by a lethargy which resulted in an abysmal over-rate, 34 no balls (the crowd burst into ironic applause when extras hit 50), a fielding display less animated than a Buckingham Palace guardsman, and the familiar tactic of bowling at an imaginary seven-foot batsman rather than the stumps.

This produced plenty of agitated hopping around, not least from Dickie Bird, who gave Courtney Walsh an official warning under the unfair play law, citing bowling "intended, or likely to cause physical injury". No one actually got injured, although Robin Smith, hit on the elbow by Ian Bishop, came pretty close.

Smith's innings of 44 took him two and a half hours, bringing his total batting time in the series to 17 hours, although it was Graham Thorpe's high-class 94 which did most to take England to the highest total of the series by either side, and a commanding first-innings lead of 131 with three wickets still remaining.

Thorpe, a ferocious cutter and puller, is happier with life on the back foot than most England batsmen, and went from 72 to 88 with four consecutive boundaries off Kenneth Benjamin. Unhappily, though, Thorpe was unable to go on to the first century of the series, and disappeared in his own personal Bermuda Triangle between 50 and 100.

The Surrey left-hander has now passed 50 14 times in Test matches, and only converted that to three figures twice. It is an identical record to Graeme Hick, who has, of course, had significantly more opportunities. Thorpe finally perished thick-edging a widish ball from Bishop, and although he started to walk, it required umpire Bird's finger - and some interesting dialogue from Bishop - to remove him.

Dickie was in his usual form yesterday, flapping around like a bird with a broken wing vainly attempting to take off. He almost got airborne when he warned Walsh, although it was a rare and much needed example of an umpire overriding the bouncer allocation which has led to most officials forgetting the existence of their blanket powers when the bowling is clearly intended to intimidate.

Michael Atherton had earlier been hit under the heart (in his case, a pretty big target) by Walsh, and had also been badly dropped by Brian Lara at first slip off Bishop when 26. The England captain had gone on to an invaluable three-hour 47 when he got a faint glove to the wicketkeeper off Curtly Ambrose, but England's other batsmen sold themselves just as dearly.

Smith lived pretty dangerously all through his innings, and did not exactly look like a man who professes to enjoy cricket balls fizzing towards his helmet. Smith often makes the bowling look more dangerous than it is by his theatrical method of taking avoiding action, but it works in that he has never been badly hit. The only sore head he has suffered against the West Indies, in fact, was in Barbados, when a team-mate was helping him practise his sway in front of the pavilion, and one ball bounced back off the wall and clonked him on the back of the head.

Benjamin was lucky not to join Walsh in the notebook for three short- pitched fizzers in succession to Smith, and with little chance to score runs off the front foot, Smith's increasing willingness to take on the short stuff finally proved his downfall when his chest high glide off Ambrose was athletically pouched at second slip.

The fielder was Stuart Williams, substituting for Carl Hooper, who cracked a finger batting on the opening day, and has been off the field for so long that he will be unable to bat above No 7 in the second innings. On the evidence of the first innings, that's a couple of places too high.

While Smith and Thorpe were adding 104 for the fourth wicket, the West Indies' discipline deserted them. The no-ball count began to go through the roof, neither did Ambrose continually losing his run-up do a great deal for the over-rate. Bishop concluded one over by hoofing the ball back towards the wicketkeeper-longstop Junior Murray (who, unusually for him, managed to stop it) and the crowd, not for the first time, booed and whistled.

The West Indian attack, in fairness, did not have one of its luckier days, and the final two wickets of the day were gifts rather than extractions. Craig White played a horrible shot to be caught behind off Benjamin, and Jack Russell made a crucial 35 before being run out after consultation with the TV replay. Russell's batting style has altered - albeit only from the totally cranky to aesthetically unstylish - but his 35 runs is a higher figure than Alec Stewart's Test average as a wicketkeeper.

With Mike Watkinson (who took 19 balls to make his first Test run) and Dominic Cork still there, and John Emburey to come, England will be hoping to bat for at least another hour this morning. And if the West Indies bat the same way they did on Thursday, another Saturday finish cannot entirely be ruled out.