Tourists in the limelight

West Indies 366 v Essex 4-0
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AS TEST match dress rehearsals go, this was a day for the West Indian understudies and bit players. The stars were not so much put in the shade as stayed in the shade, while the few who ventured centre-stage soon returned to the wings.

For the big crowd that began filling the County Ground long before the start of play, any disappointment that the West Indians rested key men should have been tempered both by the flow of runs and the way the Essex bowlers struck back in the afternoon. Mark Ilott and Darren Cousins, the Essex opening attack, had little to relish after the West Indians took first use of ideal batting conditions.

Conceding 56 runs off only nine overs certainly won't have furthered Ilott's England prospects. But Peter Such's offspin and Ronnie Irani's accurate seam bowling brought the early blaze of runs under control.

With Stuart Williams and Phil Simmons threatening mayhem as they took 18 runs from the opening two overs, a repeat of the midweek run feast at Southampton looked on the cards. Attempting to put 50 on the board as the first half-hour ebbed away, though, Williams was caught behind hooking at Ilott down the leg side. He had struck five cracking boundaries which Simmons matched virtually stroke for stroke.

Keith Arthurton, his Test place in doubt, played some delightful strokes, particularly his off- driving, without ever looking his best. A delicate late cut off Such emphasised his artistry, but the off-spinner had his revenge immediately after lunch when Arthurton, a run short of his 50, was caught behind cutting. This began a good little spell for Essex. The admirable Irani had Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw after a slow start and Such's flight induced a seventh-ball catch by Carl Hooper to mid-on.

Simmons, however, proceeded untroubled towards his century. He had passed 50 by pulling Ilott high out of the ground for six, and when he reached three figures off 141 balls he had also hit 15 fours. His century will have had little meaning in the context of the West Indians' preparations for the Oval, but it was good for the crowd. So, too, was the jolly stand of 71 between Ottis Gibson and Courtney Browne.

Curtly Ambrose limbered up for today's efforts with the ball by contributing an accomplished cameo with the bat, and Rajindra Bhanraj's two sixes at the end rounded off the entertainment spectacularly.