Tourists roll over England

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AFTER one of England's most humiliating defeats - the West Indies took just 80 minutes yesterday to complete a victory by an innings and 64 runs - much of the blame was laid at the feet or, more accurately, the heavy roller of the Edgbaston groundsman, Steve Rouse. However, Rouse claimed that the pitch was prepared "to order" after he and Ray Illingworth, chairman of selectors, spoke 10 days before the match.

The home team's humiliation, completed some 40 minutes before lunch on the third day, was not appreciated by the capacity crowd of 20,000, who booed the groundsman when he went to receive his commemorative medal from the sponsors at the end of the match.

This was not the only expression of anger, as a crowd gathered outside the England dressing-room, too. Afterwards, the England captain Michael Atherton was quick to apologise. "I do feel sorry for people who bought tickets today and for Monday and I understand their anger."

He was not best pleased himself. "I have a bit of anger over the conditions," he said, to the background noise of abuse from the crowd outside. "The pitch was totally unsuited to our attack, which relies far more on pitching the ball up than banging it over six and a half feet high. Ideally, a pitch should last five days, but when you play at home, you should be able to load it in your favour.

"As far as I'm aware, we asked for a pitch with even bounce and some turn towards the end of the game. Unless my eyes were deceiving me, I haven't seen either here. In fact you just didn't know whether the ball was going to bounce around your chin or around your waist."

It has been a rollercoaster season for Atherton, and yesterday's experience left him looking worn. He departed the press conference with five minders, much to the amusement of Illingworth, who cheerily piped up that he'd only had "some girl" to chaperone him through the throng.

He was less outspoken than his captain, conceding disappointment at the loss, without blaming Rouse. "The pitch was unsatisfactory, but I believe it is all the fault of Surrey loam. It's too heavy and the grass doesn't grow properly." As outbreaks of litotes go, this was on a par with British Rail blaming leaves on the track.

The England camp have a point, but they are overplaying their hand. The pitch may have suited the opposition more, but traditional frailties against fast bowling have yet again come back to haunt them. Only Robin Smith showed he had the stomach for the fight and despite some unfortunate injuries to key batsmen, England were hopelessly outplayed from the first over of the game.

Injuries apart, England claim they will not be panicked into changes for Old Trafford, though Lancashire's John Crawley, who last played during the Ashes tour last winter, has been in persuasive form.

The West Indies, meanwhile, are in rude health, as their manager Wes Hall pointed out. "This time last week, after losing the second Test and being humiliated by Sussex, we were surely in disgrace. But now," he beamed, "we are in Amazing Grace."

Test reports, page 3