Alive and Well?

With four run-saturated days gone in Karachi I was ready to post something along the lines of it hardly being the way to attract people back to Test cricket, especially given the fact that Pakistan rarely seem to play much these days anyway.

However, I notice that there was almost an interesting finish to the game today, with Sri Lanka somehow managing to lose five wickets for 144, which just goes to prove that you can't take anything for granted.

Except, perhaps, that players of the quality of Mahela Jayawardene and Younis Khan (not forgetting the largely unsung but hugely consistent Thilan Samaraweera) will, when they find themselves on a pitch like that, invariably make big runs.

I wonder, though, if anyone was watching?


Making the Running

In the end, having made the running throughout the game, England will have been very disappointed not to have completed their first victory in Antigua since Tests there began in 1981.

However, while Sarwan, Chanderpaul and their lower-order associates deserve a lot of credit for batting out for the draw in a manner which their side would never have done a few years ago, England didn't help themselves. Not necessarily in failing to enforce the follow-on - although they would probably have won if they had - but in failing to bat with enough urgency, the mad decision to use a nightwatchman at the end of the third day, and an over-cautious declaration, which owed much to what happened in Chennai before Christmas.

Not that you'd want to criticize Strauss too harshly just yet. The signs, both from 2006 and now, are that captaincy brings out the best in his batting, and he didn't half play well on the first day in St.John's.


Sportsman with Personality

On the field, it was great to see Graeme Swann take five wickets in an innings for the first time in just his third Test.

Of course he's a fine bowler and all that, but, for me, what makes it a particular pleasure is that Swann always appears to be such an obviously good bloke.

Unlike most of his team-mates he answers interview questions in a genuinely open, interesting and often witty manner and is clearly relishing the whole experience of being involved in the international game.

Which, after years of slogging round the county circuit, is hardly a surprise.


Watching the distracted, slightly bewildered visage of Giles Clarke as he blustered his way through his media interviews in Antigua last night, one got the distinct impression that here was a man who doesn't really do self-analysis or contrition. Even when he - and the ECB - have got everything in relation to Stanford so manifestly wrong you wouldn't bet on Clarke admitting as much to himself, let alone the wider world, anytime soon.

As Johnny Rotten once said:

'Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?'


A Touch of Irony

As England set themselves up for what should develop into a huge total today, comfortably the most enjoyable part for me was watching Owais Shah. Denied a proper opportunity to display his qualities at Test level under successive coaches, Shah batted with the spiky assertiveness of someone who was keen to make up for lost time. However, someone could have done to have told him that he didn't necessarily have to try to reach his century by the close of play; if they had he might not have run himself out in such a clumsy manner and could still be there today with power to add.

That said, he's surely assured now of a place in the side for the rest of the series, and, with a bit of luck and a following sea breeze, some really big runs could follow.

Meanwhile, at the other end, his captain was playing what was probably his best attacking innings for England, and, in the manner of the usual tone of English media discourse, it only falls for me to declare that the slide to 51 all out can be safely forgotten and all in the garden is rosy once more.

In fact, bring on the Australians...


You Couldn't Make It Up

I'm still at work but I gather that over in Antigua the proverbial is hitting the fan - and will be for a long time to come. And there I was looking forward to an evening's cricket on the telly...

Someone who'll probably be even more disappointed than me is Owais Shah. Finally selected to make a return to Test cricket, and the game doesn't even go ahead.

It'll be interesting to see how this one develops, especially the suggestion (genuine or complete fantasy, who knows?) that Sir Allen Stanford may be asked for the loan of his ground.


All in All...

Unusual things have a tendency to happen at Sabina Park during England-West Indies Tests; Patrick Patterson producing some of the fastest bowling in history in 1986, the match abandoned on the first morning in 1998, Steve Harmison, at his short-lived peak (anyone remember that?) ripping through the West Indies in 2004, and now, in 2009, England dismissed for 51 by a combination of pace and spin on the Kingston killing ground and fortunate to get that.

England currently look a rudderless and unhappy side and one that, crucially, has come to depend far too much on Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. When, as happened on Saturday, Pietersen's off-stump is uprooted by a brilliant delivery when he's barely off the mark, a collapse of house-of-cards proportions, is, well, on the cards.

Absolutely nothing, however, should be taken away from the West Indies, who finally seem to be recovering some consistent competitiveness under the unifying leadership of Chris Gayle and the coaching of John Dyson, and for whom Jerome Taylor produced a spell fit to compare with anything seen from any of his illustrious predecessors.

Taylor's abrupt termination of Matt Prior's innings with a fast off-cutter wasn't just a classic display of fast-bowling technique, it was an event which, just for a moment, seemed to recapture and exemplify the lost essence of Caribbean cricket: Taylor bowls, Prior's off-stump disappears towards fine leg, Taylor leaps in the air and the Kingston crowd goes wild in the type of distinctively West Indian way some people probably wondered if they'd ever see again. As more than one person has said over recent years, international cricket needs a decent West Indies side for all kinds of reasons, and Saturday was, if not quite the foundation for world domination, at least another brick in the wall.

For England the only way forward is a shuffle of the cards and a redoubling of effort before Antigua, although, with the priceless confidence they'll have derived from Kingston, the West Indies won't come any easier.

At least, at last, Bell will go. If not, Shah will be entitled to simply pack up and go home while sticking two fingers up at the whole bloody lot of them.


Third Umpire, Second Thoughts

Things have been a tad busy this week - with much of it spent travelling to and from work in the worst winter weather seen in this neck of the woods since David Gower was still flying Tiger Moths - so the first two days of the Sabina Park Test have largely passed me by. As for the IPL auction, well, it's hardly big news round my way and I was asleep when it took place, so I can't say much about that either. Lastly, when I did try to sit down and watch some of the post-tea action from Kingston last night the picture kept breaking up because there was a snowstorm going on outside.

So, what to say? Many a player (and follower) brought up in harsher times would have cracked a wry smile at the sight of Gayle and the impressive Benn bowling so well in tandem on the first day. A sign of changing times if ever there was one, as, of course, is the first use of referrals in a Test match involving England, something which seems to be causing plenty of comment. While there are clearly imperfections in the embryonic system - the lack of a time limit on the wait for a decision being the most obvious - I think it's a step in the right direction which is surely justifiable on the grounds that having more demonstrably correct decisions rather than fewer has to be good for the game, however those decisons are arrived at.

Of course, people with biased viewpoints (that is, of course, all players and most spectators) will still find plenty to complain about, whatever the outcome. I thought, as did Mike Atherton, that there was sufficient height-related doubt about Sarwan's lbw for it to be reasonably disallowed, but it came as no surprise to find that plenty of people, including the England wicket-keeper, didn't agree with that.

In the end, though, only one person's opinion counts, although, when that person is the dreaded Daryl Harper, you can't help but have second thoughts...


Never the Same

The ICC's belated but completely correct decision to finally award the 2006 Oval Test to England is one that Bill Frindall would have approved of.

The death of the 'Bearded Wonder' came as quite a shock. I'd last heard him on Test Match Special from Mohali before Christmas, and he was just one of those people who you expected to go on and on and on. Although he'd missed a few overseas tours in recent years and had given up scoring ODIs, I think I'm right in saying that nobody else has scored an England Test in this country on BBC radio since 1965, while one of the tributes I read stated that he'd scored 377 Test matches, which, when you think about it, is a hell of a lot of cricket.

Like any English cricket follower of my generation I grew up listening to TMS, and the laconic, perfectionist, occasionally waspish but hugely knowledgeable Frindall was simply part of the furniture. I never met him but have clear memories of seeing him coming in and out of many a ground - Lord's and the MCG to name but two - weighed down by what always looked like several suitcases of reference books, many of which he'd compiled himself.

It's the cliche of cliches, but it's true to say that TMS, which resumes from Kingston this week, will never quite be the same again

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