Windies must overcome first-day flops by Tony Cozier in MANCHESTER
Stabroek News
August 12, 2004

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Brian Lara yesterday identified their frequent first-day flops as a problem the West Indies must overcome to prevent their continued domination by England in the third Test that starts at Old Trafford this morning.

"The first day at Derby (in last weekend's match against Derbyshire) was not ideal and the first day at Lord's (in the first Test) and the first day at Edgbaston (in the second) as well," Lara said.

It was, he noted, "pretty straightforward" what his players needed to understand.

"It is that the first session of the first day is very, very important," he said. "We have to start in front, to show the way and defend that position."

"We don't want to be coming from behind the eight-ball each and every time," he added. "That is going to be our main focus at our team meeting and hopefully we're going to see that come to fruition tomorrow."

The statistics bear out Lara's point as he and his team battle to avoid the dreaded whitewash against the same opponents that only his reclaimed record, unbeaten 400 prevented in the final Test in Antigua last April.

England, sent in, were 91 for one at lunch at Lord's on their way to a close of play 391 for two.

They were 105 for one at lunch at Edgbaston, 313 for five at close, eventually 566 for nine declared.

Against Derbyshire, the weakest team in the county championship, the West Indies tossed wickets away with reckless abandon to be all out for 223 on the first day when Derbyshire were 102 for two in reply.

In the two previous Tests, the slackness has been immediate.

At Lord's, there were two missed catches before lunch, the second by Chris Gayle at second slip from Robert Key off Fidel Edwards when he was 16. He went on to amass 221.

Gayle, at mid-on, misfielded the third ball at Edgbaston, the fifth was a no-ball from Pedro Collins and the next was a straight-driven boundary by Andrew Strauss.

It is a pattern that has been repeated over and over in the past year.

The likeliest way for the West Indies to come out of the blocks running is to bat first and depend on their batting, demonstrably their strongest suit.

The last time they made the most of first use of an excellent pitch was in the final Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground last April.

They ended a rain-shortened first day at 208 for two, Lara occupied the next day and a half on his way to his new record and declared at 751 for five.

That is what he meant yesterday when he said his team's plan was "to try to set the pace".

"Any good Test playing country has got to take the lead and stay in front," he stated. "That's going to be our challenge in this Test."

If error-prone umpires allow him, Lara himself is perfectly capable of setting the pace on a ground where he scored hundreds in each of his previous two Tests, in 1995 and 2000.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has already had an unbeaten hundred and nearly another at Lord's, Ramnaresh Sarwan a hundred at Edgbaston.

Chris Gayle has mastered English conditions and bowling that his technique never seemed likely to and the addition of Sylvester Joseph for his Test debut would add a form batsman who has finally matured into the player he always seemed likely to be.

It is the bowling and the fielding that have been the West Indies weak areas.

One is clearly tied to the other and, while it was grating to hear television commentators state that the West Indies could learn from the standards set in the field by England and New Zealand during a women's one-day international last week, it was not short of the mark.

Nothing reveals the mood of a team more conspicuously than its work in the field and the West Indies have been simply abysmal all series.

Their lethargic fielding sessions have long since drawn critical comments from those who remember the brilliance of former West Indies teams.

They haven't improved. There was certainly nothing in yesterday's workout on the outfield to prompt optimism that there will be a sudden change.

So it really is up to the batsmen to post a large enough first innings total that would at least offer their limited bowling and weak fielding some latitude.

A sore and stiff right knee, aggravated by long sessions behind the stumps and running and bending to take the proliferation of wayward returns from the outfield, has ruled Ridley Jacobs out of the Test.

The 36-year-old stalwart has played in all but three Tests since making his belated entry into the team almost six years ago.

He is finally and inevitably showing his age in a difficult position and his omission from the Champions Trophy team is a hint that his career is at an end.

Carlton Baugh, the little 22-year-old Jamaican takes his place. It is his chance to rebuff selectors who have preferred Courtney Browne for Jacobs' job in the Champions' Trophy.

Jermaine Lawson is another casualty, sidelined by a strained side muscle.

The big Jamaican fast bowler's 16 consecutive overs on the fourth morning of the second Test was an impressive performance of stamina and commitment but it took its toll.

The return to form of Fidel Edwards, who took five wickets in each innings against Derbyshire, makes him the ideal replacement.

England enjoy a considerable all-round advantage, psychological as much as actual.

They have, after all, won five of the last six Tests between the teams and every one of their eleven players has made a significant contribution.

They will be strongly supported by sell-out crowds over the first three days.

They are attracted as much by England's success as the exciting emergence of the Lancashire all-rounder Andy Flintoff, who returns to his home ground for only the third match for the season.

But everyone is aware of what Lara can do when as challenged as he is at the moment.

Teams:West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Sylvester Joseph, Dwayne Bravo, Carlton Baugh, Dave Mohammed, Pedro Collins, Corey Collymore, Fidel Edwards.

England: Michael Vaughan (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Robert Key, Graham Thorpe, Andy Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Mathew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, James Anderson or Simon Jones.