Pack of two show fast bowling art not lost

From Tony Cozier
in Antigua

The embodiment of the fearsome fast bowling on which the reputation of West Indies cricket is largely founded has been all around the Antigua Recreation Ground over the first two days of the shifted Test.

On the outfield during the lunch break, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding were officially inducted into the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame.

The still massively imposing figures of Ian Bishop and Colin Croft dominated the respective commentary boxes. Curtly Ambrose, still as tall, upright and pencil-slim as he was when he and Courtney Walsh swept aside the game’s finest batsmen, strolled around the ground he called home.

On the field, two of their present-day successors, unfairly carrying the long, unfulfilled burden of expectation, showed that reports of the disappearance of Caribbean pace have been somewhat exaggerated.

Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor do not fit the stereotype of West Indies fast bowlers. The former is just six feet tall, the latter two inches shorter.

They lack the physiques of heavyweight champions that added a further intimidatory factor to Roberts, Bishop, Croft and company. And they are only two of them, not the packs of four as there used to be.

Their statistics are unflattering. Each averages in the mid-30s runs per wicket.

Yet they have become stronger and fitter over the past couple of years under the tough conditioning regime of a succession of Australian trainers.

Taylor’s potential was obvious in his demolition of England at Sabina Park. Edwards has become the spearhead of the attack, passing 100 Test wickets (a landmark already passed by his elder half-brother, Pedro Collins) with his personal best seven for 87 against New Zealand in Napier in December.

After a difficult opening day, during which their captain, Chris Gayle, was not inclined to subject them to overwork on a typically lifeless ARG pitch, they each produced a spell that drew appreciative nods from their famed compatriots beyond the boundary.

Edwards operated throughout the first hour, never flagging through six hostile overs, consistently generating speeds of 90 miles an hour and above, he unsettled England’s premier batsman, Kevin Pietersen, and the dogged Paul Collingwood.

Lifters were fended off bodies, hooks were mistimed, deliveries flashed past probing bats. His length, neither too full nor too short, set problems for the front-foot inclined Pietersen.

Collingwood stabbed his first ball just over gully and spent an anxious half-hour settling into customary groove.

Yet, when the first drinks break ended Edwards’ exertions, the only reward he had was that of the night watchman Jimmy Anderson’ s wicket to add to Andrew Straus the previous evening. He deserved more.

Ironically, his one chance of success was a stiff return catch from a rare full toss that surprised Pietersen.

By then, Taylor was patrolling the outfield, awaiting treatment during lunch on a niggle in his side.

When Gayle summoned him again, to operate from the Factory Road end, Pietersen and Collingwood were well established in a partnership of 95 and, at 406 for four with Andrew Flintoff in next, England were headed for an overwhelming total.

Even as Taylor sprinted in for his first ball, it was evident that the rhythm of Sabina Park, clearly missing on the opening day, was back.

It was just under 90 miles an hour and trapped Pietersen in no-man’s land, skidding through to rake the inside edge on its way into the stumps. Pietersen’s 51 was an untypical struggle yet his removal, as always, was significant.

Andrew Flintoff arrived to the type reception from the thousands of England fans in the stands that Russell Crowe received from the Romans on his entry to the coliseum in The Gladiator.

Two balls later, he was making the return journey, undone by another low, spot-on delivery that he might have kept out had he been further forward.

In the course of three balls, Taylor had changed the course of the innings, not with anything like the impact of Sabina but with a boost to sagging West Indian morale all the same.

His five overs brought the two wickets for two runs, At Sabina, a similar burst yielded five for 11. But that doesn’t happen every day, certainly not at the ARG.

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