By Tony Cozier
They stood in a minute’s silence before play at the Queen’s Park Oval yesterday and wore black armbands in memory of those killed in the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore on Wednesday.
The thoughts of the England and West Indies players were not difficult to comprehend. They personally knew most of those Sri Lankans wounded by the bullets and the rockets, such as humble superstars Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, and others whose psychological damage is likely to be long lasting.
They have played with and against them, mixed socially, shared meals with them. Many would have stayed in the same Pearl Continental Hotel, travelled in a similar, perhaps even the same, bus hit by the fanatics and circled the same roundabout on the way to the Gaddafi Stadium. But for the grace of God, they might well have been the ones under fire.
The sombre mood permeated the day. The armbands were also appropriate for what followed as it drove another nail into the coffin that many fear, not without reason, is closing on Test cricket.
England’s captain Andrew Strauss won the toss, batted first for the fifth successive time and calmly gathered his third hundred in the series. Paul Collingwood followed his lead and returns today with the same goal in mind.
The score never advanced at more than three runs an over and the ball rarely beat the bat. There were long, frustrating stoppages for the allotted refreshment breaks, for on-field attention to Owais Shah before the crippling cramp in his right hand forced him to retire and for the ages it took to switch the sightscreen from sponsors’ red to necessary white.
Even before a ball was bowled, the West Indies indicated by their selection their intention to disregard the purpose of any sporting contest, to win. They omitted their main spinner, Sulieman Benn, and included a batsman, Lendl Simmons, for his debut Test instead.
The extent of their ambitions, it was clear, was the draw that would secure the series 1-0 and regain the Wisden Trophy, in England’s keeping for nine years now.
Appropriate to the earlier ceremony, the pitch was as slow as a funeral procession. Fidel Edwards, the firebrand of lifeless Kensington last week, quickly sussed it out, dropped his pace from over 90 miles an hour to low 80s and shrugged his shoulders and allowed himself a wry smile at his continuing misfortune.
Only in his final spell in late afternoon could this wholehearted cricketer bring himself to fight against the conditions provided.
The late withdrawal of Jerome Taylor was a significant setback but the signs that the match-winner in the first Test was below full fitness were evident since the Antigua match. His returns following his five for 12 in Kingston were three for 229 and he bowled only three overs on the last day in Barbados.
There was ample time to bring in fast bowlers as cover from the regional first-class tournament – Ravi Rampaul had 11 wickets and Gavin Tonge nine in their last matches – but the West Indies were left to persevere with Daren Powell. He made an early breakthrough but, once more, he leaked runs at over four and a half runs an over.
Lionel Baker and Brendan Nash maintained the control that eluded Powell (Nash even had an lbw against Kevin Pietersen upheld by Russell Tiffin until, on referral, the television replay showed the ball pitched outside leg-stump).
Ryan Hinds’ sent down 20 steady overs and defeated the dangerous Pietersen with a clever combination, one that spun past the edge followed by a straight one that sneaked through to hit middle stump).
Benn’s was a baffling omission, just as it was last season against Sri Lanka. He was the one practising spinner in the eleven, ironically an important ally of Taylor in the first Test win with his eight wickets.
Like everyone else, he found no favour from the surfaces in Antigua and Barbados but there is likely to be more at Queen’s Park as the match moves forward. England certainly thought so with the recall of Monty Panesar to pair with Graeme Swann.