Problems galore for Eng

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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London:England and West Indies head into the first Test here at Lord's with some tricky problems still to be solved.

For the West Indies, this opening match of a four Test series will be their first since the retirement of former captain Brian Lara, Test cricket's leading run-scorer.

It also represents a chance to restore some pride after the team's lacklustre performances during the recent World Cup in the Caribbean compounded for many fans by reports of ill-disciplined player behaviour.

As a result, officials have imposed an 11.30pm local time (2230GMT) curfew on a squad now captained by Ramnaresh Sarwan.

For all that opening batsman Chris Gayle dislike the move - the fact a curfew has been imposed says much about the collapse in personal standards, although whether it will reverse a trend that ought to start and end with the players' themselves remains to be seen.

But stand-in coach David Moore, who succeeded Bennett King after his fellow Australian was axed following the World Cup, was in unapolgetic mood.

"Everyone needs to improve their work ethic in this team.

"I think there's a level we've been used to, and we are eighth in the world - so we've got to do something better to get higher in the world.

"We want to get through this tour not just by the skin of our teeth - but with some very good results - and leave the coach, whoever it may be, with something to work on."

West Indies preparations for a match that comes barely a fortnight after the end of the World Cup were not helped when two days of the scheduled three-day encounter against Somerset, their only warm-up game before the first Test, were washed out.

During the 48 overs that were possible, Runako Morton scored a century that came after a worrying top-order collapse that saw West Indies slump to 44 for four.

West Indies haven't won a Test against England, home or away, since 2000 - something that would have been regarded as unthinkable during their glory days of the 1970s and 1980s.

England's 3-0 and 4-0 successes in the Caribbean owed much to the form of fast bowler Stephen Harmison.

Durham quick Harmison, who during the course of England's 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia announced his retirement from one-day cricket and so missed the side's woeful World Cup campaign, has been in fine form at the start of the county season.

England though still have problems of their own.

All-rounder Andrew Flintoff has suffered a recurrence of his ankle injury and is doubtful for Thursday's match where West Indies will look to Gayle, Sarwan and the experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul to bolster the batting.

Meanwhile Michael Vaughan will be at Lord's for new coach Peter Moores's first game in charge since replacing Duncan Fletcher even though the captain, who hasn't played a Test for 18 months, is injured once again.

Vaughan, who had a poor World Cup with the bat, sustained a broken finger sustained while batting for Yorkshire against Hampshire's Australia quick Stuart Clark.

One consolation for Vaughan is that this injury does not appear to be as serious as the knee and hamstring problems that sidelined him for so long and he hopes to be fit for the second Test at his Headingley home ground starting on May 25.

England have appointed Andrew Strauss, who led the side during their last home season but handed over the reins to Flintoff in Australia, as stand-in captain following the all-rounder's infamous pedalo escapade in the Caribbean although the selectors have said the decision was purely a cricketing one.

Vaughan, unhappy at being denied a role advising Flintoff in Australia, insisted there was no ulterior motive for his presence at Lord's and that all he wanted to do was assist Strauss.

"If I can help him to settle, to talk to the young players or the bowlers or whatever, it will be a great help to him," Vaughan told The Times.

Test debutant Matt Prior, who played under Moores at Sussex where the England coach was previously the southern county's wicket-keeper, becomes the latest gloveman to try to fill the gap left by Alec Stewart's retirement four years ago.

It may be unfair, but there will be those looking at Prior's performance as much as for what it says about Moores's judgment as it does the player himself.


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