Flower Power Wows Headline-Happy England

Ed PearceCorrespondent IMay 8, 2009

LONDON - MAY 08:  Graeme Swann (L), Graham Onions (C) and Tim Bresnan of England walk off at the end of the West Indies second innings during day three of the 1st npower Test match between England and West Indies at Lord's on May 8, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

After all the debates about scheduling, player power and the IPL, here was a day to turn heads back to the middle at Lords, with new team director Andy Flower's bold choices stunningly vindicated against a hapless West Indies side.

Admittedly, Flower is not in charge of squad selection, but he is very definitely the new broom driving a refreshing spring clean of the England set-up that has seen a new-look side sweep to victory.

On day one, it was surprise pick Ravi Bopara who swatted the sceptics aside to all but seal the vacant number three slot with a perfectly judged century, and yesterday two more men without central contracts set England on course for victory in the First Test at Lord's.

On a day that left home headline writers spoilt for choice, first Graeme Swann then Graham Onions seized their chance to leave the tourists' hopes as cold and grey as the clouds over Lords.

Swann, brought in to replace a stagnating Monty Panesar on England's tour of the Caribbean this winter, scored a rapid 63 not out that was almost calypso in exuberance, before his two wickets in two balls ripped the heart out of the visitors' batting first time around.

Then his aural namesake Onions sliced through the lower order to finish with a sizzling 5-38, including one sequence of four wickets in seven balls. 

It could have been five almost immediately, but the Durham seamer wrapped up the innings soon enough to join Bopara on the fabled honours boards at the home of cricket.

Swann's fearlessly clean hitting at number nine had even Geoffrey Boycott cooing over some of his strokes, and both he and resuming centurion Ravi Bopara looked largely untroubled by a lacklustre West Indies attack until the latter chipped to cover for a sparkling 143.

Swann continued the assault with drives on the up and a flat pull for six to the long midwicket boundary that brought up his maiden Test fifty, and was only halted when he ran out of partners, James Anderson and Onions falling in the first over after lunch.

Who knows what the sub-editors would have cooked up had they been left to sift headlines from a post-prandial golden duck for Onions that left Swann left high and dry.

Fortunately there was more to come, although Fidel Edwards deserves credit for achieving his second-best Test analysis of 6-93, figures that would have been still better but for woeful catching after tea on the first day.

Chris Gayle certainly had not left his ferocious attacking strokes at the IPL, the West Indies captain having deigned to leave the Indian cash cow for his rudderless team as late as Sunday night.

Stuart Broad suffered most as Gayle laid into the new ball with customary vigour, but perhaps the opener's mind was not on crease occupation, for he played on shaping to scythe one that came back at him.

Out twice in one day, it was clear that Gayle had not adjusted to the early season conditions in England, and he must think as hard as he hits about whether he made the correct decision to stay in South Africa so long.

Ramnaresh Sarwan soon followed, and it was Swann's turn to shine again.  First, an arm ball looped straight through Devon Smith's flat-footed defences, then a beautifully spun off-break caught the left-handed Chanderpaul's outside edge to remove the No. 1-ranked batsman in the world at the moment.

Onions' first ball in Test cricket was as ignominious as his batting, Smith swatting it through midwicket for four, but when he returned after lunch the nerves had gone and his use of a grassy early season wicket left the tourists' lower order in tatters.

Sky Television have rightly been blamed for their part in forcing the ECB to stage the earliest home series ever, but on the second day of the First Test it was the overcast sky that helped England's bowlers to swing and seam their way through a limp West Indian batting line-up.

Perhaps the pain of two full days' refunds and thousands of empty seats will persuade Giles Clarke and company to think more carefully next time.

Gayle and Smith found themselves marching out from the pavilion for a second time in two sessions, and the captain had gone again before the close, followed by Sarwan before bad light finally dropped the curtain on a thoroughly depressing day for a team that only a month ago was celebrating series victory.

By the third morning the result was almost a formality, and the West Indies soon subsided to 77-5 after a delayed start.  Swann again took key wickets, but shared the bowling spoils evenly with Broad, Anderson and Onions this time around.

Only a defiant and increasingly assertive stand of 143 between Brendan Nash, 81, and Denesh Ramdin, 61, spared their side the ignominy of innings defeat.

Their fellow batsmen have less than a week to summon some fighting spirit, with catching practice and a guide to the lush wickets of England in May top of the agenda.   Gayle's casual demeanour as captain will again come under fire: cool in victory, he cut a thoroughly uninspiring figure on the field in defeat.

Captain Strauss in contrast was in positive mood throughout, from opening the bowling with Swann in the first innings to target Devon Smith to the clean arc of his cover drive that struck the winning runs.  

After Fletcher's bromances with Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, Strauss and Flower are rapidly gaining in presence at the head of the new England family.

Swann pipped Bopara to the man of the match award, with a worthy mention for Onions to prove England could yet find the recipe for success in the Ashes this summer.

The bad news for the West Indies is that England's fourth uncontracted selection, Tim Bresnan, is barely got a look-in here and the Yorkshire carthorse will surely be champing at the bit to make his mark up north in Durham next week.

Ed Pearce would like to thank the TMS commentary team and Tom Fordyce on bbc.co.uk/sport for their excellent coverage from Lord's, and hopes this report has added to rather than merely fed off their efforts.


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