/ 27 February 2009

Strauss gives England perfect platform

An opening stand of 229, featuring a century from captain Andrew Strauss, lifted England to a commanding 301 for three on the first day of the fourth Test against the West Indies in Barbados on Thursday.

Strauss made an excellent 142 after winning the toss and was well assisted by Alastair Cook, who struck 94, in a record England first-wicket partnership against the West Indies.

The hosts will have gained some encouragement, however, from their performance in the final session when they removed both openers and Owais Shah to peg back England’s run rate.

But Chris Gayle’s side will be rueing Jerome Taylor’s drop of Kevin Pietersen off Fidel Edwards just before stumps, one of three spilled catches during the day.

Pietersen was unbeaten on 32 at the close with Paul Collingwood on 11 and in the absence of the injured Andrew Flintoff they now shoulder the main responsibility for ensuring the tourists go on to make a big first-innings total.

Strauss, who made 169 in the last test in Antigua, is clearly coping well with the added responsibility of captaincy and he led from the front with fine stroke-play on a fast track.

The England skipper brought up his fifty from only 71 balls but then suffered two scares, first edging spinner Sulieman Benn between the keeper and Devon Smith at slip and then being dropped by Gayle.

The England captain, on 58, flashed at Fidel Edwards outside off stump and Gayle should have snapped up a straightforward catch.

Normally reserved
Such was England’s confidence that the normally reserved Cook smashed Benn over midwicket for six, only the second six of his Test career.

Gayle was then forced to watch Strauss confidently progress through the afternoon session, bringing up his century in supreme style with a crashing six over wide midwicket.

The partnership beat the previous English best against West Indies of 212 between Reg Simpson and Cyril Washbrook in 1950.

Cook, perhaps overly conscious that he had not made a Test century since December 2007, looked nervous in the eighties, edging one between slip and the keeper and he looked dejected at his departure six short of a century.

Attempting to pull a delivery from Taylor, the left-hander got under the ball and skied it to the diving Ryan Hinds at midwicket. Cook has now made 11 fifties since his last century.

England then lost momentum and Shah never looked settled as he made just seven in 47 balls before being caught by Smith at slip off Benn.

Pietersen and Collingwood were slow to get going as West Indies tightened up and the hosts could have gained a real boost when Pietersen skied a hook off Edwards but Taylor was unable to hold on to the chance running in from long leg. — Reuters