Cook makes hay as Windies play it safe
Posted in England in West Indies 2009
They say the bookies rarely get it wrong, and so it proved in Barbados as the fourth Test petered out into a predictable draw.
You could have found very favourable odds on a West Indies win ahead of the final day’s play at the Kensington Oval, while the chances of an England victory were reflected in ludicrous figures on the betting exchanges.
For those of us with some hold on reality, a stalemate was the only feasible result when West Indies took the field needing to claim 10 England wickets on a pitch which had yielded just 15 over four days.
They managed two as Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen wiped out a first-innings deficit before carrying England into a position from which defeat was impossible.
Though you would have found few travelling fans willing to stake their house on a draw - they can remember only too well the 51 all out episode in Jamaica three weeks ago - the fact that the stands were significantly sparser than on the previous four days reflects the fact that interest in this contest had waned.
There was to be no repeat of Sabina Park: no shocking collapse, no fragile England batting, and no match-winning display from Jerome Taylor or any of his bowling colleagues.
It may have served to maintain England’s hopes of drawing the series - to do so, they must win the final Test in Trinidad - but it hardly made for thrilling viewing.
Indeed, as well as Cook played in making a Test-best 139 not out - he was more fluent than at any time in the series - and as much enjoyment as Pietersen provided in his 72 not out, the lack of intensity to much of the day’s play stood out like an Englishman in a gospel choir.
There were exceptions. Cook and Strauss had to survive an explosive burst from the ever-impressive Fidel Edwards to start the day, while Sulieman Benn’s dismissal of Owais Shah shortly after lunch aroused West Indian victory hopes a little.
But there were few signs that the hosts believed they could win this contest, a state of mind possibly brought about by the placid nature of the pitch, or the fact they know they do not need to make the running in a series they lead.
Daren Powell, West Indies’ least impressive bowler over the last four games, was handed the new ball this morning, which suggested captain Chris Gayle was treating the fifth day’s play as a final opportunity for the seamer to convince the selectors that he warrants a place in the side for the series finale.
The body language of the West Indies players - though far from Australian at the best of times - smacked of apathy, and the embarrassing errors which have blighted their fielding throughout the series were in evidence once again.
Yet the most telling sign that Gayle’s sights were not set on victory was the failure to employ more than one slip during the early exchanges this morning, a staggeringly negative tactic from one of the most aggressive batsmen on the planet.
It all added up to a day noticeably lacking in atmosphere - a very un-Caribbean concept - with minds inevitably wandering towards Port of Spain, which will host the fifth Test starting on Friday, long before the captains mercifully agreed to call a halt to proceedings at 3.50pm local time.
Initial reports suggest the surface at the Queen’s Park Oval will offer more assistance than the M25-like track that was produced in Barbados, but after the debacle of the abandoned Antigua Test, it is probably safer to steer clear of predictions on the state of the pitch.
If you're really desperate to take a punt on how England will fare in Trinidad, I’m sure you will find a bookie out there ready to accept your money.