Ton-up Cook and Bopara make Windies suffer

CHESTER-LE-STREET: Essex duo Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara both made centuries as they batted England into a commanding position on the first day of the second and final Test against the West Indies.

England, at stumps on the first day here at the Riverside, were 302 for two, with left-handed opener Cook 126 not out.

Bopara was bowled shortly before the close for 108 - his third century in as many Test innings - by seamer Lionel Baker, who made the new ball cut back in to the right-hander.

The 24-year-old pair shared a second-wicket stand of 213 following the morning loss of England captain Andrew Strauss, who won a good toss.

"I like to score faster, but it's difficult on a slow pitch because you can't hit through the line of the ball," said Bopara.

West Indies coach John Dyson refused to criticise his bowlers after a lacklustre day.

"It's a very flat wicket and they batted very well," said the Australian. "I thought our bowlers stuck to their task, they just bowled a little wide and just a little short."

Bopara - dropped on the way making to 104 in Barbados in February and missed again during his 143 in England's 10-wicket first Test win at Lord's last week - was put down on 51 and 91, the latter a very tough chance.

But a day after West Indies captain Chris Gayle had made clear his preference for Twenty20 cricket, while Strauss said Test matches were still the pinnacle of the game, this was not the best advert for the five-day format.

A placid pitch meant conditions were too heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, who could score runs without taking undue risks in front of a meagre crowd of some 5,000.

Only Jerome Taylor of the West Indies quicks was able to combat occasionally the sluggish surface by making the odd delivery hurry past the outside edge on a day when the pacemen were too often off-target to build pressure.

England were 184 for one at tea.

Left-hander Cook was 82 not out and Bopara 59 not out.

Cook completed his ninth Test hundred when he drove Sulieman Benn through mid-wicket for his 11th four in 209 balls.

Bopara went into the 90s by lofting tall left-arm spinner Benn straight for the day's only six.

Next ball a fierce drive, which was technically a caught and bowled chance, clipped Benn's fingers before speeding to the boundary for four.

A one-handed single off a wide delivery from medium-pacer Lendl Simmons saw Bopara through to a 183-ball century with a six and 12 fours.

It meant he'd become only the fifth Englishman, and first since Essex great Graham Gooch against India in 1990, to score hundreds in three successive Test innings. The others were Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton and Geoffrey Boycott.

West Indies legends Everton Weekes holds the world record for most hundreds in successive Test innings with five, set in 1948 against India and England.

Australia's Jack Fingleton, South Africa's Alan Melville and India's Rahul Dravid have all managed four in a row.

After the seamers failed to break through, Gayle brought himself on and saw his off-spin rewarded by dismissing Strauss for 22 with his 10th ball when his rival skipper gloved an intended sweep to wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin.

Bopara again looked composed.

But he was given a reprieve when he glanced Baker, who'd been struggling, down the legside only for Ramdin to drop the diving catch.

Both sides were unchanged from Lord's, with England knowing that if they avoided defeat here they'd regain the Wisden Trophy they lost in the Caribbean earlier this year.