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Rain robbed us of victory we deserved

By Michael Atherton

22 March 1998

LIKE an unwelcome mother-in-law, the rain arrived unannounced in Barbados to ruin a potentially entralling end to the Fifth Test. All three results were, of course, possible.

I always felt that the least likely was a West Indian victory. Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace had set off like a train on the fourth evening but, as we saw on the brief Monday resumption, it could never have lasted.

As the ball got older and the bounce lower, along with Phil Tufnell's guileful bowling, the West Indian thoughts would soon have turned to survival.

The pitch, though, was still relatively flat and we would have had to work hard for our wickets. I really wanted two on the Sunday night and had the third umpire given the correct decision we would certainly have had one.

Things in our favour would have been the increasingly low bounce, the dryness of the pitch, allowing the ball to reverse swing, and general wear and tear for Tufnell to exploit.

Moreover, the team were on a high. We all sensed a repeat of four years before when we won in Barbados because we knew we had outplayed the West Indies over the four days. Also, we felt that the pressure of seeing a potential series-winning lead slipping away would take its toll on them.

As a captain you can be blamed for many things but the weather isn't one of them, and the vagaries of the climate are not worth worrying about.

Occasionally, if you have plenty of time to play with, you might sound out the long-range weather forecast to determine the best time to declare but in Barbados we did not have that luxury, and nor did it cross anyone's mind that it might rain. The island had not seen a drop for three months and when it does rain in Bridgetown it is normally short and sharp. What did we get? Manchester-style drizzle. It was so disappointing. Victory was no less than we deserved.

The general standard of the team's performance was of the highest calibre. Before the recovery initiated by Jack Russell, Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash we were obviously very wobbly at 53 for four.

The decision at the toss is always a tricky one in Barbados. The early bounce means that, especially against the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, you have to bat well. Certainly, though, after the first session it is a batsman's wicket for two days and we were happy to bat first.

Russell scored only 32 but I thought his counter-attacking effort after lunch swung the momentum, and probably the match, away from the West Indies. His position has been the subject of much debate. It seems to me, however, that the focus of the arguments has been all wrong.

The question would have been whether or not to replace Russell with Alec Stewart to accommodate an extra bowler. Taking 20 wickets in a match has not been our problem; we have looked like bowling the West Indies out in every Test so far.

To have dropped Russell would have weakened the batting as Stewart would have been burdened with the extra responsibility of the wicketkeeper's gloves and we would have lost a valuable number seven bat.

I have always said that if we could manage to get 350-400 in our first innings we would have a better-than-even chance of success and initially our best way to go about achieving that is with the Atherton-Stewart opening partnership.

In Barbados we did just that and by making 403 in our first innings we got ourselves into an extremely strong position. Thorpe has long been a valuable and consistent run getter for England and so I suppose Ramprakash was the revelation in the Barbados Test.

He looks composed at the crease, mixing solidity with a willingness to seize every opportunity to score. He has had more than his fair share of disappointments at this level and everyone enjoyed his moment of success. There will be, I assume, more to come.

Even though Tufnell's haul of wickets has been lower than he would have wished, he has played his full part in keeping the pressure on the batsmen. A tight spell of bowling from him and Angus Fraser normally precedes a hatful of wickets - much in the same way that we found ourselves squeezed by Glen McGrath and Shane Warne last summer.

Whatever happens here in Antigua I have been delighted with the attitude of the team and by the general level of performance throughout. It has been especially pleasing when somebody of Viv Richards's stature comments that England are now a team who don't know when they are beaten. Respect like that is hard-earned.

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Date-stamped : 22 Mar1998 - 15:27