The Electronic Telegraph carries daily news and opinion from the UK and around the world.

The day I knew I could thrive in West Indies

By Michael Atherton

25 January 1998

ON Thursday, I will return to the scene of my third Test match as England's captain, and my first overseas. Four years ago, this corresponding fixture saw a youthful England side, shorn of many of the stalwarts of the 1980s, take on a West Indies team still regarded as the undisputed world champions. It would be fair to say we travelled then more in hope than expectation. This time around those feelings are reversed.

In many ways the last tour here was an emotional roller-coaster: the embarrassment of Trinidad contrasted starkly with the victory at Bridgetown. But it was in steamy Kingston on a Sabina Park pitch as slick and shiny as an ice rink that the nature of cricket in the West Indies was rammed home to my young side.

With a large first innings lead behind him, Courtney Walsh steamed in, down the hill, and bowled what is still the quickest spell I have ever faced. Urged on by vociferous Jamaicans, in an area called 'the Mound' and encouraged especially by Jimmy Adams, perched expectantly at short leg, Walsh bowled 14 overs off the reel. Each over after the eighth he feigned to take his cap and sweater and I felt each over would be his last. This had the effect, however, of whipping up 'the Mound' (already high on a combination of Red Stripe and Adams' earlier strokeplay) into an even more frenzied state, and the combination pushed Walsh into a superhuman effort of nigh-on two hours of sustained hostility. It was, in turn, raw, brutal and exhilarating. It was cricket in the Caribbean.

They saw that the West Indies have a definite policy of targeting the opposition captain. A 25-year-old in his third match in charge with a previously poor record against them must be an inviting target, but whether Walsh's bowling that day was inspired by that tactic or the match situation, it is difficult to say. However that two-hour innings of 28, although statistically unimportant and made in a losing cause, was one of the most important in my career. For it had told me that I had enjoyed the experience and that I had it in me to do well out here. It was, in short, a huge boost of confidence, which was followed immediately by victory in Guyana. Walsh, of course, along with his sparring partner, Curtly Ambrose, are still the focal point of the West Indies attack, and I look forward to more 'fun in the sun' this time around.

Despite relinquishing the captaincy, Walsh remains one of the finest quick bowlers of his generation and is second only to Malcolm Marshall in the West Indies list of wicket-takers. He is an opponent I respect enormously and he impressed me greatly with his ability to retain his dignity after the captaincy issue had been resolved in Brian Lara's favour. In continuing to play, he looked beyond his own personal situation, and urged the people of Jamaica to get behind the new captain and thereby followed the captains before him, like Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd, who overrode island parochialism and insularity.

Facing the likes of Walsh makes relishing the challenge critical to performing well out here. The conveyor belt of quickies may not be rolling as smoothly as it was, and the quality may have dimmed since the golden years of the Lloyd era, but the essential nature of cricket out here remains the same. The West Indies team picked last week, for instance, finds no place for spin and includes six fast blowers. One of those, Nixon McLean, is playing against us at Chedwin Park for the West Indies A side and looks distinctly promising.

In this match, Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe showed what batsmanship is all about: courage and technique to douse their early fire and then graft and concentration to make it count later on, as their lack of variety takes its toll. Our batsmen out here all realise that the success of the tour probably rests with them, and consistent first innings scores of 350-400 would give us a big chance of success.

Our itinerary has given us only two matches before the first Test. The selectors, therefore, had to be decisive early on and make some extremely difficult decisions. It has meant that four of our party have so far played no competitive cricket, which is hugely disappointing for them, given the months of hard work and preparation. Those selected, however, have performed well so far, starting with a win at Jarrett Park in Montego Bay when conditions were far from ideal.

Given the fact that we have played virtually the same side for our two matches, it should be clear that we have shown our hand, although Angus Fraser told me recently that I keep my cards so close to my chest that I can't see them myself! Importantly also, the team has a clear direction of its game-plan and the continuous rain in Antigua at least gave us a chance to spell out the roles of batsmen and bowlers with special regard to running between the wickets (we scored five times the number of singles of our Jamaican opponents) and support for the lower order.

The mood of the team, then, is one of calm confidence, only slightly marred by Adam Hollioake's injury. We realise the size of the task ahead, but view England's tour record over here in the last three decades as a challenge rather than being intimidated by it. Team spirit, so essential to help a team through the inevitable difficult patches, is good as can be seen through the formation of a victory celebration committee (Hollioake, Butcher). Let us hope Messrs Butcher and Hollioake are busy come the end of the crucial first Test.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at
Contributed by CricInfo Management
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:29