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Bowlers Dash England's Hope Of Victory

The Nation

March 26 1998

AFTER two months of extraordinary, enthralling cricket, the bottom line is emphatic enough.

The West Indies, who started the Cable & Wireless series under the cloud of a 3-0 trouncing in Pakistan and the direction of a new, unsettled captain, retained the Wisden Trophy they have held since 1973 by the resounding margin of 3-1.

England, genuinely optimistic that their time had finally come to end the prolonged imbalance, disperse from Antigua for the five One-Day Internationals with their dreams so shattered that their longest-serving captain felt compelled to resign with his given assignment still incomplete.


In spite of the overall result (and the margin in two Tests of 242 runs and an innings and 52) some of England's senior players and much of the attendant media have contended that the result is not a true representation of the difference between the teams.

They have factored in the pitches, the tosses, the umpiring and the weather in their assessments. All were vital elements but then they are in any series.

With a little more luck, it seems, and it could have been 5-0 to England had the umpiring been better in the first of the two Tests in Port-of-Spain, had Mike Atherton called heads instead of tails in Georgetown and St. John's and had it not rained on the last day in Bridgetown.

To take that line is to ignore the primary reason for the outcome ÷ the all-round superiority of the West Indies bowling and the inclination of England's batting to crumble before it when things got tough.

In Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh the West Indies possessed the most effective pair of fast bowlers in contemporary cricket, each vastly experienced, still physically strong and motivated as much by widespread doubt over their age as by England's pre-series braggadocio.

Brian Lara could throw the ball to them and know they would clinically exploit any help in the pitches, of which there was plenty, and certainly not waste it, even when conditions favoured batting.

Mike Atherton had only the worthy Angus Fraser on whom he could rely for such incisiveness and discipline and the strain eventually took its physical toll on him.

Dean Headley is still a Test newcomer and, judged as such, was far from a failure. But Atherton might have expected more consistency from Andy Caddick, especially in the absence of Darren Gough that was keenly felt.

Pace aces

Still, the West Indies were always expected to hold the pace aces.

The surprise was that they were demonstrably stronger in spin as well. Carl Hooper, whose casual off-breaks were for so long a defensive stop-gap between waves of speed, was encouraged to adopt a more positive method.

His line switched from run-saving middle and leg stumps to outside off, in front of the batsman, and he worked his fingers more than he ever did.

No more was he Geoff Boycott's ``lollipop'' bowler and his 15 wickets (at 23.66) were more than any West Indian spinner had taken in a series since Lance Gibbs 22 years ago.

For two Tests - significantly those won by the West Indies by the widest margins - the new, young leg-spinner, Dinanath Ramnarine, skilfully supported Hooper and gave the West Indies attack a balance it had lacked for so long.

Conversely, Phil Tufnell, England's hero at the Oval in August, proved their greatest individual disappointment.

The initial use of his left-arm spin as a defensive tactic, into the rough from over the wicket on a turning pitch╩in the first Port-of-Spain Test, sent him the wrong message and he was never the attacking bowler who routed the Australians only a few months earlier.

Indeed, Mark Ramprakash, a novice off-spinner, often looked more threatening, making it more perplexing why the specialist of that type, Robert Croft, was not preferred. Apart from anything else, he would have shorn up the brittle lower order batting.

Individual batting gains were limited for both teams, Ramprakash's long overdue maturity for England and the West Indies' equally belated discovery, by default, of a forthright opening pair in Philo Wallace and the venerable Clayton Lambert.

Yet England are no nearer to finding a permanent No.3 than the West Indies are a No.6 and both continue to have problems with their wicket-keepers.

The psychological impact is likely to be more far-reaching than in the development of players for the millennium. The respective selections made it plain that the priority was the present, not the future.

After their undeniable decline over the last few years, culminating in the Pakistani disaster, and under their new captain, Lara, the West Indies could not afford another setback.

For England, this was an opportunity lost to nullify a long and dreadful record, not only against the West Indies, but against the major Test countries in general and overseas in particular.

The faces of the captains at the Antigua Recreation Ground on Tuesday evening were instructive.

Lara's smile reflected the new, buoyant West Indian mood. England's was summed up by Atherton's ashen-faced abdication.

Source: The Barbados Nation
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Date-stamped : 27 Mar1998 - 11:24