By GARTH WATTLEY
AS they headed for home yesterday evening, none of the 12,000 patrons filing out of sunbathed Queen's Park Oval would have been chatting about sparkling cricket.
The talk may have been about a pitch that made batsmen and bowlers work hard for their money, about dogged Nasser Hussain, determined Alec Stewart and even a controversial run out. But most of all, the Caribbean massive yesterday witnessed a Second Cable and Wireless Test of tactics, patience and guts.
And at the end of the first, gritty day, with England on 175 for 8, West Indies seemingly, were in front.
Looking back on the first full day of his reign, West Indies captain Brian Lara will be fairly satisfied. He lost the toss again to Mike Atherton and was asked to field. But the Windies skipper would have been pleased with the way the tight control and probing line of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Kenny Benjamin's seam and swing and debutant Nixon McClean's exciting pace pegged England back after they had got to 80 for 1.
And while more inconsistent slip-catching caused him and vice-captain Carl Hooper blushes, Lara made up for lost marks with some astute captaincy.
No less than five times, the skipper's bowling changes brought almost immediate results. And those masterstrokes added to the intrigue on a day of much ebb and little flow.
McClean's first Test scalp-wicketkeeper Jack Russell well caught by Stuart Williams at third slip-got the crowd going. And the frightful blow Dean Headley was struck when he ducked into a Benjamin delivery brought more noise.
But the ``run out'' of Adam Hollioake was one unwanted highlight. His dismissal off a rifle-accurate Shivnarine Chanderpaul throw seemed clear-cut enough. But after umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan, on Hollioake's invitation, called for the third umpire Clyde Cumberbatch to rule, controversy stepped in.
The former Test umpire, having watched the replay, ruled Hollioake out. But a later ``zoom'' angle showed Williams had dislodged the leg bail with his gloves before he received the ball. The dismissal, in Jimmy Adams' very first over, was bad luck for the visitors. But it was luck Lara and his men had earned.
In the first session, fortune favoured the Englishmen. After Ambrose, with Lara's assistance at slip, had removed Atherton after an hour, opener Stewart (50) and John Crawley dug in.
Playing and missing frequently, and in Crawley's case, surviving a difficult diving leg-side chance to keeper Williams on 2, the pair handled the variable bounce and the movement well enough to go to lunch at 70 for 1.
And after Lara and Hooper put Stewart down off Walsh and Benjamin, old demons were threatening to haunt the new West Indies beginning.
But switched to the pavilion end after lunch, the previously unimpressive Benjamin brought change, eventually trapping the opener lbw. By tea, Crawley and Thorpe had joined their mate, both victims of some Lara inventiveness.
Cutting short McClean's brief, ineffective second spell, he brought back Ambrose from the north. And by his second over, Crawley, having crawled to 17 in 148 minutes, steered the pacer to third slip-105 for three. Ambi was alive. And by tea he, Lara and the rest were again all smiles, Hooper's first ball of a new spell having Thorpe snicking a careless cut into keeper Williams's gloves in the last over before the break.
At 114 for 3, the luck was changing. And when Hollioake, Russell and Andy Caddick went in the space of 19 runs, Caribbean eyes were smiling. But steady Hussain (44 in 227 minutes) found a gutsy partner in Headley.
Despite the thumping from ``Benjie,'' the fast bowler helped add a valuable 29 before Ambrose claimed him with the second new ball.
Angus Fraser, however, is still with the vice-captain. And this morning, they will be aiming to make English patience pay real dividends.
Day 3: Trouble in paradise - England lead by 242 runs
By GARTH WATTLEY
FOR TWO DAYS, the sounds of celebration had been muffled at the Queen's Park Oval. The Second Cable and Wireless Test match, tense as it was, did not allow the massive to jump and breakaway.
But as Mike Atherton's England made a firm bid for control of the match, it would have been more appropriate to sing ``God Save the Queen.''
Certainly Brian Lara's West Indians could have done with songs of salvation yesterday, or at least David Rudder's most spirited plea to ``Rally Round the West Indies.''
For as he and his men trudged off the field at the close with England entrenched on 219 for 4 in their second innings, the Windies captain may well have been thinking of the trouble brewing in Paradise.
As it now stands, the home team will have to chase a minimum of 242 runs for victory on a pitch now placid but still producing unpredictable bounce. Reaching the eventual target and thus raising regional morale will be a special challenge.
But first, Lara must find a way to dismiss the six other English batsmen for next to nothing this morning.
Those considerations and many more would have rumbled around inside his head yesterday afternoon in the midst of a purposeful, potentially formidable England reply to his team's first innings 191.
As Alec Stewart (73) and Atherton (31) and later Graham Thorpe (32 not out) and John Crawley turned the screws and the match, the new WI leader wore the look of a man faced with about five million problems-and then some.
In particular, the Prince had seen his peaceful rule disturbed again on the third day by two Philistines, rugged opener Stewart with his second half-century of the game and magnificent Angus Fraser.
Starting the day already with his ninth five-wicket haul in Tests, ``Gus'' went three steps further, snapping up the last three West Indies wickets in 3.1 overs to finish with 8 for 53.
When he cleverly caught the fighting Curtly Ambrose (31) off his own bowling, the veteran had recorded career and Test-best figures. And improved his own record for the best bowling by an Englishman against the West Indies.
The last time Fraser got 8-in the 1994 Bridgetown Test-England recorded an historic victory in the previously impregnable Barbadian fortress.
And uncomfortable memories were being revived around the ground when Atherton and Stewart went to lunch on 57 without loss and then when the total approached 100.
Lara, mixing his combinations and shifting his field for best effect, would also have been thinking, perhaps, about two fastbowling warhorses for whom everyday is no longer Sunday-especially on unresponsive tracks. And about a pace formula-for the time being-that has lost its potency.
Not faced with the same lateral movement as on Thursday, the batsmen, even though they still took several blows, found runs more easy to come by.
Keen Stewart took advantage as did Atherton, with a pleasing cover-drive off Kenny Benjamin. ``Heavenly Father, the sun is hot and we need a wicket right now...A...men!''
The plea downstairs the Media Centre was plaintive. And at 91, the ``prayer'' was answered, Walsh getting Atherton to pull a short ball into his middle stump.
But that success did not lead to collapse, Crawley hanging around long enough to add 52 with Stewart.
The Windies cause was not helped by eight no-balls, one of them from Ambrose edged by Stewart then on 57 into the gloves of the diving wicketkeeper David Williams.
Eventually, both men fell in the space of five runs, both, to the satisfaction of the Concrete Stand Posse, to the lively pace of Nixon McClean.
And when Walsh, whom the Posse honoured at tea, caught and bowled Nasser Hussain at 202, there was hope of more rapid inroads. Not so.
When he accepted the offer to go off for bad light with two overs remaining in the day's play, Thorpe had already laced his short innings with strokes of lovely timing and some panache.
He and Adam Hollioake will be back this morning with Her Majesty's ship sailing smoothly. But if Lara's men can build a bridge over their troubled waters, they might just be able to rally long. And rally strong.
Day 5: WI rally to victory
Hooper, Williams play innings of a lifetime
By GARTH WATTLEY
THE noise from the quarter-filled Queen's Park Oval was worthy of Wembley Stadium. And from his vantage point in the players' pavilion, Brian Lara could have seen the crowds coming. But he probably didn't. For he was three-quarter way down the Oval steps heading for smiling Carl Hooper whom he hugged and hugged and hugged. Then came sister Agnes-more embraces.
Giddy David Rudder was grinning like a schoolboy in a sweetie shop. It was mas on Monday. High mas.
The West Indies captain, the mystic soca messenger and a tension-racked Oval had just witnessed a cricketing deliverance-in A major.
And the saviour was the Mighty Coolness-Carl Llewellyn Hooper.
When at 1.06 p.m., ``Hoops'' ever so carefully stroked the ball past Phil Tufnell and saw Andy Caddick forlornly give up the chase, a fascinating West Indies victory had been completed-by three wickets. Amen!
This West Indies triumph, so full of character, courage, class, was one for the books. It was the kind of display that made one forget, temporarily, the debacle of Pakistan, the disappointment of the Champions Trophy final, even the embarrassment of Sabina Park.
After three days of trial when steady English pressure and good fortune had kept them in grip in this Second Cable and Wireless Test, the Windies were delivered first by the desire of Curtly Ambrose's five second innings wickets and the second innings steadiness of Stuart Williams.
But the reason why West Indian emotion was running so high yesterday, the reason for the smiles as broad and deep as the Caribbean Sea, was the magnificent maturity of Hooper and the heroic spirit of ``Petit Willie''-David Williams.
``Hoops'', with a match-winning 94 not out occupying nearly six hours, and Williams, with a Test-best 65, had played the innings of their lives for their team.
For three hours, 47 minutes and 129 runs, the duo had defied confident, then disbelieving, English captain Mike Atherton and his Angus Fraser-led attack.
And even though it was Kenny Benjamin, not ``Willie'', who strode off the ground with ``Hoops'', it was the wicketkeeper and vice-captain who were the saviours.
``It's a game you'd expect to win,'' a subdued Atherton told the press later.
And yesterday's disbelief was provoked by Sunday afternoon's exhilaration, rooted in the sight of the Windies reduced to 124 for 5.
But Williams (36 overnight) was among the believers. Gaining confidence from his vice-captain's resolute example, ``Willie'' fought on-and luck finally came to his side.
First ball of the day, he drove a return catch to Fraser which the stretching bowler could not hold. At 46, he was again ``blessed'', Russell failing to clutch a low legside edge.
Williams would also escape some close lbw calls that left Englishmen on and off the field gasping. But Hooper gave them no such hope. Impregnable in defence, impeccable in judgment, he was all patience in a slow first hour. Only 25 runs were added, but he sauntered on while Fraser toiled unsuccessfully through two spells.
Eventually it was Dean Headley who caused WI heartache. With mere minutes to go to lunch, Williams edged the pacer into first slip's hands.
But ``Willie'' had done the job, Ambrose acknowledging it with a giant hug. Next Headley over, ``Ambi'' was gone too. And at 259 for 7, with 23 still needed, tension was rising again.
Vinode missed lunch. And Pargass's nervous biting had considerably reduced his fingernails. But they need not have feared.
At 272, a Fraser ball went past Benjamin and hit the helmet behind Russell.
Umpire Steve Bucknor raised his hand in a rare five signal. The crowd roared-the target was now six.
And when Hooper stroked his tenth boundary off Tufnell, salvation was achieved. Paradise was regained.
``After 375, this Test match is the next high point,'' gushed captain Lara at the end. Indeed.
His 50th Test had produced four West Indian half-centuries and his first win as official captain. A run of three Test defeats had been stopped by a side making the highest West Indies victory total since Viv Richards's team made 276 at Delhi in 1987.
It was time to celebrate, time to give thanks. And praise.
Captains give praise...and blame
By GARTH WATTLEY
THEY had just been through as gruelling a Test match as they have played in their lives. But for West Indies captain Brian Lara and England's Mike Atherton, there were decidedly different emotions yesterday after the West Indies's enthralling three-wicket win in the Second Cable and Wireless Test match.
``All West Indian people in the Caribbean and round the world will be delighted,'' said the bubbly WI captain.
``It was a great victory in front of the Trinidad people.''
Lara, playing in his 50th Test, had moments before, watched Carl Hooper and David Williams primarily combine to bring home his first victory as official West Indian leader.
And his relief that his first Test had been passed was evident. ``It was so exciting I could not move from my seat. From the time I got out, I was glued to the television, I even had lunch there,'' Lara related to the British and regional press.
A bespectacled-sunglassed-Atherton was not quite so chipper. He had just seen his side lose a game, which they had controlled for the most part and which in his own words, ``you'd expect to win.''
``I thought we played much the better cricket for three and a-half days and poor cricket for a day and a half,'' he said.
Atherton also shared his thoughts about a Queen's Park Oval pitch that was always a challenge for batsmen but on which seven half-centuries had been scored, including Hooper's unbeaten 94.
``I thought it was a poor pitch that produced an outstanding match,'' Atherton said.
Lara, however, was less critical of the surface.
``It was a typical Oval pitch,'' he noted. ``I don't think you could have asked for a better Test match.'' ``Both sides had to bat on it,'' said WI manager Clive Lloyd.
And the captain was not slow to heap praises on maligned opener Stuart Williams and wicketkeeper Williams, who both got into the sixties in the second innings.
``They played brilliantly,'' Lara said.
The skipper also re-stated his faith in fastbowler Curtly Ambrose who kept up his excellent Oval tradition with eight wickets in the match, in addition to contributing an important 31 in the first innings.
There was also extra-special praise for vice-captain Hooper.
``I think it is the best innings I've ever seen him play. I knew as long as Carl was there, victory was still possible.''
Atherton himself, while noting how tough it was for Angus Fraser to take 11 wickets in the match and still end up on the losing side, also gave Hooper and Williams credit, saying they ``both played outstandingly.''
As for the Man-of-the-Match himself, Hooper admitted that ``in the circumstances,'' he would also rate yesterday's knock as his finest ever.
``It's the longest I've ever batted for 90,'' quipped ``Hoops'', who spent nearly six hours at the crease to ensure victory.
But he did not feel that his knock of knocks was the result of any special work on his part. ``I'm not doing anything different,'' he said. ``It's just my time.''
Hooper, Lara and the rest, will be hoping that the good times will continue to roll when the Third Test begins on Friday.