Tony Becca, Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Port of Spain: The third Test of the Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England at Queen's Park Oval continues to be a battle royal with neither side giving ground despite the problems of the uneven bounce from the pitch and the steamy conditions.
At stumps on the second day of a contest which the West Indies wants to win in order to go two up in the six match series and hopefully to demoralise the tourists, a contest which England must win to draw level, and one which appears heading for a result one way or the other, the scoreboard read, West Indies 159 and 71 for two off 25 overs, England 145 and the honours, as they were at close on the first day, nicely balanced if a shade in the West Indies favour.
With the West Indies leading by 85 after snatching a first innings advantage of 14 runs, and with Stuart Williams and Sherwin Campbell back in the pavilion, the hundreds of English fans who were scattered around the ground yesterday and who, but for their respect for Brian Lara, think nothing of West Indies batsmen, left the Oval with visions of victory, and who to tell, they may well be celebrating before too long.
Lara is still there and batting well on 30 however, and apart from his presence, his appetite for English bowling, and his ability to destroy any attack, what is also in the West Indies favour is a pitch on which the ball has sometimes reared off a good length, a pitch on which the ball has sometimes crept along the ground and which promises to get worse rather than better.
On such a pitch, it could be hell batting last, and as it was in 1994 when they led after the first innings and were then destroyed for 46 in the last innings of the match, England will be batting last - and not only against Courtney Walsh but also against Curtly Ambrose who loves hunting at Queen's Park Oval and who will be on a hat-trick when he bowls his first delivery in England's second innings.
Starting the day with two wickets in his bag, the 34-year-old Antiguan picked up three more to finish with five for 25 off 15.4 overs and, in his 77th Test match, to chalk up his 20th five-wicket haul in a Test innings.
For England's batsmen however, the statistics which probably haunted them throughout last night must be these: with one innings to go in his 10th Test match at the Oval Ambrose has already taken 51 wickets, and before yesterday, in England's last four innings at the Oval he destroyed them with 19 wickets at a cost of only 159 runs - five for 60 and six for 24 in 1994, three for 23 and five for 52 in the recent second Test.
Resuming at 22 for two, England lost their first wicket of the day without adding to their overnight score when Ambrose, with four deliveries to complete his seventh over, bowled night watchman Dean Headley with the last one.
Thirty-three minutes later, Walsh, after unsettling the batsman with a well pitched bouncer, beat Nasser Hussain off the pitch and sent him packing - caught by wicketkeeper David Williams for zero at 27 for four.
From there on it was a desperate fight for survival by England against Ambrose, Walsh, who finished with one for 35 off 17, Nixon McLean who bowled fast but unsuccessfully, Kenneth Benjamin who bowled well during an unbroken spell of 13 overs, offspinner Carl Hooper who finished with two for 23 off 15 consecutive overs, and left-arm spinner James Adams who preened himself with one wicket in two maiden overs.
To their credit, England stood their ground, produced three fighting partnerships in the middle of the innings, and looked like grabbing the lead until Hooper and Adams and then Ambrose cut them down - their last four wickets falling for 11 runs.
Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe added 43 in 17 overs before Stewart went onto the backfoot, drove at Hooper, edged a catch to wicketkeeper David Williams and departed for 44 at 70 for five 15 minutes before lunch.
Thirty-three minutes after the interval, the left-handed Thorpe went neither backward nor forward, cut at Hooper, and he was gone, caught by David Williams for 32 at 101 for six. And with Mark Butcher and Jack Russell batting defiantly, it was 134 for six before Adams, in his first over, tricked Butcher into driving too early and accepted the return catch.
Andy Caddick was runout at 135 for eight, and Ambrose returned to remove Angus Fraser and Phil Tufnell with successive deliveries in his fifth over after resting for two and a half hours.
Day 3: Delicate balance at the Oval
Tony Becca, Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Port of Spain: When the third day's play of the third Test of the Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England ended at Queen's Park Oval yesterday, the tourists appeared heading for victory.
Set a victory target of 225, England were 52 without loss off 25 overs, and with captain Mike Atherton on 30 and Alec Stewart 14 still there, the odds, as they were going into the last day of the second Test, are in their favour.
England however, still need another 173 runs to win the match and level the six Test series at one one, and in what has been a low scoring affair, it is anybody's guess who will triumph at the end of what has been a super contest between bat and ball a contest which could still end in a needle finish.
At stumps, the scores were West Indies 159 and 210, England 145 and 52 with all 10 wickets in hand.
With two days to go, time is on England's side, and based on the chanting as they filed out of the gates, and the dancing in the streets of Port of Spain, their fans believe that it will be England all the way.
Although time is obviously in England's favour, the pitch which, according to Queen's Park Cricket Club's cricket manager Bryan Davis, was prepared for the enjoyment of batsmen has been a bowler's bosom friend since day one and favours the West Indies -- so much so that the West Indian fans in the lower deck of the Dos Santos Stand were offering and accepting bets up to when bad light stopped play with two overs to go.
The confidence of those on the periphery is, however, unimportant, and based on the look on the faces of Atherton and Stewart when the ball kicked off a length or shot along the ground, and the fire of the West Indies bowlers, the only thing certain in this Test match is that it will end with over a day to spare.
Resuming on 71 for two with a lead of 85 and captain Brian Lara on 30, the West Indies were slightly in front.
On a day which followed the pattern of the previous two however, England, after a five-minute delay during which they cleared the field of broken bottles, moved into attack almost immediately and but for two lovely innings, one by Shivnarine Chanderpaul who scored 39 off 92 deliveries, and one by James Adams who stroked and smashed six boundaries while scoring 53 off 161 deliveries, the West Indies may well have been licking their wounds this morning.
Led by some lively pace bowling from Angus Fraser and Dean Headley who finished with figures of four for 40 and four for 77 respectively, England removed Kenneth Benjamin for one at 82 for three when the night watchman hooked at Fraser and wicketkeeper Jack Russell raced away to his left to take the catch as the ball flew off the top edge, Lara - leg before wicket to Fraser for 47 at 92 for four, and Carl Hooper - leg before wicket to Headley for five - as they cornered the West Indies at 102 for five after 67 minutes.
At that stage, with the lead a mere 116, England were riding high, and in contrast to their stunned West Indian counterparts, the England fans clapped and cheered as they celebrated the fall of each wicket and, with Chanderpaul and Adams playing and missing, whenever the ball beat the bat.
In a well planned counter-attack by the two left-handers however, Adams defended stubbornly while Chanderpaul, after finding his timing, reeled off some flowing drives through the offside - including one, a superb front-foot drive off Fraser through extra cover, which was greeted by a shout of ``the little master'' from an ecstatic fan in the Learie Constantine Stand.
Just as he appeared set to take Fraser, Headley and Andy Caddick apart and power the West Indies into a commanding position however, Chanderpaul lost his concentration, waved his bat at a wide, harmless delivery from Headley, edged a catch to Russell, and with his head bowed in disappointment, walked away at 158 for six after a valuable contribution to what, if the West Indies go on to win the match, will be remembered as a priceless sixth-wicket partnership of 52 in 24 overs.
Headley, inspired by his breakthrough, made it 159 for seven when he trapped David Williams leg before wicket for his second zero of the match with the last delivery of the over, and it was 159 for eight when he bowled Curtly Ambrose for zero with the first delivery of his following over.
At that stage, with only Nixon McLean and Courtney Walsh to come, the West Indies were again in trouble, and the West Indian fans who had come to life during Chanderpaul's gem, sat in silence.
It was then that Adams, for the first time in a long while, showed his class a a batsman.
With Chanderpaul gone and the innings crumbling around him. Adams, the one batsman standing between England and what they would consider a reasonable target in their bid victory, took charge, and in a beautiful mixture of fine drives and power-hitting scored 39 of the 51 runs added by the last two wickets.
It was Adams at his best, and when, with nine wickets down, he drove Fraser to Mike Atherton at extra cover, he walked away to a lovely ovation.
Left with 27 overs and two days to go in the contest, Atherton and Stewart played some confident strokes while denying the West Indies the wicket or two they needed to put pressure on England.
It was not easy however. Apart from a few blows in the ribs, apart from the many appeals for leg before wicket, they also had to dig out a few deliveries which kept frighteningly low
Day 4: England in sight of victory
Tony Becca, Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Port of Spain: The fourth day's play of the third Test of the six match Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England was cut short by rain and then bad light yesterday with the tourists apparently on the way to victory.
At the end of a day interrupted by rain on three occasions, England, set a victory target of 225 and starting the day on 52 without loss, were 38 runs away from ticking off their first victory at the Oval in 24 years and in the process levelling the series at one-one.
Close of play score was, West Indies 159 and 210, England 145 and 187 for four and despite the glorious uncertainty of the game, the memory of England losing six wickets for 39 runs on the fourth morning of the second Test when they dropped from 219 for four to 258 all out, it seems all over for the West Indies.
Although, as far as the never say die West Indies and their faithful supporter are concerned, the Fat Lady has not yet started to sing, the England supporters are already celebrating victory.
``This is why I came here,'' said an elated Englishwoman as she moved to the beat of soca music minutes after the day's play. ``I knew it would happen,'' said a bare chested Englishman as he gobbled down a Carib beer. ``The Windies are not as good as they used to be.''
While it is possible that they could ambush England when play resumes for the final day today, yesterday the Windies certainly were not so good, and within minutes of the start of the day's play, it was obvious, even to those who had taken bets, that their beloved team was in danger of losing - that like India in 1976 when they lost the first and won the second of the only other back-to-back Tests played here, England, after losing the second Test, could share the honours at Queen's Park Oval.
Although England started the day with Atherton on 30, Stewart on 14, and both batting well, they were many, especially those who had offered and accepted bets, who believed that with a five-day pitch on which batting was so difficult for most of four days at their disposal, and with Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh leading their attack, the West Indies, would hit back and win what promised to have been a needle finish.
Apart from a mid-afternoon burst during which they picked up four wickets for 39 runs as England slipped from 129 without loss to 168 for four, it was all England - and the pitch had nothing to do it.
Based on the fire of Ambrose and Walsh when they came back together just before tea with England cruising along, it may well have been Lara's fault. Not only did the captain use Ambrose and Walsh sparingly, but his many bowling changes, certainly up to lunch when he used all four pacers plus Carl Hooper and Jimmy Adams, suggested that he was simply rolling the dice.
In a situation like which the West Indies found themselves at the start of the day's play, most captains tend to die with their best bowlers. Although they started the attack however, Walsh was out after three overs, Ambrose after four, and after using them for alternative overs from the pavilion end, it was until late in the proceedings, probably too late, that they joined forces in a desperate bid.
Apart from Ambrose and Walsh who bowled in tough luck, the West Indies pacers bowled too short and too wide - so much so that apart from a few by Ambrose and Walsh which kicked off a good length, those which shot along the ground were wide of the stumps and troubled only wicketkeeper David Williams.
To England's credit however, their batsmen, represented by Atherton, who stroked the ball easily, and Stewart, who stirred their supporters into action with a lovely drive to long on off Walsh, started confidently and fearlessly, and blessed with a stroke of good fortune when Atherton, on 39 at 73, cut at Walsh and Stuart Williams dropped the catch at gully, they moved from strength to strength, cut and drove with such authority that it appeared they would have won the match without losing a wicket and with well over a day to spare when rain interrupted play seven minutes before lunch with the total on 122 without loss.
That however, was not to be, and immediately on their return they lost the first of four when Atherton, one short of 50, edged Walsh to wicketkeeper David Williams at 129 for one.
He was followed by John Crawley who was runout for five at 142 for two, Stewart who, after escaping on 83 at 152 for two when he cut at Walsh and Hooper dropped the catch at slip, edged Walsh in the same over to David Williams at 152 for three, and Nasser Hussain who was leg before wicket for five at 168 for four when he went back to a creeper from Hooper.
That was it for the West Indies. The second and third showers failed to bring any blessing, and with Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher batting well on 15 and nine respectively, only a miracle or rain throughout today can now save the West Indies.
Day 5: Nervous England level series
Tony Becca , Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Port of Spain: England improved their chances of winning their first Test series in the Caribbean in 30 years and their first against the West Indies in 25 when they squeezed home to win the third Test of the Cable and Wireless series at Queen's Park Oval yesterday.
Set a winning target of 225 and starting the day on 187 for four with only 38 runs needed for victory, England weathered a storm in which West Indies threatened to blow them away and snatched victory by only three wickets 10 minutes after lunch on the final day.
With the scores level, Curtly Ambrose strayed down the legside, Mark Butcher and Dean Headley scampered for a bye as their nervous team mates cheered from the balcony and hundreds of supporters raced across the field.
Final score in a thrilling Test match which swayed from side to side right up to the end before finally settling in England's favour despite some brilliant bowling by Ambrose who scared the daylights out of the tourists with a burst of three wickets for nine runs in 22 deliveries as they dropped from a comfortable 201 for four to a jittery 213 for seven, and from Courtney Walsh who bowled six peppery maiden overs in support, was West Indies 159 and 210, England 145 and 225 for seven with Butcher - son of a Guyanese mother - not out on 24, and Headley - son of a Jamaican father - not out on seven.
In winning the Test match in which they trailed after the first innings, England not only ticked off their sixth victory in 17 attempts at the Oval and their first since 1974 when they lost the first and won the fifth and final Test to share the series one-one, not only handed the Windies their first first defeat at the Oval since they lost to Pakistan in 1977, but in doing so they also levelled the count in the six-match contest at one-one and in the process sent a message to the West Indies and their supporters.
The message, according to an elated captain Mike Atherton is that the battle has just began.
``It was a great Test match,'' said Atherton. ``We won it, we have shown that we can win the tight ones, and it should be interesting from here on.''
After losing the first of the back-to-back Tests at the Oval, after squandering many opportunities to win it, England were considered easy pickings for the second, the West Indies, certainly in some quarters, were hot favourites to win it for a commanding two-nil lead, and the fear was that the series would be dead at the halfway mark.
Although England won the match, the heroes, led by Ambrose, were the West Indies who fought like tigers to the end and brought back memories of the historic first and only Test against South Africa at Kensington Oval in 1993 when, with the tourists needing 79 runs to win with eight wickets in hand on the final morning, the Windies grabbed eight wickets for 26 runs and danced to victory by 52 runs.
As it was on that unforgettable morning when Ambrose and Walsh preened themselves with four wickets each, with captain Brian Lara deciding to place his fortunes in the hands of his best bowlers, and after rain had delayed the start of play by 40 minutes, the West Indies yesterday handed the ball - only four years old - to their two past masters, left it with them right to the end, and with a little luck may well have pulled another amazing victory.
For the first 28 minutes during which Lara attacked with only two slips and no short-leg, overnight batsmen Graham Thorpe, starting the day on 15, and Butcher, resuming on nine, stroked the ball confidently as Ambrose strayed down the legside and Walsh outside the offstump.
Suddenly however, with the handful of West Indian supporters trying to make their voice heard among the din of the English fans and shouting for a wicket, Ambrose struck, England lost three wickets for 12 runs in eight overs, and although the odds still remained in England's favour, a fight to the finish was on.