By GARTH WATTLEY THE 10,000-plus crowd at the Queen's Park Oval watching day one of the Third Cable and Wireless Cricket Test were not expecting a Ringling Brothers show. But the circus did come to town.
There was after all, the ``Happy Streaker,'' the leaping acrobat-Mark Butcher and a comedy of West Indies batting errors, not so funny in the circumstances.
And at the end of an eventful Friday 13, the Oval patrons would see a scoreboard that read: West Indies 159 all out, England 22 for 2. Even the unsuperstitious in the crowd had to concede it was a black day for WI.
West Indies captain Brian Lara may not believe in magical spells and secret potions. But those may be the easiest ways to explain away the events of yesterday.
For the third straight time, he lost the toss and was asked to bat. But on a ``Sweet Miss'' of an Oval pitch compared with the demanding taskmaster of a surface they conquered in the second innings of the Second Test, Lara and his men contrived to go from a solid 93 for 1 shortly after lunch, to a shocking 159 all out an hour and a quarter after tea.
And then, needing every wicket possible, the captain put down a dolly of a first slip catch offered by dangerous Alec Stewart off Walsh with the score just five.
Warrior King Curtly Ambrose may have lightened the mood somewhat with the wickets of Mike Atherton and John Crawley before the close. But not even he would have been able to wipe away from his captain's mind yesterday's nightmare of a circus.
Steady Angus Fraser (5/40) and rejuvenated Andy Caddick (5/67) may have been the ``Freddy Kruger'' and ``Chucky'' of Lara's bad dream. But the Windies bats were active participants in their demise. Stuart Williams, failing to get behind a Fraser ball and edging to Graham Thorpe at first slip off Fraser with the total 36, seemed an aberration. But afterwards, Sherwin Campbell followed Williams's example and gave Caddick his first wicket of the series in the second over after lunch. And when Carl Hooper and Lara went in the space of five runs, the innings had turned into ole mas.
The reversal was swift and stunning, especially given the earliest post-lunch signs. In the first over from Caddick, Lara had sent the boxes in the Trini Posse lime booming with three lovely lashes. He and Campbell raised 19 off the over. And as the captain unleashed sweetly timed off-drives and hip flicks, the Oval audience was preparing for a soca-runsplash. Fraser broke the rhythm next over. And then came Caddick-and Butcher. Second Test hero Hooper's indifferent drive seemed headed for safety over the in-field when Butcher's perfectly-timed leap and waiting right hand plucked a fabulous catch out of the air.
The English contingent in the new CL Financial Stand was in good voice. And the noise increased several decibels when at 100, lapsing Lara (42 with seven fours), aimed an ill-advised pull at Fraser, got a thin under-edge and then got the red light from the Third Umpire. Chanderpaul and Jimmy Adams now set about some serious rebuilding. Some of the structure was in place when everything was laid bare. ``Miss Tourist'', Trinidad and Tobago flag-and everything else-flapping in the afternoon breeze, came bouncing onto the field, sauntering up to the pitch before disappearing into the bosom of the Posse. All eyes-and binoculars-on the field.
It was still five minutes to tea but some were already getting indigestion. ``Why she ent use de British flag? Why my flag?'' came the angry enquiry at the break. ``Happy Hour'' had arrived. The Posse was not the same after that. Nor was the WI innings.
By the time Nixon McClean skied Fraser to Dean Headley at long-on, Caddick had grabbed four wickets in seven balls-Adams, David Williams, Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin.
``Ambi'' took slightly more time to get his two. But a grimacing Walsh would have been worrying at the costliness of his captain's miss. And Hooper's failure to grab the rebound this time. After yesterday's simmy-dimmy, all WI will be hoping for the blight to disappear today.
Streaker creates Oval stir
A FEMALE streaker, believed to be an English visitor created history when she ran onto the field of play just before tea on the opening day of the third Cable and Wireless Test between England at the West Indies at the Queen's Park Oval yesterday.
Knowledgeable cricket watchers here said it is the first time since the First Test series was held in the West Indies in 1930 that a streaker had made an appearance on the field. The naked lady, who is believed to be in her early thirties, ran from the newly built C.L Duprey Stand, which is being used for the first time, to the middle where she tried to shake hands with some of the English players.
All of them refused, only watching as she made her way off the field without being stopped by any of the policemen at the ground, who were taken by surprise. As she made her way off, the lady, stopped, bent over and moved her waist to the music from the stand, being provided by the popular Trini Posse. The three-tier stand, which has a seating capacity of over 1500, has been occupied by almost 600 English supporters, who are here for the match.
The incident occurred in full view of Trinidad and Tobago's acting President Ganace Ramdial, who was seated at the top of the stand. Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was also in the stand during the pre-lunch session but had apparently left the ground when the incident happened. Panday later returned to the stand.
An added feature of the new stand, which is unique at West Indian grounds is the provision of a swimming pool, which is covered by coconut branches, to the east of the stand.
A number of women, clad in bathing suits and some men in short pants, have been sitting in front of the pool watching the match, the second of back-to-back Tests at this venue in less than two weeks.
After the incident which took place during a slow period in play as the West Indian batsmen laboured against the English bowlers, nine uniformed policemen, armed with guns, visited the area and the music was stopped for a few minutes.
None of the lawmen pursued the streaker, who had returned to the stand and hurriedly put on her blue polo shirt and a white shorts, with the assistance of a male companion.
It was not clear whether any other policeman had gone at her to make an arrest or lay a charge.
Day 2: Ambrose charges through England
By GARTH WATTLEY
IT WAS early at the Queen's Park Oval, the final ball of an uncompleted Curtly Ambrose over from the previous day. But the West Indies pace ace was bullseye accurate, spearing his yorker underneath Dean Headley's tentative prod. Up came the cartwheeling stumps. And out came the cry: ``Charge! To-ro, To-ro!''
And by the time the Oval saw the West Indies Warrior King send back the last two English batsmen off successive balls around 3:15 pm, Mike Atherton's men had been thoroughly gored-145 all out.
Then when Brian Lara and Kenny Benjamin walked off for bad light just before 5.30 p.m., the home team was usefully placed on 71 for 2, 85 to the good. And Windies fans watching the Third Cable and Wireless Test were walking away reflecting on how their ``matador'' had once more made England see red.
The QPCC may not be his native Antigua Recreation Ground. But in a cricketing sense, ``Ambi'' always gets the power at the Oval. By the time a successful lbw verdict against Phil Tufnell gave the the 34-year-old veteran his 20th five-wicket haul in Tests, he had also reached a satisfying six at the Oval. And passed the golden 50 mark.
The ball before, he smartly accepted a low return catch from Angus Fraser, Ambrose had tallied 50 wickets at the venue and 133 in Tests versus England. And Tufnell's dismissal gave him five in an innings for the sixth time in his tenth Oval Test.
And as many of his previous efforts have been, yesterday's assault was vitally crucial to the West Indian cause.
The Concrete Stand faithful would agree Ambi's latest assault was not of quite the same mesmerisingly devastating nature as his 6 for 24 in 1994. And too many of Atherton's key men, like their West Indian counterparts on Friday, showed a lack of discipline at the crease.
But yesterday's five for 25 in 15.4 overs, affecting as it did both the top and bottom of the English order was effective enough to leave Atherton with a less than full feeling.
The English captain, Ambrose's first victim late on Day One, watched the bowler stab his team repeatedly and the luck go against his men. At 27 for 3, still inside the first 25 minutes, umpire Eddie Nichols sent vice-captain Nasser Hussain on his way for ``duck'' caught behind off Courtney Walsh. But TV replays showed the batsman had made no contact. And before the session was out, Alec Stewart had joined Hussain, taking the bait Carl Hooper offered him 12 minutes before lunch for a gleeful wicketkeeper David Williams to do the rest.
The Trini Posse stand was rocking. And Ambi too, blissfully strumming his imaginary guitar in the outfield, was chipping away. But at 75 for 5, England were not having a party.
And while the Posse's rhythm section staged its own calypso fiesta after lunch, the English were too constrained to embrace the spirit, especially after Graham Thorpe gave it up. Having spent two hours over his 32, he cut Hooper into Williams's gloves.
By the tea interval, 101 for six had become 143 for 8. Mark Butcher obliged Lara's attempt to purchase a cheap wicket. Jimmy Adams was the outlet. And off the last ball of his very first over, Butcher was the victim-caught and bowled. And with three minutes left, Andy Caddick was also gone, by the run-out route courtesy the Third Umpire.
``Ambi'' then led the final charge, England going down in four overs after the interval for just five runs.
The ailing English would have been heartened by the wickets of careless Stuart Williams (23) who cut a Caddick long-hop to gully and Sherwin Campbell, lbw to Fraser just before the close.
However, WI captain Lara is still there, already on 30. Here in his backyard, he has not had ``Ambi's'' Test touch: in ten previous innings, one near miss but no ton, no bullseye. But after seeing Ambrose's charge, the Prince may just be primed for the ``kill''.
Day 3: England on course By GARTH WATTLEY
The West Indies bowling-Curtly Ambrose-had spared their batsmen's first innings blushes on Day Two. But as Day Three of the Third Cable and Wireless Test drew to a close yesterday afternoon at the Queen's Park Oval, captain Brian Lara was asking them to do it again.
Mike Atherton's men-Dean Headley, Angus Fraser and Andy Caddick-determined not to be sacrificed in Laraland a second time, stopped the Windies charge at 210. Not without a little home help. Again.
And then with a gettable 225 target ahead of them, the captain (30) and opening partner Alec Stewart (14), kept the ship Britannia sailing at 52 without loss.
A fifth day will not be needed in this game. But there may still be more theatre to be played out in this bowler-induced, batsman-abetted tight squeeze of a Test.
Lara will be mindful of the sorry record established by the bats on both sides so far in this match. And those stats-WI 159 and 210; England 144-will fill him with hope on this fourth day.
But the skipper will also know that he may be forced to hoist the white flag if Atherton, Stewart and company match the effort of Jimmy Adams.
The long suffering WI left-hander had been without a Test 50 since his 74 not out at Melbourne in December 1996. But the once relentlessly tall and dependable scorer rediscovered some of his old self yesterday, steadying a leaky West Indies vessel with 53. Thirty-nine of them were made with raw Nixon McLean and risky Courtney Walsh, the last two wickets adding a precious 51 in all.
Jimmy's may not have been the most popular name round the ground on a day when the Concrete Stand Posse honoured Walsh, Bernard Julien and Willie Rodriguez. And while he was omitted from a lunch menu full of ``Andy Roberts Coo Coo'' and ``Michael Holding Punch'', the faithful would have been thankful for his timely doses of Adams Application after the break.
The effort may still prove insufficient. But the knock has kept the Windies in the fight, when earlier in the day, they looked well out of it.
At 102 for 5, even as the sun shone the prospects looked bleak.
By that time the skipper had been ambushed-for the fourth successive time-by Fraser. On this occasion the England bowler caught Lara a bit high on the backfoot on 47 and benefitted from a touch-and-go lbw verdict by Australian umpire Darrel Hair.
The captain walked another long, lonely walk back to the pavilion to join nightwatchman Kenny Benjamin, already fallen victim to Fraser in the day's third over. By lunch, they had been joined by vice-captain Carl Hooper, also lbw to a shooter for five.
Hooper's sobering double-failure after his Second Test heroics put added pressure on Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. But the pair, fighting for confidence and touch, survived to lunch at 120 for 4.
``Chanders'' was the first to find the missing ingredients after the interval. Wowing another good crowd with fluent, nifty extra-cover drives, he moved to a good-looking 39 after the first hour before a promising innings was again infuriatingly cut short.
Third ball after the water break, he followed a Dean Headley ball slanted across him and wicketkeeper Jack Russell smartly snapped him up low to his left.
That was the start of Headley fire that saw him grab three wickets in seven balls. David Williams went second ball and Ambrose first but McClean coolly denied West Indian George's grandson the hattrick.
For the next hour, he gave level-headed support to battling Jimmy.
Growing in confidence with each ball, Adams successfully shielded his partners and refused to fall prey to the England captain's rapid bowling changes whenever the batsmen seemed to be breaking the shackles. Eventually, he succumbed in tireless Fraser's 25th over.
Neither Atherton nor Stewart had the spirit of surrender in them.
``We need more than Raleigh,'' punned one worried West Indian, ``we need Drake and Hawkins!'' How true! To disturb Britannia's calm passage, captain Lara will need another Carib storm.
Day 4: WI bid to cheat 'death'
By GARTH WATTLEY
AT 129 and the England openers still at the wicket yesterday afternoon, time was running out for Brian Lara's West Indies side.
With the visitors nearing the 225 needed for victory, ``death'' bones were rattling for the home team.
But then English captain Mike Atherton touched Courtney Walsh to wicketkeeper David Williams. And by the time the score had reached 168, John Crawley, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart had joined him.
Not only West Indian nerves were jangling now.
At one minute to tea, down came the rain-for nearly two hours.
And when Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher walked off the Queen's Park Oval field for the final time at 5:38 pm with the score 187 for 4, a stay of execution had been granted-to someone.
Improbably, it is only this morning-on the fifth and final day-that it will be known on whom the ``death sentence'' will be passed.
Practical sense says the English will be celebrating today. But the perceptive among yesterday's fourth day crowd will be thinking about more than the practical.
Certainly Ather-ton, biting nails and shaking legs in the pavilion as the wickets went down yesterday afternoon, appreciated the not-so-welcome uncertainty in the game.
Twice before, as recently as last week, he had seen apparent victory rudely wrenched from his grasp. And as he watched the water come down, unhappy 1990 memories of a rained-ruined England victory chase would also have come back.
Lara, however, furiously planning strategy in the middle, was living in hope, thinking perhaps also of last week and the many good West Indies times on the ground since Mushtaq Mohammad's Pakistanis beat the home team there in 1977.
But he knows that more than sentiment will be needed this morning. Lara will know that, unlike yesterday, his team will not only have to make its own luck. But take advantage.
As he thinks things over, the captain may well wince at the memory of the sharp but straightforward chance Stuart Williams put down off Atherton with the score on 73.
The England captain was only 39 and although he made only 10 more, his partnership with Alec Stewart (83) had advanced by 56 runs before he was finally dismissed.
Stewart too was put down, again off the luckless Walsh by Hooper at slip two balls before he was eventually caught behind by Williams (D). And there were numerous times before when ground-hugging Ambrose deliveries barely missed his offstump and once when umpire Darrel Hair gave him, not ``Ambi'', the benefit of the doubt.
But through it all, consistent Stewart played with the determination that breeds success. And at the end of his five-hour stay, he was rewarded with his third half-century in four innings.
Atherton, more dogged, had stayed nearly four hours, seeing off Ambrose and Walsh and going past lunch before he went. Victory seemed certain then.
But not to Lara. He, at least, was not giving up.
Inventively, he alternated with Walsh and Ambrose in one-over spells from the pavilion end while demanding tidiness from Hooper and Jimmy Adams at the other.
Finally, he got Atherton.
And at 145, Crawley gave Lara a helping hand, going back for an ill-advised second run and being adjudged short of his ground by the Third Umpire after a strong, straight Kenny Benjamin throw.
West Indian spirits were rising. And they soared further when lion-hearted Walsh first saw ``Hoops'' grass Stewart, then ``Willie'' snap him up. And when, about 20 minutes to tea, a Hooper creeper sent Hussain back lbw, it was 170 for 4 and Atherton was not wearing a sunny smile.
The sky was also dark. And when the tea-time rain had finally gone, it was 4:40 pm.
After another interruption and bad light shortened play further, England were just 38 away.
WI were left facing the hangman.
But captain Lara knows all about the power of history and the game's glorious uncertainties. He knows too that a swift strike or two and his Windies may still get out of jail.
Day 5: Mission impossible - England get home by three wickets
By GARTH WATTLEY
IT could have been Highbury, or Stamford Bridge, even Old Trafford, not the Queen's Park Oval. A quarter after one in the afternoon and English exultation drowned out the Caribbean rhythm as Mark Butcher and Dean Headley scampered the decisive leg-bye off Curtly Ambrose.
As he took his hat from umpire Eddie Nichols, even ``Ambi'' and his skipper Brian Lara had to concede that cricketing miracles don't happen every day.
At 225 for 7, England had won another tight Test match by three wickets and the West Indies had been beaten at the Oval for the first time in 21 years.
``If we had not won this Test,'' a relieved Atherton said after the win had been completed, ``our confidence could have seeped away.''
During the morning, when rain washed away the first 40 minutes and old warrior Ambrose sent shivers down English spines with three pre-lunch wickets, that confidence was threatened. It was the only time the ``Barmy Army'' muted their strident voices.
At 201 for 4, they were chatting and chanting away. Overnight batsmen Graham Thorpe and Butcher had progressed reassuringly, adding another 14. But the couple the Surrey left-hander had just hit to raise the 200 were his last runs in the game.
Playing forward to an Ambrose away-cutter, Thorpe (19) got an edge and saw wicketkeeper David Williams dive low to his left to pouch a superb two-handed catch. English eyes now peered nervously at the scoreboard-and the sky.
But before the ``Army'' could shout ``England!,'' Jack Russell and Andy Caddick were out.
The quirky keeper, batting in sunglasses on the overcast morning, had contributed four to the stand of 12 when Ambrose, having beaten Butcher repeatedly the previous over, got him to nibble in the ``corridor'' for Hooper at second slip to hold a neat, very low catch.
Somewhere in the Concrete Stand, a lone bell was ringing.
And next ball when ``Ambi'' had Caddick caught behind, West Indians were beginning to make some noise. In the players' pavilion, Atherton and Alec Stewart were staring intently at the field, trying to focus on the positive. With 12 still needed, Dean Headley survived the hattrick ball. And there was no further excitement before lunch, taken at 218 for 7. Ambrose had worked some more of his Oval magic, taking his match tally to eight. But the Windies still needed a hero.
``Make the impossible possible!'' conchshell man Keller implored as the players came back out. But even for the super pace duo, this was a Mission Impossible.
Four runs came in the first over from Walsh. And in the second over, with 10 minutes gone, it was all over. Steady Butcher was left unbeaten on an invaluable 24.
England had batted their way to victory and levelled the series. Caribbean paradise had been disturbed again.
The Prince of West Indies was left to rue his first Test loss as captain.
And ponder how his men might right their batting wrongs.