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4th Test: England v West Indies, Bourda, Georgetown, Guyana

Reports from The Electronic Telegraph

27 Feb - 2 Mar 1998

Day 1: Lara sets the innings ablaze as Chanderpaul adds fuel to fire

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

AFTER only a day of the Bourda Test match, it is already possible to say that the West Indies are overwhelming favourites to win it. Certainly, England will have to produce something very inspired in the field this morning if they are not to find themselves batting against a big total on a pitch in which the ball is going through the top, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

That is a formula which almost always spells defeat and from the moment that Mike Atherton lost the toss yesterday, both the conception and the execution of a plan based on spin bowling went horribly awry. Despite 42 overs from their two slow bowlers, England could not even bowl their 90 overs in the six hours of play available. For them it was a hot, frustrating day. For the West Indies, one which ended in cricketing control on the field and wild excitement from their spectators off it.

Off it for most of the day, anyway. A joyous but chaotic five-minute crowd invasion signalled Shivnarine Chanderpaul's second Test century two overs from the close. At 271 for three when the bails were finally removed, the West Indies had good reason for celebration.

With three fast bowlers and, if necessary, two extra spin bowlers to support their young leg-spinning debutant Dinanath Ramnarine, they are commandingly placed to rub home the advantage gained for them yesterday by classical batting from their three world-class batsmen, Brian Lara, Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper. Making the most of the precious gift of batting first on a dry pitch with a crusty top, Lara led the way towards a total which ought to form the basis of a 2-1 lead in the series.

It was Lara and Chanderpaul, sent in at No 4 on his home ground ahead of Hooper, who batted with skill and judgment in a third-wicket partnership of 159 and Hooper rubbed salt in England's wounds in the final session with a comfortable innings in support of his fellow Guyanese.

Lara was eventually out 50 minutes after tea when in sight of his first Test century since the last home season. He had taken the attack to England's spinners, driving them boldly when they gave the ball air. He hit Robert Croft for six over wide long-on, pulled another off Dean Headley and also hit 13 fours in a commanding performance which had given the West Indies clear control by the time that he lifted a drive to deep extra cover.

England's strategy for this fourth Test was always heavily reliant on winning the toss and batting first. When instead they lost it and found themselves bowling on a pitch which initially gave the fast bowlers reward for extra effort, Mike Atherton very soon found himself wishing that he had had an authentic 'third seamer'. As it was, had Alec Stewart not missed a straightforward edge at knee height to his right at second slip when Chanderpaul had made nine, the West Indies would have been 55 for three in the 23rd over and the game wide open.

Chanderpaul made England pay. On the ground where he made his first Test appearance as a 19-year-old four years ago, he lost little by comparison with the illustrious captain whom one day he will no doubt succeed. There were eight fours in Chanderpaul's first fifty of the series, seven plus a six in Lara's increasingly commanding performance.

Bowling at his best, Andrew Caddick would certainly have been a valuable addition to England's choice of a four-man balanced attack but, as expected, he was replaced by Croft. Only by dropping Jack Russell and asking Stewart to keep wicket again could England have achieved the proper modern balance which they had when they won the less demanding series in New Zealand a year ago with an attack of Cork, Gough, Caddick, Tufnell and Croft.

Bourda, open, breezy ground that it is, looked a picture with what a local paper called the ``newly unfinished'' stand accommodating spectators on metal seats on two tiers and the fresh green and white paint on the slatted wood and corrugated-iron roof of the elegant balustraded pavilion glistening in the sun. The pitch glistened, too, at first, the result of more late watering and heavy rolling, but very soon it was being marked by studs and the occasional ball already seemed to be cutting into the surface crust. Yesterday's cuts and abrasions will be tomorrow's batting problems.

The surface calm of the pavilion was soon disturbed, too. A bomb warning, common in Georgetown since the general election result was disputed two months ago, had been received from an anonymous caller and the England dressing-room had to be evacuated for a 10-minute search.

On the field, umpire Steve Bucknor quickly took a hand. Headley seemed to be following through with the first step after his delivery only a fraction beyond the five-foot marker which designates the danger area but he was twice officially warned, in his second and sixth overs, and continued thereafter in peril of being taken off for the innings in the event of a third offence.

With four left-handers to England's two, the West Indians have been understandably sensitive about where England's tall fast bowlers have been following through but it was hard to believe that even spin bowlers would be able to pitch the ball on as full a length as the one where Headley was landing.

Certainly, Croft and Phil Tufnell presented only occasional problems as Atherton bowled them for the most part in combination with one of the seamers until, it seemed, there was no other alternative. Had he tried them together before both batsmen were set, it might have given him the control he never quite managed to assert.

To an extent, his caution was understandable in view of the apparently greater threat posed initially by Angus Fraser and Headley. Fraser's wicket came in the eighth over of the morning when Graham Thorpe clung on to an outside edge at first slip despite Stewart diving across his bows and Headley's seven overs later when Sherwin Campbell was also defeated by extra bounce.

England had to wait until 11 overs after tea for a spinner to strike when Lara drove very hard but just above the ground to extra cover, where Thorpe emphasised the general excellence of his team's fielding with another fine catch. But Hooper, playing as usual by instinct rather than design, drove his third ball from Croft casually back over the bowler's head and into the sightscreen and Chanderpaul pressed on to his first hundred against England with utter confidence.

Day 2: England claw their way back

By Scyld Berry

Scyld Berry sees the West Indies falter on an ominous Georgetown pitch

ENGLAND have been trapped on a metaphorical minefield in Guyana. They, and this series, deserve something better than a pitch that has disintegrated before the players' eyes into dark grey dirt.

Some balls on the first day, never mind the second, took chunks out of the powdery surface. Whereas Sabina Park contained too much clay, Bourda has too little of it to form anything more than a superficial crust, and only in the middle third of the pitch is there any live grass to bind it.

These circumstances did not prevent the West Indies posting a large 352, but Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul made hay when the pitch was at its best, when some dampness still bound the crust together.

On the second morning the groundsmen swept away a bucket-load or two of soil from the pitch itself: whatever remains for England to bat on was not what the West Indian batsmen enjoyed.

An element of double standards is naturally involved. When England are blasted to kingdom come by the West Indian fast bowlers on a dodgy pitch at Edgbaston in 1995, everybody squeals; when England manage to duff up India a year later in similar conditions, nobody complains. But the point remains that another unsuitable surface has been added to the list in the West Indies, England and elsewhere, to the detriment of Test cricket.

Everton Weekes, wise old Sir Everton, remembers the days when Caribbean groundsmen were spurred by pride to rise at dawn and roll the dew into their pitches. Now, it seems, most squares in the Caribbean are left untended until shortly before a match is to be staged; and in Guyana, a church mouse among nations, where wages for manual workers can be just US$20 a week, the state of professional groundsmanship is shoddier still.

England have been trapped by their own naivety too. Their traditional faith in finger-spin is touching. On a disintegrating pitch an off-spinner and a slow left-armer will do damage. Quick bowlers, however, not to mention wrist spinners, are likely to do more damage more quickly.

Three seamers and one spinner was the ``favoured option'' in Mike Atherton's phrase a day before this Test, and there was no justification for departing from it. The only question should have been which finger- spinner, Robert Croft or Phil Tufnell, and it may have been partly because the tour selectors were divided as to who should be selected that they chose both and left out Andy Caddick instead.

The toss was crucial in these circumstances, the right to bat first almost decisive, but not entirely so. England would still have had a chance if they had alternated three seamers downwind after the opening session and Croft into the wind off the Atlantic Ocean, especially if Alec Stewart at second slip had clung on to the chance offered by Chanderpaul at 55 for two.

It was almost 24 hours later that Chanderpaul was finally dismissed in much the same way, when he again edged Angus Fraser and this time Graham Thorpe held on at first slip. There may well be no departure from the custom established in the two previous Tests in Trinidad when the side to stage the only century partnership won the match.

Carl Hooper was dismissed before his fellow Guyanese, trying to pull a ball which was wide of off stump and went wider still so that he was never in control. Still, he had already rammed home the initiative seized by Lara with his audacious off-side drives so soon after his entrance on Friday afternoon.

By pulling to square leg where Croft dived forwards, David Williams made it three ducks in a row since his match-winning innings in Trinidad, when he used up a series-worth of luck in falling across his crease without being given leg-before. Even then Williams had time to be dropped by Jack Russell, who continued his hate affair with this ground when a quick but relatively straightforward outside edge went to earth.

Rounding up the remainder after the West Indies had resumed at 271 for three did the averages and morale of England's bowlers no harm, and Fraser was able to claim the record of most Test wickets in the Caribbean by a visiting bowler when Chanderpaul became his 49th. But it had the grave disadvantage of bringing closer the time when England would have to bat.

Several holes on a fast bowler's length awaited the attention of Curtly Ambrose, as if his record against England of 134 wickets at an average of 18 runs each was not already phenomenal. When Dean Headley had his turn after Fraser from the Atlantic end, he hit the same spot and made the ball take off, while Tufnell in his follow-through dug a hole that would nicely suit Hooper's off-break.

Scant consolation for England, but at least Guyana has had something to cheer at last. Now that even the great festival of carnival has become politicised and polarised, with the two main parties principally representing the Indian and African racial groups staging their own processions last week, cricket is left as the only social glue. The moment when a Guyanese of African origin was the first on the field to congratulate Chanderpaul on his hundred, two days after most MPs of African origin refused to take their seats in parliament, was perhaps the most significant of the match, for all the inadequacies of this Bourda pitch.

Day 3: Croft hands hope to England

CURIOUSER, curiouser and more exciting with almost every session which passes, the West Indies v England series continues to defy cricketing logic. England saved the follow-on in the fourth Test at Bourda by means of a resourceful and accomplished 64 not out by Mark Ramprakash, a watershed in his career for sure, and then hauled themselves back into a game which was far beyond their reach when they were 75 for six late on Saturday evening, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Enjoying some luck with marginal umpiring decisions and fielding with spirit and slickness, despite a missed chance or two, England restricted their opponents to 127 for nine in their second innings, a lead of 309. That really should be enough for a West Indies win. Nothing in this series may be taken for granted, however, and, though the pitch is turning a lot - 15 wickets have fallen to spinners so far - another unpredictable day beckons. Ramprakash and Robert Croft had already put on 12 in the gloaming on Saturday when they resumed at 87 for six yesterday in an atmosphere of Sunday morning torpor. The two demons of the England collapse had been Curtly Ambrose (more of a threat than his one wicket suggested) and Dinanath Ramnarine. Yet Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Carl Hooper were all given turns before the young leg-spinner, and Ambrose was not allowed a bowl until the follow-on had been saved. By then Lara had left the field with an injured finger.

Quite what the captain's game was only he seemed to know. If, as was suggested by some, he had no intention of enforcing the follow-on whether or not England managed to make more than 153, there was no logic to keeping Ambrose fresh.

Both batsmen must have been heartily relieved to see Ambrose pacing about the field, fit, willing but unemployed. Croft, after all, has a known weakness against balls aimed at his rib-cage, and this remains Ramprakash's sole vulnerable point, too.

Walsh did try to dig a couple of balls in, but the pitch had had some of its pace squashed out by the heavy roller - without any additional crumbling of the soil - and Walsh and Bishop kept the ball well up to both batsmen, continuing the policy which had worked well in the more frenzied atmosphere of Saturday afternoon. By steady, intelligent batting Ramprakash and Croft, playing their first match of the series, banished the horrors of the evening before and moved steadily towards the follow-on figure.

For Ramprakash, who began his innings in a familiar crisis at 65 for four after Nasser Hussain had been given out, a little dubiously, in the course of yet another long and hostile spell by Walsh, this was a performance of immense importance. Throughout his three hours and 40 minutes batting he was cool, tidy and balanced, playing everything on its merits and only occasionally taking an unwarranted risk, when he tried to sweep Ramnarine out of the rough, a policy which had finally put an end to Graham Thorpe's uneasy struggle.

There was a moment during the first phase of Ramprakash's innings on Saturday evening which said much about the fact that he had finally made it as a Test batsman - though the hundreds have still to come and no one should get carried away by what was only his third fifty. Playing against Jimmy Adams he kicked the ball away like a footballer aiming for the top corner.

So was Croft, saluting St David's Day as a Welshman by batting with a daffodil tucked into his pad. David Williams extended Croft's tenure by missing a stumping when Hooper spun a ball through his gate as he advanced to drive and he had been batting almost two hours when, with 14 still needed to avoid the follow-on, he cut Hooper to slip.

Hooper, smooth and sinuous as a snake, followed up by finding Dean Headley's outside edge four balls later and, when Fraser aimed an unworthy legside heave at a time when he ought to have been leaving the run-scoring to his county captain, England were suddenly perilously placed once more.

In the next hour either side of lunch Tufnell somehow clung on as Ramprakash resourcefully took most of the strike. Ramprakash reached his fifty with a quick single off Walsh, pushed the next ball from Hooper into the ground through Lara's hands for the two which made the West Indies bat again, then made 16 more of the last-wicket stand of 30, signing off with a glorious off-drive off Walsh before Ambrose finally got Tufnell to lift the ball to cover. Greatly encouraged, but still 182 behind, England made just the start they needed. Stuart Williams drove in Dean Headley's second over and edged an outswinger to second slip where Alec Stewart took a fine, low catch. Lara and Sherwin Campbell, counter-attacked thrillingly, but Campbell, trying to hit himself into form, was caught at short-leg off his gloves in the seventh over, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul then took a fatal chance with the speed of Nasser Hussain in the covers and was brilliantly run out by a direct hit, though only after a long, careful look at the replay by the third umpire.

Lara and Hooper consolidated stylishly, and there was an element of doubt about both their wickets, Lara to a catch off pad and possibly, bat at silly point, Hooper padding up. That too was the way that Adams went again, playing no shot for the second time in the match after David Williams had given Ramprakash his first Test wicket when he pulled a long-hop to square-leg and Tufnell took a brilliant catch, diving to his right.

Croft , bowling round the wicket to the left-handers, then twice convinced Darrell Hair that balls to which Jimmy Adams and Ambrose padded up would have hit the stumps.

There were a couple of run-out opportunities missed, in addition to a second dropped catch in the match by Jack Russell standing up - his days are numbered again - but this was altogether a most spirited performance by England whatever their fate with the bat today.

They had done well to take the last seven West Indian first-innings wickets for 81, but they must have known that that was the easier part; equivalent to the general inspection of teeth by a dentist before the announcement of how many fillings are required. Some discomfort and pain thereafter was inevitable because batting on this pitch was never going to be comfortable after the first day.

Nevertheless, England batted as disappointingly as the West Indies bowled well. The pattern was set early by the negative lead given to his side by Mike Atherton and the aggressive one laid down by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, who both bowled flat out and preyed on the uncertainties already in English minds as a result of the marks on the pitch.

Batting was even more awkward later against Hooper and Ramnarine, who both got sharp turn and bounce from the rough on this arid pitch, which has one or two holes in it. It is they who may prove the final match winners in England's second innings.

more Day 3: Ramprakash produces his best innings when it matters

By Mark Nicholas

WHEN Mark Ramprakash walked to the crease just a few moments before the clock struck five at Bourda on Saturday afternoon, his England credibility was on the line. Not his career, perhaps - to say that would be too melodramatic - but through his exasperated, almost bitter reaction to exclusion during the first part of this tour he made it evident that he did not approve, that he was hurt and on the brink of despair.

It has long been like that for Ramprakash, the tortured talent whose face has not fitted into the England jigsaw. Having made his statement through his disenchantment, he now had to make runs in the fourth Test against the West Indies in Guyana to cement his case.

He did, with bells on, he made 64 of them from 179 balls faced, barely looking as if he would get out, ushering England's tail past the follow-on mark and receiving a standing ovation from his team-mates, never mind the crowd, who proudly chatter about his Guyanese heritage. It was, despite anything he has done for Middlesex, the innings of his life, the defining performance of an uncertain international career which has hit so many brick walls.

It was worth more than the combined value of his 72 and 42 in Perth three years ago, because nothing was expected of him then, having flown, as he had, in a rush from England's A tour, to replace Graeme Hick for the last-fated Test of an inglorious Ashes tour. Everything was expected of him here. It meant more than his 48 against Australia at the Oval last summer, because this series is alive, that one was already in Australia's pocket.

Yes, he played in that match at the Oval, which England won so memorably, the last Test they played before this tour began, and because of it he had good reason to expect to resume his international career when England got going again in the Caribbean.

As Michael Holding, a harsh critic of indecisive selection, pointed out: ``If you are 'in' a team, then you are 'in' it, not in and out of it on the whim of a selector's mood. Ramprakash was 'in' England's team, they won the match, and next thing he knew he was out of it again. That was unfair.'' Which was Ramprakash's point while he festered. All he wanted was a fair deal. He could not possibly, he said, justify faith or banish doubt if he did not play. And if he did not play now, then when?

It was to his great credit then that during that tricky 45 minutes late on Saturday evening, he seemed relaxed at last in an England shirt, more like a batsman expecting to parade his talent than a batsman hoping he might. He defended with the maker's name presented squarely to the bowler and moved his feet in the neat, precise way that is the trademark of his style in general.

He is one of those cricketers whose kit and clothing appear moulded to his body, whose bat is a natural extension of his arms, and the lack of fuss that those attributes bring to his play helped him to survive, convincingly, until the close. Yesterday the most revealing feature in his batting was its presence of mind. Only once could he have been questioned for his delicate decisions in 'farming' the strike, and only once more in nearly four hours could his choice of stroke be argued against.

His plan to guide England to safety - and remember for much of it he was looking after Philip Tufnell - was clinically fulfilled, and from it shone the reasons why Middlesex had chosen him to be their captain, and why so soon, after little more than half of an English summer, are they pleased to have done so.

It is impossible to be more pleased for him. In showing fight to retain his sense of worth during rejection; in showing dedication to practice and in showing calm and skill when taking his chance, he has shown everyone what Ramprakash, man and batsman, is about.

Day 4: Ambrose ambushes Atherton to signal England's collapse

MARY TUDOR predicted that when she died and her heart was examined the word 'Calais' would be written upon it, such was the trauma of losing the port to the French after 200 years. If they should open up Mike Atherton's heart many years hence, the word might well be 'Ambrose', writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

When he had finally found a way of breaking a record last-wicket partnership for West Indies against England, 70 by Ian Bishop and Dinanath Ramnarine, the England captain was quickly out to Ambrose, the mighty Antiguan, for the fourth time in the series and the 14th of his career.

There was a terrible inevitability about all that followed in the fourth Test at Bourda. The last-wicket partnership had itself presaged the England collapse, which reached 28 for four before Mark Ramprakash, by brave, measured, orthodox batting, stemmed the flow of events in Guyana, which had been probable from the moment that Brian Lara won the toss last Friday morning.

It was always likely that if either side made 300 in the first innings, they would win on a pitch as dry as this and, despite all the much less predictable twists since the West Indies declined from 295 for three to 352 all out on the second day, the drama had duly moved rapidly to its pre-scripted conclusion.

England, having taken almost two hours to get the last wicket, were bowled out in 62.1 overs, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh taking seven of the wickets on a spinner's pitch. The West Indies won by 242 runs in what was officially the last over of the fourth day to take a 2-1 lead with the Tests in Barbados and Antigua to come.

A series which started with the future of these two great bowlers uncertain - and many pundits unwisely writing them off now looks likely not only to end in triumph for them but to mark the end of Jack Russell's Test career and the beginning of the end of Atherton's.

He may have had another lean series - 96 in seven innings now but the history of Atherton's 50 Tests as captain shows that only when he gets runs in the second innings do England have much chance of winning or drawing.

As so often before, he was leg before yesterday, going across his crease to a ball of fullish length in the third over and defeated by the lowness of the bounce.

Another skidder very nearly accounted for Alec Stewart soon afterwards, but the ball sped past his off stump for four byes. So Ambrose was denied the other wicket, which the West Indies prize most.

That wicket went instead to Walsh, who claimed Stewart lbw as he played forward no more than a foot in front of the popping crease to a ball which might have grazed his leg stump. Two balls later Nasser Hussain shaped to pull, changed his mind in mid-stroke and was caught at short leg.

Graham Thorpe's Caribbean tour four years ago reached its nadir in Georgetown, and England must hope the same is true this time, because their best batsman of the last two years is struggling. His instinct yesterday, healthily enough, was to counter-attack, but he had already been given not out, gloving a bouncer from Walsh when umpire Bucknor was unsighted, before a well middled clip off his legs was superbly caught by a diving Ramnarine at deepish backward short leg.

Mark Butcher now stoutly held the fort with Ramprakash for 17 overs before the West Indies broke through again in the over after tea.

Butcher is a good and spunky player of quick bowling, but he has much to learn still against spin and he had already had the close fielders yelping with excitement against Hooper before, going back to a ball bowled from round the wicket, he was given out lbw as he tried to hit to leg.

Ramprakash next found an equally determined partner in Russell and together they held up the West Indies for 16 further overs, though Ramnarine caused problems from the rough and had Russell missed behind the wicket when he had made four.

When the spinners dropped short, Ramprakash put them away off the back foot, and it needed a switch back to pace for the wickets to start tumbling afresh. Ramprakash and Russell were both out to balls which left them late, Russell to a flashy, diving slip catch, but Robert Croft, to his credit, looked comfortable against the quick stuff, only to get an outside edge to Hooper's drifter.

After that it was a question only of whether England could battle into a fifth day. Despite a staunch effort at the end by Dean Headley, they could not.

It would not have seemed so impossible for England, perhaps, had they finished off the West Indies' second innings with proper dispatch in the morning.

For the second day running a bowling side, who had seemed irresistible the previous evening, came out as if all their strength had gone, like Samson after his haircut. England were surely aware of the danger of taking the last wicket for granted and Atherton was right to begin with two spinners on a pitch suiting them so well.

Croft bowled well again, although he might, on this turning pitch, have offered more for the batsmen to drive. Phil Tufnell disappointingly let his captain down, though he was dissuaded from bowling sufficiently slowly by a huge drive over wide mid-on by Bishop, which lost the ball somewhere on the way to Regent Street.

Bishop has always been a competent and cool batsman and in this match he has played two fine innings. Ramnarine was soon revealed to be an imposter at No 11, certainly in any side containing Walsh. Left-handed, he had a solid defence and could play a shot or two as well.

The brooms of the groundstaff between the innings swept up what seemed to be a carpet of loose dust from the surface of the pitch, reminiscent of Old Trafford in 1956, but if Jim Laker had been playing for the West Indies yesterday, Ambrose and Walsh would not have allowed him to take 19 wickets.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 03 Mar1998 - 10:25