Tony Becca , Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Bridgetown: The fifth and probably deciding Test between the West Indies and England opens at Kensington Oval today and the expectation is five days of cricket at its best between two almost evenly matched teams on a good pitch, on a lovely outfield and before a bumper crowd.
Leading 2-1 with two to go, the West Indies, winners of four of the 12 contests between the two teams at Kensington, could wrap up the series by ticking off victory number five against their oldest opponent in the Lion's Den, and that is what captain Brian Lara is gunning for. England cannot afford to lose and as far as captain Mike Atherton is concerned, this is it. ``If we win here, it is 2-2, and a winner take all showdown in Antigua.''
To many cricket fans, that would be a fitting climax to a series in which the fortunes have swayed from side to side - a series in which, after the abandoned first Test, the West Indies hung on to win the second, England squeezed through to win the third and the West Indies, powered by brilliant batting from Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, won the fourth handsomely.
As enticing and exciting as a showdown in Antigua would be, the West Indies are not interested in that.
The West Indies' mission is victory, the earlier the better, and there is no better place to clinch the series than Kensington Oval - their happy hunting ground.
England however, are not scared - not because they have forgotten the brilliant, late burst of Curtley Ambrose in 1990 when he nailed them with eight for 45, but because they remember that after a drawn game in 1930 they recorded the first victory at Kensington in 1935, that after 59 years without losing to anyone in the Den, the West Indies went down to them in 1994, fell to Australia in 1995 and that India scared the daylights out of them in 1997.
England also believe the West Indies, based on their decision to bring in two new opening batsmen, are far from confident, that Ambrose and Courtney Walsh apart, the Windies fire power is not what it used to be, and that if they can get at Lara and Chanderpaul early, if they can survive Ambrose and Walsh, they could be in business - especially if Alec Stewart reproduces the form of 1994 when he scored 118 and 143. England however, could be in for a deadly surprise, for while the aggressive Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert could fall early to the swing bowling of Angus Fraser and Dean Headley, they could, if they get going, destroy them and on what promises to be the best pitch so far in the series, set the stage for a batting treat from Lara, Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper, James Adams or Roland Holder.
England, in fact, had better beware. In his six innings to date, Lara has been bubbling without coming to boil and regardless of the fate of Wallace or Lambert, this could be the moment of truth for the England bowlers - including Fraser who set up England's victory in 1994 with first innings figures of 8 for 75 off 28.5 overs.
As the West Indies prepare for the contest, they have two decisions to make. Should it be Adams or Holder, one of pacers Ian Bishop and Nixon McLean or right-arm legspinner Dinanath Ramnarine?
The first could depend on the second. If the West Indies decide to go for four fast bowlers, Adams, despite the feeling that he plays too often with his pad rather than with his bat, should be the one because his left-arm spin could assist Hooper's offspin in support for the quartet of fast bowlers.
Day 1: England, WI share honours
Tony Becca, Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: BRIDGETOWN - The bumper crowd which turned up at Kensington Oval yesterday to witness the opening day's play of the fifth Test between the West Indies and England got more than their money's worth - including those English fans who entered on scalper's tickets at twice the official cost.
Following the pattern of the previous matches, the standard of play was nothing to write home about.
As a contest however, it was, also like the others, an intriguing day's play in which the West Indies, led by pacers Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose and Nixon McLean, threatened to blow England apart before the tourists steadied themselves thanks to some resolute batting by Mark Ramprakash and Jack Russell who shared a partnership of 76 runs in 24 overs, and then went on to share the honours - thanks to some splendid batting by Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe and their unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 98 off 40 overs.
At lunch, England were on the ropes at 55 for four after 26 overs. At stumps, after limiting the West Indies to one more wicket, they were 229 for five with Ramprakash on a career-best 80, and Thorpe, after retiring ill on five, on a series-best 50.
The fans on either side were stunned when Brian Lara won the toss and opted to bowl first. Within 40 minutes however, England were 24 for two with Walsh, who started the match on 367 wickets, closing in on Malcolm Marshall's West Indies record of 376. At ten minutes to lunch, they were reeling at 53 for four and Lara was being hailed as a genius.
Walsh made the initial breakthrough when Alec Stewart, on 12, went on to the backfoot, attempted a drive and edged to 'keeper David Williams with the score on 23.
Nineteen minutes and one run later, Walsh made it 24 for two when Atherton, 11, went for a hook and Ambrose came off the long-leg boundary for the catch.
McLean, bowling fast and furious after replacing Ambrose, scared the daylights out of Nasser Hussain with a screaming bouncer, attacked him with a better one next delivery, and the batsman, in a tangle and desperately trying to get out of the way instinctly tried to protect his face and was caught off the glove by Lara at first slip.
That was 33 for three in the 14th over, and Ambrose made it 53 for four in the 23rd when, with Mark Butcher on 19, he cut one away from the left-hander and Carl Hooper took a low catch at second slip.
For England, it could have been worse: it could have been 55 for five but for the failure of Ambrose to hold on to a low left-handed return catch off Ramprakash who was then on two.
After lunch, Russell returned with Ramprakash while Thorpe received treatment for back spasms, and together they checked the West Indies march.
Just as Russell, going great guns on 32 and stroking five well timed boundaries, appeared warming to the task of beating back the West Indies, Carl Hooper, bowling round the wicket to the left-hander, pulled him forward, forced him into a defensive stroke and Philo Wallace dived for the catch at short-leg. That was 131 for five in the 50th over 19 minutes before tea and the West Indies were back on top.
However, for the rest of the afternoon, the West Indies bowlers toiled in vain as Ramprakash and the left-handed Thorpe dominated the post-tea session with a blend of attack and defence.
Day 4: Stage set for thrilling end
Tony Becca , Senior Sport Editor
CRICKET: Bridgetown: The fifth and penultimate Test of the Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England enters its fifth and final day at Kensington Oval today with the promise of a thrilling finish but with the tourists in a wonderful position to push for a victory which would level the count at two-two and set up a grand finale in Antigua.
At stumps on a day once again dominated by England the scoreboard read, England 403 and 233 for three declared, the West Indies 262 and 71 without loss and the odds in favour of victory for England.
With all 10 wickets in hand however, their victory target reduced from 375 to 304 and all of 75 overs plus 15 in the last hour to reach it, the West Indies are not out of it, and although only two teams - India vs West Indies 1976, Australia vs England 1948 have ever scored as many runs in the last innings to win a game, not even the fans who have been hurting because of their unpredictable batting in recent times, would bet against them - not with the powerful and potentially dangerous Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace still there on 28 and 38 respectively, not with Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper to come, and not on a pitch which any batsman worthy of appearing in a Test match should fancy himself scoring a century.
Apart from the tendency of the West Indies batsmen to slit their own throats however - whether with reckless, careless batting or with ultra-cautious, stifling batting as was the case on Saturday, the pitch, the same one on which Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain batted so splendidly yesterday, could, ironically, be England's best ally in their bid for victory.
The pitch, almost all of it, still in good shape. The rough spots caused by the bowlers' follow through are situated just around a good length and just outside the offstump of left-handed batsmen however, and if left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell bowls as accurately as he did in the first innings and as he has started in the second innings, the West Indies left-handers - Lambert, Lara and Chanderpaul - could be in for a tough time.
If that happens, Tufnell, as he did in the first innings, could drive the fear of god in the others and leave them scared, frightened, and sitting ducks - as he may well have done already had Dean Headley at backward square-leg held on to a straight forward catch when Wallace, on 23 at 56, swept at the legspinner and the ball flew off the top edge. Great players however, are not those who are consistent. Great players are those who do great things when it matters most, and today is testing time for the likes of Lara, Hooper and Chanderpaul.
Resuming at two without loss, a lead of 143, two days to go, and a declaration which would leave them with enough time to successfully attack the West Indies on their minds, England, despite three boundaries by Alec Stewart off Courtney Walsh in the morning's third over, started confidently but cautiously, played themselves into a position where they could decide when to do what they wanted to do, and after some defensive cricket by the West Indies - including five overs of legside bowling by Chanderpaul, went for the whip after tea.
In 32 overs before lunch, England, with Stewart and Mike Atherton stroking the ball confidently, scored 87 off 32 overs, and after ticking off their second century opening stand of the series, made a move to step up the pace.
The butt of jokes in the pre-lunch session when both batsmen preened themselves against him with drives, square drives, and ondrives, Ian Bishop stopped them before they even got started.
Stewart, cutting off the backfoot, edged to Lara at first slip and England were 101 for one in the 39th over with Stewart gone for 48. Nine overs later, it was 128 for two with Atherton on his way for 64 - the batsman attempting to run a good length delivery past slip and edging a catch to wicketkeeper David Williams.
After tea, England went at the bowling, scored 60 off 10 overs, called the declaration, and left themselves 18 overs and one day to get rid of the West Indies - or so they thought at the time.
In the first five overs as Wallace and Lambert blasted 35 off Andy Caddick and Dean Headley, Atherton and his advisers must have wondered what had they done.
In a performance reminiscent of the second afternoon when they smashed 82 off 20 overs, the West Indies opening pair struck 12 boundaries as Wallace opened up with two offside drives off Caddick, Lambert followed with a superb drive to long-off Headly, and Lambert drove Headley for three boundaries in one over.
When Wallace, with the most audacious stroke of the day, stood up and slammed Caddick high to the wide long-on boundary, it was time to run for cover and to Tufnell.
Lambert greeted the spinner with a sweep for four, but although they continued to enjoy themselves against the pacers with Lambert hooking and driving Angus Fraser for boundaries and Wallace driving high and straight, they were reduced to fumbling strokes against the threatening and dangerous Tufnell.
Bowling over the wicket to the left-handed Lambert and around the wicket to the right-handed Wallace, Tufnell had both batsmen playing tentatively from the crease, and with Mark Ramprakash forcing them to do like wise during his two overs of offspin after replacing Fraser, the fans left Kensington in different moods.
There were those who believed that the West Indies will click today and destroy Tufnell and company. There were others who were nervous however - those who left wondering if today will be a repeat of Saturday when the West Indies, after a blazing start late on Friday, choked themselves to death
Day 5: Rain keeps WI in front
Tony Becca, Senior Sport Editor
The fifth Test of the Cable and Wireless series between the West Indies and England ended in disappointment at Kensington Oval with overnight rain, morning showers, and afternoon drizzles destroying what had promised to be a thrilling finish.
Instead of victory for England as the cards suggested, experienced past players from both sides expected, and the visiting fans wanted, instead of a surprising and obviously memorable victory for the West Indies, or an exciting draw as some predicted, the Test match ended in a frustrating stalemate when, with the rain still coming, umpires Cyril Mitchley and Eddie Nichols called it off at 3.57.
Final score: England 403 and 233 for three declared, the West Indies 262 and 111 for two.
With one Test to go in Antigua starting on Friday, and with the West Indies boasting a two one lead after winning the second and fourth matches, the draw left the Windies in an unbeatable position, and England, after winning the third match, with nothing to hope for but a draw.
``Of course it is disappointing,'' said England captain Mike Atherton at the end of the match. ``We knew before we started that we had to win the match in order to win the series, and we had a good chance.''
``It was always going to be tough winning it,'' said West Indies captain Brian Lara who said he was happy with the draw. ``We had a chance however, and if it came, we would have gone for it.''
Lara's plan was to bat for a session and a half or there about, see how things went, and if there was a chance to go for it.
On a day when play was limited to 18 overs, the gods gave neither team a chance.
After a drought which lasted since November, rain delayed the start of the day's play until 21 minutes after lunch, sliced off 19 overs of the day's allotment, and by then it was all over for the West Indies who would then have to score at 4.28 runs per over to win the game.
With time against them when play started, England started with Tufnell and Fraser, and in the pacer's first over, second ball, Lambert attempted to hook,
the ball flew high, and Dean Headley ran to his left from mid-on to make it 72 for one.
In the same over, Wallace after cutting to the thirdman boundary edged short of a diving Nasser Hussain, and with Lara pushing out and beaten a few times by Tufnell, England had visions of knocking off the West Indies.
After a five minute break Wallace drove Tufnell straight for six, drove Fraser high to long-off, and then went away for 61 at 108 for two in the 33rd over (the 14th of the day) - leg before wicket to pacer Andy Caddick.