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West Indies v England, 6th Test

reports from the Electronic Telegraph

20-24 March 1998

Day 1: Ambrose strikes double blow to undo England's good work on awkward pitch

ALL the ingredients of the modern West Indian Test series were in evidence when the final match of the series started in Antigua yesterday: noise, colour, tricky batting conditions, rain and Curtly Ambrose. Just when England thought they had got away with it after being put in to bat on a wet pitch the giant Antiguan bounded in to remove Michael Atherton and Mark Butcher in the space of four balls, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Had Alec Stewart not survived the second of two tricky chances to Shivnarine Chanderpaul at third slip three overs before bad light brought the shower-strewn day to a close, England would have ended the first day in greater trouble than 35 for two.

They need a hot, sunny morning to dry the pitch out if a recovery is to be possible. Heavy overnight showers and a bare pitch which had apparently been watered too liberally as well persuaded Brian Lara to put an unchanged England in again, despite the selection of a leg-spinner in the final West Indies eleven.

Aided by more showers which reduced the first session to 11 overs, England got through to lunch with all wickets intact, Stewart and, especially, Atherton batting with great skill on the equivalent of an old-fashioned uncovered pitch to reach 25.

By the time further afternoon rain had ceased, the covers were so saturated that a disorganised groundstaff were unable to prevent a neighbouring pitch from being soaked. Eventually they got back for seven balls in the evening - Atherton added a single - before another interruption but in the brief final session the complexion of the day changed dramatically.

Atherton, clearly determined to be positive, survived a top-edged hook off Courtney Walsh into no-man's land but, next ball, he sliced a drive off Ambrose low to the gully. Three balls later, Butcher, understandably on edge, cut carelessly at a ball too close to his off stump and was swallowed at first slip. Ironically, neither wicket could have been blamed on the pitch.

The relaid pitch was staging only its second cricket match, which in most parts of the world would be an outrageous gamble. The devil in it which caused Atherton to summon the England physiotherapist for a blow on the wrist in the first over, and Stewart to receive a wicked lifter which struck him high on his chest just before the first interval, was probably not due, however, to any lack of preparation.

Talk of a repeat of Sabina Park was a gross exaggeration. The problem here was largely dampness on top of a clay-based soil which, by complete contrast to Bourda, had probably been over-watered in advance to ensure that it would hold together. Moisture mixed with hot sun, even in small doses, made batting against Ambrose and Walsh an extreme challenge.

Only the occasional ball, however, was genuinely unplayable, unlike at Kingston on that notorious day at the end of January. Survival here, as England's vastly experienced opening pair proved, was more difficult than impossible. This was more a typical rain-affected pitch than an old-fashioned sticky dog. That infamous combination of a wet surface and a hot sun which in Australia and the Caribbean would occasionally create conditions in which steeply rising deliveries like the one which felled Stewart were commonplace.

This was more the sort of pitch, in character if not appearance, which made batting awkward when it rained in county cricket before partial covering and, after 1981, total protection. For Shackleton and Cartwright, however, those typical bowling craftsmen of the Fifties and Sixties, yesterday's substitutes were Ambrose and Walsh.

All the more heartening early on therefore, to see Atherton playing the lifting ball late with soft hands and Stewart keeping it out with his own rather stiffer method but also with courage.

The West Indies team once again differed in several respects from the previous Test. Junior Murray's return will improve the batting, not the wicketkeeping. In addition, Dinanath Ramnarine returned for Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose was preferred to Nixon McLean, who had been given a good deal of flat-out bowling at Bridgetown.

Rose's turn was delayed because of long afternoon showers. The Recreation Ground was not quite full but the increased capacity, 11,000, probably made this the biggest gathering here.

more Day 1:

Technique and guts the key on an old sticky dog

By Mark Nicholas

THE pitch in Antigua, newly laid for the last Test of this dripping series, played like an old-fashioned ``sticky dog'' in the few overs bowled yesterday morning.

English first-class cricket switched from uncovered to covered pitches 18 years ago and a great many experienced judges believe the switch to have been a mistake.

They argue that the technique of the modern English batsman has suffered through the luxury of playing on featherbeds rather than the stern examinations provided by batting on a wet pitch. They argue, too, that bowlers learn discipline on wet pitches.

Yesterday was a good time to weigh it all up, though account had to be taken of the dry run-up which allowed the West Indian fast bowlers maximum grip with their spikes and therefore maximum effort. In the uncovered days, the run-ups were as wet as the pitches themselves and fast bowlers operated somewhat gingerly off a shortened run.

The first thing that struck one during the 48 minutes of play here in the morning was the amount of time Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart stood up, tall on their back foot, to defend. Both are good back-foot players anyway -Stewart specifically so - so they were the most likely, along with Graham Thorpe, perhaps, to be able to cope with the ball stopping and then spitting at them from an awkward, fullish length.

Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh are doubly awkward because of their height, so the alarming bounce is further exaggerated, and both are so accurate that you are consistently made to play at the ball and likely to be hit. They were often enough to disturb confidence but not often enough to break the will of the competent England opening batsmen.

Occasionally, Walsh became frustrated by the obstinate back-foot defence and tried for the yorker. This allowed the batsmen to punch drive down the ground or work the ball off their toes into the vacant spaces on the leg side. There was not much in the way of a forward defence shot but when it did come, Atherton was perfectly positioned for it.

The cricket was compelling. It dragged ``oohs'' and ``aahs'' from all of us watching when the ball behaved really badly and it catalysed a series of ``well playeds'' which came from nothing more than balls which were left safely alone or others stunned by the soft hands of these experienced players, whose control of the bat was impressive.

It also showed how accurate the bowling had to be and how error in length was the crime that the batsman, utterly pumped up by the intensity of the business, were best prepared to punish.

This is the key to the point made by those in favour of uncovering. The whole thing is more intense, more a test of excellence than the lifeless pitches and the routine nature of some of the county cricket played now allows.

Against that argument was the lack of strokeplay seen yesterday morning and therefore the aesthetic loss to the game's overall appeal. In the old days of county cricket, it did not always rain. Plenty of pitches were dry, so attacking batting against county bowling was the spectators great pleasure.

Ambrose and Walsh are altogether different and on balance you would have to say that the cricket yesterday was too one-sided and the fairest test of the argument would have been if Ambrose and Walsh had had wet run-ups to contend with.

They failed to take a wicket, however, which was remarkable and which proved that survival, if not progress, is possible with the application of good technique and no little measure of guts.

Day 2: England run out of luck

By Scyld Berry

IF England do return home defeated in this Test series, as is likely after their first-innings score of 127, it will have to be recorded for posterity that they have been unlucky beyond the normal cuts and thrusts of fortune.

The toss in Antigua has proved as advantageous to the West Indies as it was in Guyana. By winning it there the home side gained the right to bat at the one time when the pitch was trustworthy. In Antigua the toss gave the local hero Curtly Ambrose the chance to indulge in perfect seam conditions and then, when England were embarked on their recovery, they lost their patience and three wickets in a fatal heap.

On the second day, as on the first, showers kept the pitch fresh and the West Indian bowlers too. Before the start of this Test the re-laid pitch had been watered to make sure it did not crack prematurely, which was fine in itself, but for the cold front which has been moving slowly over Antigua. It added its own moisture, with the result that the West Indian bowlers were able to knock chunks out of the damp surface, not to mention out of England's batting.

Whereas the movement on the first day was up and down - Alec Stewart was still luridly bruised from one Ambrose ball which took off as near to vertically as a delivered cricket ball can England on the second day had to confront sideways movement. Ambrose, in particular, seamed the ball away so much that the bat sometimes made no contact for large parts of his overs, but there was little excuse for the lower-order collapse when conditions were drying and easing.

Ambrose had the fellow villagers of Swete's to support him with their cheering, trumpets, whistles, drums and bell-ringing. After emancipation, most Antiguan ex-slaves had to stay working on the sugar plantations into the middle of this century since there was no land for them to buy; but Swete's was an exception, where the villagers were able to farm their own food and proudly uplift themselves.

Amid the showers and Ambrosian hostility Stewart did a magnificent job surviving for more than 2.5 hours, including six starts or resumptions to his innings, but only Nasser Hussain followed his lead. Stewart is regarded as one of the stroke-players of his time, but here his virtue lay in leaving so many balls alone, Mike Atherton-style.

Atherton himself had departed on the first evening when climbing into the nearest that Ambrose comes to a half volley; and Mark Butcher as well, to a poorly selected shot. But Dean Headley, growing steadily out of apprenticeship, lasted 39 balls for his meagre score and saw England through the very worst.

In any sphere of West Indian life there is little to rival Ambrose and Courtney Walsh for speed and efficiency. On a helpful seamers' pitch they become almost impossible to score from. Thus it was part of England's plan to attack Franklyn Rose when he came on, for the 31st over of England's innings, and it was in driving at Rose that Stewart was bowled through the gate.

Hussain was at his most chest-on when he began, but he took up the challenge head-on too, driving or hooking if the ball was ever too full or short. Graham Thorpe was England's fifth man out, albeit not to his mind. Slow-motion television replays discerned the faintest of deflections from Thorpe's bat on to his pad as he tried to turn Dinanath Ramnarine's leg-break.

At least Thorpe had the distinction of scoring a boundary, something which the artifically green outfield was loath to permit. It was similar to the one in Harare last winter when England laboured through 83 overs for their embarrassing total of 156 against Zimbabwe.

Hussain cover drove Rose early on for his first boundary, grafted patiently thereafter and was beginning to add more boundaries - sweeping Ramnarine for one four and pulling his long hop for another - as England reached 100 in the 59th over. In Harare it had been poor batting; here, so far, their slow scoring was due to unfavourable conditions.

The collapse, when it came, could well prove to mark the end of Mike Atherton's captaincy. If Hussain and Mark Ramprakash had maintained their patience, they might have transformed their 100 for five into that workable total of 150 or more. Hussain, however, swept at Ramnarine, got no more bat on it than a top edge, and had to endure the spectacle of Roland Holder at short fine leg diving fully stretched to his left and catching it in both hands.

To his second ball Jack Russell was out, reaching a little too keenly for Ramnarine's leg-break and edging it into his pad and across to short leg. Ramnarine shapes as a long-term West Indian leg-spinner and he found sufficient turn and bounce for his liking, but his figures err on the side of flattery.

Ramprakash made it three England wickets to fall in two overs on the verge of tea when he too lost patience. From round the wicket Walsh for once let loose a wide ball which Ramprakash slapped to cover point with sickening accuracy.

At the Oval in August England were losing another slow-scoring Test match, until Australia capitulated in the face of a fourth-innings target of 124. It will probably take a similar result here to persuade Atherton to carry on as captain as he did then.

At the end of a series won abroad, the players are confident they will meet again soon. At the end of a series un-won, like this, the uncertainty is that of children leaving one school for another.

Atherton still has his appetite for cricket, whether he will have any left for captaincy after this match will be the issue of the coming weeks. And if Atherton should resign - it is English etiquette of course to allow someone of such standing to fall upon his sword - there is at the moment only one player within the team who could command both a place and the support of the players, and who also has sufficient emotional maturity to play the diplomat on and off the field. Ramprakash may come to it in time, or Hussain. For the moment it can only be Stewart.

Day 3: West Indies batting splendour exposes England's mediocrity

IT took almost three months, but England have finally managed to make the West Indies look like the side they used to be, not the one who lost three matches out of three in Pakistan, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Five dropped catches by England and as many squandered run-out opportunities could not disguise the splendour of the West Indian batting in Antigua on a slow, and now dry, pitch taking an increasing amount of spin.

Dinanath Ramnarine has already taken four wickets in the match and, if Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh do not get England in the second innings, Ramnarine's leg-spinners or Carl Hooper probably will, barring another career and match-saving innings by Michael Atherton.

The West Indies' opportunity will start sometime today whether England finally take 10 wickets or Brian Lara feels he has allowed his batsmen to gorge themselves sufficiently.

Lara's own dazzling strokeplay during an innings of 89 off 94 balls on a day of vivid blue skies capitalised ideally on the buccaneering start given to the West Indies by their heavyweight opening pair.

It was Clayton Lambert who made the century but Philo Wallace, also playing his third Test, deserved one too for the way that he immediately took the initiative after England's pathetic first innings of 127. Wallace cut, hooked, carved and drove his way to 67 on Saturday evening and to 92 before he played on to his stumps against Dean Headley in the 14th over yesterday.

Of Wallace's 211 runs in his two Tests, 128 have come in boundaries. He hit 11 fours and a six in a 136-ball innings remarkable both for the power with which he hit the ball over a slow outfield -on which England had managed exactly nine fours and for his utter confidence.

Lambert is now naturally bracketed with the big-striking Bajan, but he is a very different player. He moves his feet well for one of such heavy build and wide, open stance, and he hits the ball very hard too, but he commits himself to the stroke later and there is a real hunger for runs, not surprising in one who averages almost 50 per first-class innings.

He needed more luck by far on the way to a maiden Test hundred at the age of 36. Andrew Sandham made two centuries for England, one of them a triple, in the Caribbean at the age of 39 in 1929-30, but the Bajan, George Carew, at 38, may be the only older West Indian.

Lambert would have been run out twice on Saturday and three more times yesterday had England's throwing, so sharp earlier in the tour, been on target. When 95 he top-edged a pull only just over mid-on and he was within an instant of being run out again for 97.

None of yesterday's opportunities were as easy as the one dropped by Atherton in the gully in only the second over of the innings when Lambert had made but five and there was still some hope that England might compensate for their limp yet careless batting.

Their fielding, superficially so good, failed them time and again at crucial moments, though their spirit did not wilt yesterday against Lara's quick-footed aggression.

In the heat of the afternoon, with Lara in glorious flow, they were no more than fragile swimmers in the face of an onbursting tidal wave, but Andrew Caddick, dreadfully short and wide once again with the new ball on Saturday, produced one of his good spells, and it was off his bowling that the West Indies captain lost his final chance, surely, to make a hundred in the series.

The last of many a savage pull shot ended up in Alec Stewart's outstretched right hand as he dived at midwicket to put the smile back on England faces at last with a catch even more brilliant than the one Roland Holder had taken to dismiss England's highest scorer, Nasser Hussain, 24 hours earlier.

Stewart had missed a relatively simple slip catch off Headley when Lambert was 56 in the morning session but, once Lara had gone, the spotlight switched once more to the big, bald Guyanese. Lambert slowed up, not surprisingly, as his moment came but come it finally did, four overs before tea, with a push to the off side from his 220th ball.

The return of Mark Ramprakash, who had been just a little too slow through the air on a pitch as sluggish as this against a batsman as quick on his feet as Lara, finally defeated Lambert. A big off-break took the edge of the bat and carried to slip.

England must persevere with Ramprakash's talent for spin. It is one of very few advances in a series which must ultimately be judged another failure. Having played arguably the better cricket over the first five Tests, they have reserved their worst until last. Feeble batting once they had got over the only difficult period on the first morning has been followed by inconsistent bowling and fallible catching.

No doubt this is a reaction to the deep disappointment felt during the rain in Barbados - they were unlucky to lose the toss on a pitch starting damp - but they are past masters at making life hard for themselves. Only Graham Thorpe, given out lbw despite a thin deflection off the middle of an angled bat, was unlucky, but he forfeited sympathy by a reaction which earned him a severe reprimand from the referee, Barry Jarman.

The worst of all the drops was by Phil Tufnell in Angus Fraser's first over with the second new ball after tea, when Carl Hooper should have been comfortably taken at mid-on. Fraser drew level with John Snow's record of 27 wickets in a Caribbean series when he swung one in to have Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw.

Hooper took full toll and with classical driving, often on the up and over the top, he more or less played with the bowling while Holder glided in his slipstream until driving a return catch to Caddick in the final over. Only Tufnell, by the mean and too-familiar tactic of bowling over the wicket and into the rough, prevented Hooper reaching a hundred before the close.

England's bowling improvement yesterday came far too late. They will lose the series now, even if they draw the match.

Day 4: England batsmen face fight for Atherton's future

IF the England team really care about Michael Atherton continuing as captain - and to a man it seems they do - they must bat for their lives and his on the final day of the Test series in Antigua today, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Atherton himself can do no more to save his position, having been undone once more by the incomparable Curtly Ambrose. He might resign the job even if England defy the odds and save the sixth Test today, but it would not necessarily be the best thing for England and this is not the moment for that sort of decision.

A draw looked very unlikely when, in his 52nd match as captain, Atherton fell to Ambrose, a run short of a meagre 200 for the series, for the sixth time in the rubber. It was not just the lethal break-back ball but the speed at which it was bowled which defeated him. It was the 16th time in his three series against the West Indies that Ambrose has snared him. Lesser batsmen would have been bowled where he has often been lbw (three times in this series) but the Antiguan seems destined to be his nemesis.

After the captain had made his disconsolate way back, English batting was presented in a better light by two of his rivals for the job, Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain. They put on 78 with some style for the third wicket, and though Stewart fell soon after tea, Hussain played with dedicated excellence along with a determined, if not always comfortable, Graham Thorpe. A long and rugged road still stretches ahead if England are to make the 200 more needed to get ahead of the West Indies after Brian Lara's declaration at 500 for seven.

Stewart played with rare command on a pitch which has been a typical Antiguan beauty since it dried out on the second afternoon and Hussain, having forced his first ball from a dominant Ambrose for four, batted like the No 3 he should have been throughout the series.

The declaration came an hour and 50 runs earlier than had seemed likely when the West Indies resumed their first innings at 451 for five. Dean Headley earned his 19th wicket of the series (but he bowled 18 no-balls in a mixed performance) when Junior Murray hit a skimming drive to mid-off. Andrew Caddick took his 13th wicket, from one match fewer, when Franklyn Rose was lbw, half forward.

But England's bowlers had no further success while Carl Hooper proceeded to what was only the third West Indian hundred of the series with the second of two hooks off Headley, his county colleague. Ambrose enjoyed himself too until Lara appeared at the door of the West Indies dressing-room in the Viv Richards Pavilion and clapped his hands.

With the Andy Roberts and Richie Richardson Stands in place and the Ambrose Stand surely to follow when he decides to retire, there has been a constant reminder to the largest crowd to watch a Test in St John's of all that Antigua has contributed to West Indian cricket over 20 years.

The last of the quartet of great Antiguans still playing wasted little time in bending yet another match to his formidable will. This time Atherton and Stewart had an even chance, as had not been the case on the damp pitch on the first morning. Atherton, on his 30th birthday, started well, resisting the efforts of Courtney Walsh to dig the ball in towards his ribs, with a short leg and a leg slip. An inside edge on to his pad past the off stump was his only close call until Lara switched Ambrose to the War Memorial End and he duly found a magic ball for Atherton.

Mark Butcher, drawn to play from the crease at a ball which left him off the seam, completed a nine-ball pair in Ambrose's next over but from that moment until Lara got his two spinners on Stewart and Hussain played with refreshing confidence against the quick bowlers.

Rose, getting only the merest hint of away swing, was punished ruthlessly by Stewart when he pitched short and for what was supposed to be a rearguard action, England's most likely next captain reached his fourth fifty of the series with almost indecent haste: off 89 balls in under two hours.

England's first duty had to be to occupy the crease and though this is often best done by playing positively, the aggression was not always so calculated against the slow bowlers. Stewart hit five of his nine fours after reaching his fifty but he had given a half-chance to Ambrose at mid-off from Dinanath Ramnarine when, flicking to leg against Hooper, he was caught at silly point off bat and pad in the fifth over after tea.

It was Hooper's 15th wicket of the series. These days he is not an occasional bowler but an authentic Test all-rounder. As Thorpe battled to prolong the resistance with Hussain against a ball turning sharply at times, the options for Lara remained plentiful with time and the weather both favouring a West Indian victory. One was left to wonder how good a captain Atherton might have seemed with Ambrose and Walsh at his command, but if Hussain and Thorpe can withstand the first wave from the two champions this morning the series may yet end on an upbeat note.

Day 5: England beaten in extra time after run-out fiasco

ONE OF the most gripping Test series of recent times kept spectators in a frenzy of excitement to the extra hour of the final day here yesterday, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

The match seemed to have been saved, with some style and spirit, by Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe but just when England were almost safe, a foolish run-out broke their fourth-wicket partnership of 168 and from 295 for three the West Indies, determined to seal the series 3-1, bowled England out for 321, with seven overs and 15 minutes of daylight remaining.

The West Indies still had 25 overs and a possible final hour when the last session of a wearying series began, but by now Curtly Ambrose's considerable fury was apparently spent and Hussain and Thorpe seemed able, if never to relax, at least to relish the experience of batting on a pitch which remained bland and solid.

Instead, Hussain was run out when he refused a quick but legitimate run called by Thorpe to Carl Hooper at midwicket. Hussain had scored his maiden hundred against West Indies and there was an element of self-sacrifice in his being the man to go as both batsmen found themselves at the same end.

When Mark Ramprakash was beaten on the back foot by a leg-break from Dinanath Ramnarine four overs later, 13 overs remained before the last hour. Jack Russell lasted 10 of them but with 19 possible overs left overall, Thorpe, then 82, survived when he should have been given out caught by Junior Murray off an inside edge onto his pad from Ramnarine. In the next over the balance was redressed when Russell was adjudged leg before playing forward to Courtney Walsh, though he was bowling from a wide angle round the wicket.

Dean Headley succumbed to a leg break in Ramnarine's next over, leaving England, still 58 runs away from making the West Indies bat again, with only three wickets to defend though the final hour. The sun shone brightly but an approaching grey cloud further tested the nerves of all present.

The day had been reduced by rain in the morning to 60 rather than 75 overs before the extra hour and in the 35 overs bowled before tea Hussain and Thorpe defied all that Ambrose and the spinners could produce.

England had reason to be grateful again for the morning rain. It had taken an excessively long time for the groundstaff to clear the water from tarpaulins which were really only necessary for the square, rather than for a large area around it. In addition the umpires, Cyril Mitchley and Steve Bucknor, gave the benefit of the doubt to both batsmen more than once against the spinners, Hooper and Ramnarine.

Hussain and Thorpe had made their own luck by playing so stoutly against Ambrose's opening burst. The new ball had been due after an over when England resumed at 173 for three, still 200 behind, but Brian Lara had a look at his spinners for four overs before calling up his potential match-winner. Ambrose's first ball to Hussain, a no-ball aimed short and wide, was decisively square-cut for four and though for eight overs and more than an hour the leading wicket-taker of the series gave it all he had, Hussain knew the pitch and the odds were on his side.

Thorpe edged one ball just short of Lara at slip and Hussain was probably unaware when he played an awkward hook off Franklyn Rose and escaped a tricky chance to Walsh at short backward square-leg that a no-ball had been called. But together they dealt with good judgment and courage against a great deal of short, quick bowling from Ambrose. So many bouncers were out of tune with the rest of the series but they left no doubt about the West Indies' ambition to win the match.

The new ball was given to Rose ahead of Walsh, who has had the heaviest workload in the series and looked a weary man by the time he took over. Thorpe was by now hooking brilliantly and he got to his fifty just before Hussain became only the third England century-maker of the series after 341 minutes and 289 balls. Eight of his 14 fours were scored in a second fifty in which his strokes through the offside off the back foot were the special glory.

Hussain has batted with the calm deliberation throughout the series and after more than his share of bad luck he deserved the moment of joy he released in a punch of his right fist after the single which brought him his sixth Test hundred.

All-rounder Phil Simmons is in the West Indies squad for the five one-day matches against England which begin in Barbados on Sunday.

WEST INDIES SQUAD: *B C Lara, C L Hooper, P A Wallace, C B Lambert, S Chanderpaul, S C Williams, P V Simmons, -J R Murray, R N Lewis, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, F A Rose, M Dillon.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Mar1998 - 11:10