West Indies v England, 6th Test

Reports from the Trinidad Express

20-24 March 1998

Day 1: Rain dogs thrilling cricket at ARG


THERE were two brand new stands, the All Saints Iron Band and Chickie and his disco.

But when umpires Steve Bucknor and Cyril Mitchley finally called it a day, there had been precious little cricket on day one of this sixth and final Cable and Wireless Test match.

However, Curtly Ambrose made even the 85 minutes and 21.3 overs of play worthwhile for West Indies fans, especially during the last 40. After a rain-weary crowd half-heartedly greeted the belated return of the Windies fielders at 5.20 pm, they were put in good voice by the Antiguan pace ace's two wickets in three balls.

First, Chickie and his double-decker posse saw diving Dinanath Ramnarine snare another excellent catch when England captain Mike Atherton attempted to steer ``Ambi'' past gully. It was his 26th wicket of the series. Two balls later, the double-decker stand was celebrating number 27 when Brian Lara held on to a flashing Mark Butcher cut on the second attempt.

That action was the kind the ARG faithful had waited nearly six hours. And even with the close of play score standing at 35 for 2, Atherton too would have been glad for the action.

It had been bad enough that Antigua's prolonged dry spell ended just when he and his men jetted in, hopeful of winning a Test that would give them an equal share of the rubber.

The late action was only a small consolation for the lost time and opportunities.

But Atherton also had to the endure the frustration of seeing the ground authorities lose the battle with technology. Again. After the third, longest and most depressing showery spell had swept in from the east and dumped its fare on the ARG, the England skipper and his West Indies counterpart Lara watched in dismay as a load of water escaped from the westernmost tarpaulins and spilled onto the ground on the brown, bare edge of the square.

It was the most galling indignity of the day, just barely more embrassing than the sight of a water-sucking Water Hog going out of commission at the wrong time. The overworked grounds crew reverted to the use of large sponges and a manually operated roller to soak up the water.

It was a sad case of deja-vu, West Indies cricket having once more been left with a less than efficient, professional look to it. On the field, the players could not be blamed for the dearth of entertainment. Lara called right for the third straight time and from the first five balls of Courtney Walsh's rain-interrupted first over to the revealing 35 minutes spell afforded before lunch and then to the final 40, the home team's bowlers gave openers Atherton and his men much food for thought.

Conventional wisdom said the new wicket was not made for pure pace. So leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine, left out in Barbados, returned for his second Test while the selectors belatedly called up Franklyn Rose for his first Test of the series in place of Nixon McClean. But the first ball of the game went leaping over Athurton's back and the fifth dealt him a painful blow on his left arm.

Both openers repeatedly went tapping and prodding the brown, grassless surface in the hope of quieting the early fire.

But Stewart may already be wearing the scars to suggest that their efforts were in vain. The rugged right-hander, leading scorer in the series, was brought to his knees by a Curtly Ambrose short ball that smacked into his rib cage.

All of the batsmen's skill-their judgement of line, quick reflexes and ``soft'' hands-was required to keep the bowlers at bay. Disappointed that he had no wicket to show despite his side's early dominance, Lara would have been well-advised not to mention it to Walsh. The less-than-pleased bowler had seen Atherton snick a delivery off offstump to where ``new'' wicketkeeper Junior Murray and Lara stood-literally. The veteran walked agitatedly away, flinging a piece of turf out of his way.

He would suffer again in the last session when Shivnarine Chanderpaul at third slip put down a sharp chance low to his left off Stewart (14). Before lunch, Stewart had also edged Ambrose just short of the diving Chanderpaul at third slip.

But Ambrose eventually brought some cricketing sunshine to the 8,000 crowd before Stewart and nightwatchman Dean Headley accepted an offer of the light.

Day 2: Windies jam session

FOR a rainy day and a bit, the visitors to the Antigua Recreation ground had experienced little Caribbean sunshine, the island verve having been stifled by the weather.

But by the end of the sparkling second day of this final Cable and Wireless Test, they had become re-acquainted with the spirit of the Caribbean.

From bowling and fielding that was effective and exciting to batting that was breathtakingly belligerent and vibrant, a dizzy crowd was treated to the sunniest side of West Indies cricket. As they trudged dumbfoundedly off the Antigua Recreation Ground yesterday afternoon with West Indies entrenched on 126 without loss chasing 127, Mike Atherton and his men would not have dared look at the scoreboard.

In one day, they had virtually been bowled and batted out of a game they had hoped to win to save this series.

Worse, they were made the sacrificial lambs, the chief entertainment in a wild Caribbean party.

After Curtly Ambrose got the ``dance'' going with Dean Headley's wicket in the day's fifth over courtesy Bria Lara's record-breaking 13th catch of the series, another delightful Dinanath Ramnarine display kept the rhythm going.

His four-wicket haul in his second Test helped ruin the England innings which ended 30 minutes after tea.

And then, for the next 128 minutes, 13,000 souls were held captive during a heavy duty jam session by Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert. Indulging in the type of uninhibited hitting that's so joyously Caribbean, the pair of no-nonsense big men committed leather-beating manslaughter against an impotent England attack that found little to encourage them in a true wicket.

But really, ``Athers'' needed solace after seeing ``Flailing Philo'' (67 ) and ``Carefree Clayton'' (47) smack 17 fours and two sixes in a century opening stand that has so far lasted through 128 minutes and 27 overs. In Barbados they had struck out 82 and 71. But here, unfortunately for Atherton, they were striking out at the fetters of a recently subdued West Indian spirit.

Not since Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had a West Indian opening pair unleashed such fire. And only twice before since their departure has the first wicket pair produced a century stand.

But from the very first crunching extra-cover drive that Wallace dealt Angus Fraser to the scorching drive off Phil Tufnell with which Lambert superbly dissected extra-cover and long-off, England were under siege. Dean Headley especially. Five of Wallace's ten boundaries came off him, the last a disdainful smack overhead.

The afternoon ecstasy contrasted sharply with the earlier fare. ``Old man'' Ambrose began the slide, nightwatchman Dean Headley edging him to slip for Lara to become the leading WI catcher in a series against England, surpassing Gary Sobers.

Two younger turks then kept the rhythm going.

Rose, cloistered for longer than he'd like, crashed through the gap left by Alec Stewart's loose drive and bowled him. Ramnarine, brought on from the northern end after lunch, got rid of Fifth Test century-maker Thorpe with a ball that turned and struck the left-hander high on the backfoot. The batsman, less than convinced about the soundness of Cyril Mitchley's verdict, later drew a severe reprimand by match referee Barry Jarman.

At 66 for 5, England were in a serious jam. And there would be no miraculous recovery-not a durable one. Mark Ramprakash tried, with vice-captain Nasser Hussain, to repeat the heroics of Barbados. But the respite, brief, was ended by a brilliant piece of Roland Holder athleticism. Sweeping at Ramnarine, Hussain saw his top-edge dip low behind the square-leg umpirte umpire only for the sprinting to fling himself full length and clutch it spectacularly just above the ground.

And when a tentative Jack Russell was snapped up at forward short-leg next ball, the end was in sight. Ramprakash then recklessly smashed a wide Walsh long-hop right down Shivnarine Chanderpaul's throat on the covers.

After tea, Courtney Walsh's well-judged running catch at long-off gave steady ``Dinas'' a deserving fourth wicket and Walsh himself bowled Fraser. After that the West Indians came to the crease and the party got into full swing.

``Ambi'' greeted the openers with a ``bounce'' each as they went up the dressing room steps. Maybe he could feel the vibes, the returning spirit. The Windies are catching fire.

And Atherton must fear that England do not have enough water to put out this blaze.

Day 3:Lambert's century paces home team

Licks like fire

THE man, a small wooden coffin draped with the Union Jack on his shoulder, passing in front sheepish-looking British faces in the Richie Richardson stand, was sending his own message. But the visitors needed no reminders yesterday.

The scoreboard and the blazing bats of rampant West Indies batsmen told a terrible tale.

With the home team entrenched on 451 for 5 heading into day three of this Test, the tourists are in bad shape.

For on another rollicking day of runs and revelry, England's bowlers had been grilled, scorched by West Indian fire.

Perhaps it was Curtly Ambrose who first sensed what was to happen. When Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace came off the field Saturday afternoon, ``Ambi'' greeted them on the steps of the players dressing room with a ``bounce'' each.

It was as if the long-serving Windies pace ace was thanking the pair for fanning the flames, for rekindling a seemingly dying passion among WI batsmen.

And yesterday as Philo, ``Lamby,'' Carl Hooper and Brian Lara lashed Atherton's sun-sapped, run-drunk bowlers into submission, he was putting his hands together with relish.

By the end, he had seen his teammates stroke powerless Angus Fraser and company for 32 boundaries and 325 runs on the day. From Wallace's thunderous 92 (11 fours, one six), to Lara's sparkling 94-ball 89, to Hooper's scintillating unbeaten 85 (13 fours), the home crowd was kept almost in a constant state of ecstasy, the joy heightened further by Lambert's maiden Test century.

He had to wait seven years for his Test match redemption. But yesterday when he steered Dean Headley to short-third man for the crucial run, the 36-year-old had made up for the missing years. It was not the most fluent of innings and it was chancy, blemished by three chances. But in becoming the second- oldest West Indian after George Carew (38) to score his maiden Test ton (106, 10 fours, one six) Lambert made himself the linchpin, he provided the fuel. But yesterday especially, Lara and Hooper ignited the fire.

If captain Lara excited the ARG posse with flash, deputy Hooper seduced them with style and an ease of stroke that produced exquisitely-timed on-drives and the freest of lofted shots. He left bowlers and fielders in pain.

It was a pain that was eased little for the English throughout the day. But the first bit of relief came an hour into play. Having wowed the crowd with his flaying willow, Philo fell eight short of the maiden hundred all of Antigua awaited, playing on to the persevering Dean Headley with the score at 167.

Unpoetic justice this was.

Lara too may still be cursing at Alec Stewart's audacious stupendous flying catch that snared his violent pull. But in his two-hour, 133-run stand with Lambert, he was man of business, chief entertainer, English tormentor.

The baying crowd could not get enough of the imperious pulls that defied Atherton's desperate attempts to plug the gaps.

But when the ``Prince'' christened the Richardson stand with a flowing, most effortless on-driven six off Angus Fraser they were in seventh heaven. But the manner and time of his dismissal, 11 short of a century with the total 300, would have brought him no joy. The pace slowed then, a tired Lambert and Shivnarine Chanderpaul having fallen to Ramprakash and Fraser by the time the score reached 324.

But ``Hoops'' and Roland Holder (45) increased the pace with their partnership of 127 until patchy Holder gave Caddick a return catch off the last ball of the day.

The ``coffin'' man had gone by that time.

After his day of ``purgatory'' Atherton would have bid him a swift farewell.

And the England captain will hope that today, he'll have no dead to bury.

Day 4: England on the brink

ENGLAND captain Mlke Atherton was desperately hoping for a good day yesterday. It was the day he turned 30 after all. But, more pressingly, his beleaguered England side were in danger of being ``fried'' in this the final Test of a hot Caribbean season.

So Atherton did not need the ``present'' Curtly Ambrose delivered in his second over after lunch-a ball that trapped him Ibw. And by the end of the evening, with his side still 200 runs behind and tentatively placed on 173 for 3, he was left to muse bleakly on another West Indian series gone sour.

Held up first by Carl Hooper's completion of another super century and then unsettled by the relentless Ambrose, the tourists were left wondering about paradise lost. Again!

While the ``subjects'' in the Chickie Posse heeded ``King'' David Rudder's afternoon call to ``Rally Round the West Indies'', the England players fought to bolster their own sagging spirits.

Positive Alec Stewart (79) and the defiant, unbeaten pair of Nasser Hussain (54) and Graham Thorpe (18) have given them hope of salvaging a draw. But it is goin to be hard work on this final day of the series. Today's task was not helped by Hooper's hundred.

More consistent, but still not doing justice to his considerable talent, the ``Cool Carl'' overcame some uncharacteristic anxiety to get to only his 9th Test ton. His unbeaten 108 was dotted with 17 fours. By the time he pulled Dean Headley for his 16th four, a fine knock blemished just a tad by one early chance had reached its summit. ``Who let the dogs out? Hoops, Hoops, Hoops, Hoops!'' the pleased Chickie Posse chanted.

And one over later, when Ambrose launched Angus Fraser into the new Richie Richardson Stand to bring up the WI 500, Lara felt he had enough. A score of 500 for 7 declared had given him a sizeable 373-run lead and a decided psychological hold.

That hold was tightened shortly after the lunch break when Atherton departed. He made 13 and, for the 16th time in his career, succumbed to Curtly Ambrose, the pace ace pinning him LBW on the backfoot. It was not a happy score-and-ten for Atherton. And he walked resignedly away to contemplate another failure and perhaps his future-or lack of it-as England captain.

Atherton had fallen to Ambrose's first ball from the southern end. And six balls later on the first ball of his second over, the pacer hung a ``pair'' on Mark Butcher, the batsman trying in vain to withdraw his bat before a ball on the offstump was faintly tickled to wicketkeeper Junior Murray.

``Gravy'', having discarded Sunday's ``Best Village''-style Madras dress for a maroon polyester suit, was in the Richie Richardson Stand, spending time with the British guests. They could have used a pleasant distraction.

Before ``King'' David Rudder arrived at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Gravy's dancing to Chickie's music provided most of the off-the-field entertainment for fans in the Double Decker stand.

It was now 49 for 2 and someone shouted ``Sic 'em, Ambi!'' Now in possession of his best-ever series haul against England (30 wickets), ``Ambi'' seemed ready to clinch the Man of the Series title. But he, skipper Brian Lara and the rest, were frustrated by Stewart. Agitated even.

Before lunch, they were convinced the rugged opener had edged an attempted pull off Walsh to Murray. The batsman quickly signalled that the ball had touched his shirt only and Umpire Cyril Mitchley ruled him ``not out.'' But replays suggested he had erred ... or, worse, been induced into error.

The opener also later escaped again when a leaping Ambrose just failed to hold onto his lofted drive off Dinanath Ramnarine.

But when the total reached 127 a couple overs after tea and Stewart had completed an attractive nine-boundary 79, Hooper got justice for the WI with the help of Philo Wallace's smart one-handed bat/pad catch at silly mid-off.

It was Hoops' 15th wicket of the series. ``He's an improved lollipop bowler'' watching former England opener Geoff Boycott admitted grudgingly. But that success was to be the Windies' last for the day. Despite the turn Dinanath Ramnarine sometimes managed in his tidy 29 overs and the similar tidiness of Hooper, Hussain stayed firm for two-and-a-half hours and Thorpe (107 minutes) survived until the end, raising their stand to 46.

Still, as the dusk gathered, ``King David'' was passing judgment in the double-decker stand.

``England l'm sor-ry....but today we goh cut your tail, we go beat you!'' Atherton will be praying that his prophecy goes unfulfilled.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 25 Mar1998 - 11:10