Match Report by Neil Robinson 04/04/04
During this remarkable series, England's dominance over West Indies has often been likened to that of Australia over England in recent Ashes series. This similarity covers not only the fact England, following another comprehensive victory, inside three days, in the third Test at Bridgetown, have established an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the series, but also the fact, at times, the West Indians have put the Englishmen under extreme pressure and looked capable of turning their dominance in a particular session into a deserved victory, only for their composure to crack in the face of top-class professionalism from this increasingly impressive England side and another humiliating defeat to ensue.
There were a couple of such moments in this match, on the first day when the much-criticized middle-order of Lara, Sarwan and Chanderpaul finally pulled out the stops to take the home side to the relative prosperity of 166 for 3, but most notably on the second day when some terrifyingly fierce fast bowling from the returning Fidel Edwards, with good support from all his colleagues, reduced the tourists to 90 for 5, then 119 for 6 and a rare first innings lead for the hosts beckoned. In the end it was an innings of the highest class from Graham Thorpe, arguably the finest of his career, some sterling support from the tail and yet another awesome bowling performance from the Englishmen which overcame this brief West Indian resurgance, and inflicted upon them their third consecutive defeat, leaving the propect of the first ever clean sweep by a side visiting the Caribbean very much a possibility.
The focus on day one was very much upon Michael Vaughan's risky decision to insert the West Indies after winning his first toss of the series. Despite fine weather and a good looking pitch, Vaughan evidently wished to continue the pressure on the fragile West Indies' batting; one good session from his bowlers and the match, and the series, might very well have been in the bag. It all looked to be going to plan as both Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga (returning for the injured Devon Smith) were trapped lbw in the first overs, Ganga making the mistake of padding up in front of umpire Darrell Hair. But after that the West Indies stubbornly refused to eendure their customary middle order collpase. Lara, working hard to limit his unbalancing jump across to off-stump, settled to play a promising, if hardly fluent, innings while Ramnaresh Sarwan, despite his evident difficulties with the full-length ball, found himself given plenty of opportunities to cut.
Their partnership of 68 was ended when Lara, after one classy pull off Flintoff, found his feet wouldn't respond to the wideish half-volley which followed and sliced his drive to Butcher in the slips. It was a relief for Butcher, whose catching has been distinctly fallible in recent times and who dropped two other catches that day. This fallibility from the team as a whole continued as Sarwan and Chanderpaul put together another valuable stand of 79, Sarwan latching on to anything short, Chanderpaul nudging and scampering and generally making Jack Russell look the picture of textbook orthodoxy.
It was a loose shot at a Harmison delivery outside off-stump by Sarwan which halted their progress, and it was the beginning of the end for the West Indies. Andrew Flintoff finally found the elusive rhythm he had been missing with the ball all tour and began to take the wickets he had always promised. After Harmison had bounced out Ryan Hinds, he accounted for Ridley Jacobs in similar fashion, substitute Collingwood taking a good catch at point, then Pedro Collins edged Jones to Trescothick at slip before Flintoff finished things off by forcing Tino Best to glove another short ball to slip and Fidel Edwards gave a routine edge behind the wicket. It was Flintoff's first five-wicket haul in Tests and a major breakthrough for the Lancashire giant.
From a position of relative strength, West Indies had lost 6 wickets for 57 runs to record a total of just 224. Michael Vaughan's decision to insert now looked totally justified. But the hosts weren't quite finished yet.
The nature of opening batsmen has changed markedly in recent years, the likes of Langer, Hayden, Saeed Anwar, Virender Sehwag have seen to that. But right from the start of this series we have seen the continued importance of a sound defensive technique against the new ball as opener after opener had offered a crooked bat at a fast ball around off-stump and watched it cannon back to castle him. This time it was Trescothick's turn, his miserable tour continuing with Edwards claiming his wicket for just 2. Vaughan and Butcher didn't last much longer, Butcher flashing outside off stumpand giving an easy catch to slip. Vaughan trying to hook a ball outside off-stump and edging to the keeper. All three wickets to Edwards. When Nasser Hussain was then bowled through the gate by the persevering Corey Collymore for 17, England were in trouble at 65 for 4.
Thorpe was at the crease, though, and starting his innings with greater assurance than seen in the first two Tests. After a run rate below two per over during the first part of the innings, things now began to speed up as Thorpe played his usual singles game and Flintoff played some beefy shots. But Flintoff has had a porr time with the bat on this tour, getting himself out in some stupid ways, and this continued with another limp shot at Best when on 15, Collymore pouching an easy catch at mid-off. Read looked good for a time, and the ideal foil for Thorpe, until a good ball from Edwards trapped him in front. Giles flashed outside off-stump at Collins for 11, Hoggard followed lbw to the same bowler for 0 soon after and England were in dire trouble at 155 for 8, the West Indies cock-a-hoop.
But Thorpe was still there, past 50 although well short of his century, and Jones and Harmison can hold a bat at least. They did more than that, each holding out for around an hour as Thorpe pushed and ran, pulled viciously at anything short, cracked a couple of searing boundaries through the off-side off either foot and played an innings which proved beyond all doubt to all doubters (yours truly included) that he is back to his best. Rarely can such a masterly example of how to shepherd the tail have been seen, in terms of farming the strike, judging the pace of the innings, when to hit out and when to defend. It wasn't always entertaining stuff , especially when taking singles early on to protect Jones, but it was essential viewing for anyone wishing to learn the art of batsmanship.
Thorpe's 13th Test century was greeted by a delighted punch of the air and a magnificent roar from an overwhelmingly English crowd. A few more brilliant blows followed as he opened his shoulders to take England past the West Indies total until, with a lead of 2, Harmison finally lost his stumps to Collins to leave the Surrey veteran undefeated on 119. The next highest score was 17.
Just as at Sabina Park, the match appeared evenly balanced. But just as at Sabina, the West Indies now collapsed completely. In a brief evening session of batting, Gayle crashed Harmison to the boundary twice off the back foot, then drove extravagantly over a full, swinging ball and found his stumps scattered to the four corners. That was it for the night, but next morning Ganga edged a Hoggard outswinger to slip and then the drama really began. Hoggard, overshadowed by Harmison and Jones on this tour despite some fine performances, steamed in with a look of sheer determination on his face. Sarwan edged a similar outswinger to gully, next ball Chanderpaul shuffled across to be trapped plumb in front. Then the hat-trick ball to Hinds, angled across the left hander and moving away through the air, Hinds flashed a drive at it, found only a thin edge and Flintoff took the catch low at second slip.
It was hard to imagine greater joy from the Englishmen. Even a lengthy rain interruption during the afternoon couldn't stop them now. Flintoff climbed in to dismiss Jacobs and Best, Collins was brilliantly run out by Hussain then Lara, who had seemed a lost soul watching the carnage power;ess;y from the non-striker's end, pulled Harmison tamely to midwicket, Edwards lasted just 9 balls before Harmison had him too and the hosts were all out for 94.
England needed just 93 to win and just 20 overs to score them. Vaughan, again looking for the best way to make the hosts feel humiliated by their defeat, set off at a gallop playing his strokes with an arrogant disdain for all the West Indies could throw at him. Soon Trescothick began to do the same, pulling one massive six, using his feet to come down the pitch at the fast men, crashing one full ball outside off-stump through wide mid-on with a wristy flourish. Both fell before the end, Trescothick, unfortunately, with just 2 needed but it didn't matter.English victory was complete, West Indian humiliation total, revenge for 36 years of dominance secured. The crowd, filled with lobster-red Englishmen, cheered long into the night in a celebration not far removed from VE Day in Trafalgar Square.
West Indies 224 (Sarwan 63, Chanderpaul 50, Flintoff 5-58) & 94 (Hoggard 4-35)
England 226 (Thorpe 119*, Edwards 4-60) and 93-2 (Trescothick 42)
England won by 8 wickets
Man of the Match