Match Report by Neil Robinson 04/08/04
“I intend to make them grovel.” Tony Grieg’s famous statement, shortly before his England team were pounded into the dust by Clive Lloyd’s 1976 West Indians, have lived long in the memory as the prime example of a cricket captain being forced to eat his words.
In terms of dramatic force Brian Lara’s pre-series thoughts about England lacking a Plan B in the event that Steve Harmison didn’t take wickets aren’t quite in the same league, but they remain just as good an example of how wrong a captain can be.
Despite two lacklustre performances from their fiery spearhead, England have twice demolished the tourists’ batting to emerge victorious by a huge margin. They now take an unassailable 2-0 lead in this four match series. Here at Edgbaston a promising response to England’s imposing first innings of 566 for 9 turned into a rout as the West Indies lost their last 6 wickets for just 13 runs. Then, set an unlikely 479 to win on the fourth day, there was even less resistance as the tourists were bowled out inside two sessions.
From Harmison, the destroyer of the Caribbean, there was a match contribution of a handful of overs and just one wicket. Into his mantle stepped the rejuvenated Ashley Giles and the excellent Matthew Hoggard, both of whom bowled with great skill and confidence. Giles grabbed 9 wickets for the second match running, becoming the first English spinner to do so since Tony Lock in 1958. Hoggard gave the lie to all those who thought he could not prosper on flat, dry pitches, with a guileful performance of reverse swing, subtle off-cut and high accuracy. There were vital wickets too from Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson, the latter recalled in place of the still rusty Simon Jones.
The batting too was Plan B through and through. At Lord’s England’s runs had come from Andrew Strauss, Robert key and Michael Vaughan. Perhaps given too little time to recover by these back-to-back Tests, their contributions were minimal this time. Stepping up to the plate in their stead came Marcus Trescothick, becoming the first man to score twin Test hundreds at Edgbaston, Andrew Flintoff, with a well paced, hugely stirring 167, and in support Graham Thorpe and Geraint Jones, Thorpe bagging 61 and 54 with typical professionalism, Jones striking a first innings 74 which matched Flintoff for pace and style if not for power.
For West Indies there were flickers of promise once more. The partnership of 209 between Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan which looked to be taking them towards parity was an example of how strong their batting can be, only for the collapse which followed to display all too clearly its weakness. Chris Gayle’s well controlled off-spin and elegant strokeplay took him to within 18 runs of being the first man in Test history to take 5 wickets and score a century on the same day. There were skillful spells with the ball from Dwayne Bravo and Jermaine Lawson. But, again, there was no collective effort, no team ethic to pull the isolated talents together. Good situations were won, but never capitalised upon.
On a dry, cracked pitch, it was a bad toss for Lara to lose. It soon looked bad as Trescothick settled in to play one of his best innings for some time. His driving was straighter than in recent years, his judgement outside off-stump more sound. He still showed a tendency to cut in the air through gully, but Lara’s reluctance to set two gullies left the weakness untested. Strauss too looked in good nick again, until he slashed wildly outside off stump at Lawson and edged Jacobs. Key mixed some nice shots in with some flirtation away from his body and had reached 29 when he fenced once too often at Collins and edged to slip. Then Vaughan was gone for just 12, giving a return catch to Bravo.
Sensible rebuilding was done by Trescothick and Thorpe, who put on 60 before Trescothick edged Bravo to slip for 105. The crowd expected great things from Flintoff after his bold cameo at Lord’s. At first they watched the powerful Lancastrian punch single down the ground with an immaculately straight bat, and it wasn’t until Thorpe’s departure and the arrival of the positive Jones that Flintoff was spurred into action. While Jones fed hungrily in his favoured area between cover and third man, waited upon generously by the bowlers, Flintoff began to bludgeon with increasing effect.
The main justification for the frequent, inevitable comparisons with IT Botham is the orthodoxy as well as the power of Flintoff’s hitting. He shows no sign of being comparable to Botham as a bowler, being vastly different in both style and success, but when he goes out to bat and to hit, the similarity is plain to see. Good footwork combines with a still head and a straight bat, there is nothing of the agricultural here. Total commitment to the shot ensures that, even when the ball is not quite there for the straight hit, the bat follows through high and straight, lifting the ball above and beyond the field. There were hits across the line, of course, but only once Flintoff was in full flow, the foundation of his innings securely laid. Seven massive sixes sailed into the crowd, one of them shelled pitifully by Flintoff’s father. Other than that it was a pretty good day chez Flintoff.
After Vaughan’s dismissal had left them 150 for 3, England were relieved to get beyond 400. By the time Flintoff had finished they were 522 for 8. And it didn’t end there. Hoggard nudged and scampered, Harmison drove on the up and reverse swept his way to 31 from 18 balls. It was all beginning to feel a bit silly. So Vaughan declared. But it was a while yet before West Indies could halt the momentum. Hoggard raced in, showing greater rhythm than since his early appearances for England, to have Devon Smith caught brilliantly by Giles in the gully and Gayle bowled behind his legs. At 12 for 2, the match had gone from silly to embarrassing.
But pride, something previous West Indian sides had in spades, was restored by the Sarwan-Lara axis. Sarwan came in determined to make amends for his twin lbw errors at Lord’s. Hoggard tried the same tactic again, but found his opponent much less prone to shuffle across his stumps. Instead he watched some perfectly good inswinging deliveries dispatched through mid-on with minimal fuss. Lara, 15 fours and a six in his 95, played as only he can, and it was precisely the kind of shot which got him that far that brought his downfall to the golden arm of Flintoff, a flourishing drive well away from his body edged to Thorpe. Sarwan reached his hundred soon after, his first against England, and put on 76 with the obdurate Chanderpaul. Parity still looked within reach. But it was a dreadful illusion.
Sarwan’s departure, dragging on a wide half-volley from Flintoff, was the first harbinger. Bravo quickly looked uncomfortable with Giles spinning the ball out of the rough outside his leg stump, and he lost his off stump trying to work through midwicket. At the other end Hoggard returned to have Jacobs held at slip, then Giles struck again Chanderpaul ending a 17-hour stretch without a Test dismissal with a bat and glove to silly point. Harmison chipped in with a one over spell which brought the wicket of Omari Banks, caught behind, then Giles cleaned up the last two, Collins brilliantly grabbed an inch off the ground by Flintoff at leg-slip and Collymore trapped lbw by an arm-ball. From 323 for 4, West Indies had stumbled, but it was the kind of stumble you take when too close to a cliff-edge. 336 all out was about as fatal a landing as you could get.
The match from that point followed a predictable course, and one marked by curious similarities with its own first half. Strauss, Key and Vaughan all fell early when England resumed. Strauss went in identical fashion to the first innings, flashing at a wide one. Key and Vaughan both clipped tamely to mid-on, showing the difficulties of judging the pace of this increasingly two-paced pitch. Not that it seemed to bother Tescothick and Thorpe too much as they assembled another crucial partnership, this time worth 132, taking the match well beyond the West Indies.
Trescothick’s innings was, if anything, more impressive than his first innings effort, the pitch being tougher work, the weight of history being against him in his efforts to hit twin hundreds. But not for one moment did he look uncertain or fallible. For such a mercurial player, it was a performance of rare chancelessness. As for Thorpe, well it’s oddly comforting to watch him play these days. He is a man who has often shown the cares of the world upon his shoulders. Too much of his career has been spent shoring up a batting line-up prone to collective failure, bearing the brunt of the middle-order pressure. Too much time in recent years has been spent trying to bring cricket out of the background of his mind as the troubles of his personal life began to affect his career. Now, in the twilight of his playing years, he finds himself part of a team filled with younger stars, all of whom seem more than happy to take from him the burden of responsibility which he has borne so long. His personal life too being better ordered now, Thorpe’s cricket has an air of satisfaction about it, of his being free to enjoy it at last.
But Thorpe’s kind of enjoyment is the relish of a job well done, not the extravagant dominance of a Flintoff, so perhaps it wasn’t too much of a surprise that when he decided to accelerate towards a declaration by skipping down the wicket to Gayle, he misjudged the length and was stumped by a yard. Trescothick had gone a few runs earlier, beaten by a direct hit from the deep by Sarwan having reached his personal goal and taken England into a winning lead. There was a brief thrash from Flintoff, a few beefy drives from Giles, but the lower order couldn’t cope with hitting out on a pitch that, by now, was the consistency of talcum powder in areas, sending up puffs of dust when the ball pitched, and the innings slid towards 248 all out, Gayle bagging his first five wicket haul in Tests.
There were yet more parallels with the first innings, and with Lord’s, when the West Indies began their chase. An unrealistic target, a good 200 plus beyond anything scored to win in the fourth innings here, a fine, positive innings of 82 by Gayle which made batting look easy. There was another stubborn 43 from Chanderpaul, but little more resistance. Hoggard got the breakthrough again, Smith held at slip for 11, but it was Giles, unrecognisable from the weary, unexpectant figure of a few weeks ago, who did the bulk of the damage. Bowling with genuine zip, approaching the wicket with confidence and really going through his action with total commitment, he was a threat virtually every ball. Sarwan was held brilliantly at silly point by Strauss, Lara judged caught at slip when bat probably scraped boot rather than ball.
Chanderpaul worked hard at padding him away outside off-stump, and umpire Taufel showed reluctance to give him out for not playing a stroke. But Vaughan craftily shifted his spinner to the other end where umpire Hair, long known as having no truck with pad-play, was more forthcoming. Bravo lasted just two balls, losing his off bail in a mirror image of his first innings dismissal. He grabbed his fifth wicket when Gayle propped another catch to Strauss. Then Jacobs lobbed Hoggard to mid-off, where Anderson took a quite superb leaping catch, for another duck. Banks struck a few defiant boundaries, but couldn’t stop the wickets falling at the other end. Hoggard trapped Collins lbw then, with Giles working hard for his tenth of the match at one end, Anderson finished things off at the other by removing both Collymore’s and Lawson’s off-stumps.
If there was one difference between this match and Lord’s, it was that England’s psychological hold over their opponents had become even more pronounced. It is hard to see the tourists posing much of a threat in the final two matches of the series. Speculation about the future of Brian Lara as captain did not wait until after the post-match ceremonies before breaking out. Lara insisted that he would not resign, although he went no further than promising to see out this series. In fact, while a change of leader would probably help West Indies in the long run, to make the change now would do little except make virtually certain that the new regime got off to a poor start.
For England, no such worries. Eight wins in their last nine Tests from a squad high on collective achievement and team spirit. Their only worry is whether to bring back the fit again, but short of match practice, Mark Butcher for the next Test. Brilliant though Key’s 221 at Lord’s was, Butcher remians the more reliable option. The selectors, though, will be reluctant to omit a young man who has just justified their long faith in him. So Butch, if you’re reading this, if you find yourself stuck in traffic in the next week or so, have a look in your mirror and check David Graveney isn’t in the car behind you.
England 566 for 9 dec. (Flintoff 167, Trescothick 105, Jones 74, Thorpe 61, Bravo 4-76) & 248 (Trescothick 107, Thorpe 54, Gayle 5-34)
West Indies 336 (Sarwan 139, Lara 95, Giles 4-65) & 222 (Gayle 82, Giles 5-57)
England won by 256 runs
Man of the Match