Match Report by Neil Robinson 15/03/04
This was supposed to be the Series which would show once and for all that the old days of fast, bouncy Caribbean pitches and terrified visiting batsmen were a thing of the past. The pitches would be slow enough to deaden the heart of any speedster who claimed to possess one, the old West Indian fast bowler production line was supposed to be as defunct as the legendary Welsh fly-half factory in rugby union. It would be a series of high scores, toiling fielders and overworked spinners that would test the stamina of spectators as well as players. But that theory reckoned without a Sabina Park track offering plenty of pace and generous bounce to any fast bowler willing to bend his back, the emergence of two young local tyros able to make the opposition sniff the leather that old fashioned way, and the sudden blossoming of one tall Northumbrian into a pace bowler of genuine, and frightening, Test quality.
The first Test of this four match series swung this way and that for three evenly balanced days and looked like providing nail-biting entertainment right up to the final minutes until, in a spell strongly reminiscent of Curtly Ambroseís 6-wicket burst at Port of Spain ten years ago, Steve Harmison scythed through the West Indian batting on the fourth morning to achieve the remarkable figures of 12.3-8-12-7, sending the home side to a calamitous 47 all out and leaving Englandís openers a target of just 20 to win in the final innings. Well supported by Matthew Hoggard and the returning Simon Jones, the Durham speedster was irresistible in a single spell with a strong breeze at his back as he found the perfect length with which to trap one batsman after another in a no-manís-land of hesitant footwork and jerky strokeplay. The cream of the West Indian middle order, Sarwan, Chanderpaul and even the great Brian Lara fell one by one without a single run to their names. For England it was a glorious triumph, for the West Indies nothing short of humiliation.
Since his debut in 2002, Harmison has come on in slow, measured steps rather than leaps and bounds and while his performance with the new ball in the first innings was further evidence of a bowler beginning to find his feet at Test level, there was little indication of the havoc to come. Speaking after the game, Harmison felt that he had bowled a fraction too short in the first innings, a reflection given added credence when he observed the length bowled by his West Indian counterparts. On the first morning he bowled a spell which claimed the early wicket of Chris Gayle, offering a crooked bat at a straight, back of a length ball and playing on, and left several other batsmen, notably Lara, looking shaken. At the other end Hoggard found some useful swing but interspersed the dangerous deliveries with the odd wide ball which gave young Devon Smith the chance to free his arms and drive several flamboyant boundaries.
Smith was probably lucky to survive a confidant lbw appeal by Hoggard while still in single figures. Sarwan was not so fortunate, wandering across the crease to be trapped in front by the Yorkshire swing merchant for the first half of a pair. Lara came to the crease and looked jumpy and unsettled from the start, the bulk of his 23 runs coming over the slips and between them and gully. He eventually fell to the 13th ball of a fairy-tale return for Simon Jones, edging a beauty which left him into the safe hands of Andrew Flintoff at second slip. It was a dismissal oddly similar to his previous Test wicket, that of Justin Langer shortly before his Ashes tour came to an horrific end at The Gabba. Any lingering doubts about Jonesís knee disappeared as he pumped them into a high-stepping celebration that ended in bear hugs all round.
Chanderpaul didnít last long either, a half-hearted crooked-batted shot at Hoggard ending in the same fate which befell Gayle. West Indies were now struggling at 101 for 4, but after lunch things were not so easy for the tourists. The ball was softer and no longer swung for Hoggard, nor did it bounce so much for Harmison and the whole England attack struggled to maintain control as Smith and his equally confident partner Ryan Hinds cut loose, putting on 84 by tea. Vaughan tried to stem the flow by introducing the spin of Ashley Giles, but the Warwickshire left-armer looked out of sorts and his initial 4 over spell cost 32 runs. Smith had by now moved to an assured and well-deserved maiden Test century, but soon after tea he missed a sweep at Giles and was neatly stumped by Read as his spikes appeared to get stuck in the turf.
Hinds and the experienced Ridley Jacobs pushed on with another fifty partnership, taking the West Indies to 281 for 5, a healthy recovery from the precarious position of 101 for 4. But both men were to fall in quick succession, Hinds missing out on the chance of a century with a careless sweep off Giles, Jacobs forced into a misjudgement by the pace of Jones. The rest of the innings then fell away to leave the home side 311 for 9 at the close, a score they failed to add to the next morning when Hoggard, using the crease cleverly, found the edge of Edwardsí bat.
Despite losing the initiative midway through the innings, having lost the toss and been forced to field first England would have been fairly pleased to face no more than 311 on a pitch which seemed to offer good value for strokeplay. What they didnít expect perhaps, was that the reputedly raw and inexperienced West Indian pace attack would come at them with a vengeance and even more pace than England themselves had dished out. The slingy Fidel Edwards, so expensive in South Africa at the beginning of the year, found swing from a full length and reached the heights of 94-95 mph in a spell which blended hostility with unexpected accuracy. Having been struck on the forearm by a Harmison beamer the previous evening certainly hadnít encouraged him to give the Englishmen an easy time.
Marcus Trescothick, having almost been decapitated by one rapid bouncer, next ball became the third batsman in the match to play on offering a crooked bat and leaden footwork to a well-aimed ball. Vaughan, having looked a million dollars in the warm up matches and in his two typically pulled and driven boundaries in this innings, then reached for another full ball outside off-stump and edged a waist high catch to Lara at slip. 311 may not have been much of a mountain to climb, but 33 for two, with both dismissals the result of poor technique or judgement, wasnít much of a base camp.
If there was a major criticism to be made of Englandís cricket in this match, it was that far too many, indeed all, of their batsmen were culpable in their own dismissals. Vaughan may well have been justified in crediting the courageous third wicket partnership between Butcher and Hussain which repaired the early damage, but to speak after the game of the ďfirst-class applicationĒ shown by his batsmen might appear naive or disingenuous. Nonetheless, Butcher and Hussain did show supreme application under pressure from the aggression of Edwards and the bustling and almost as pacey Tino Best.
Both took heavy clunks on the helmet. Hussain also one to his notoriously fragile fingers, Butcher one to the hand and another to the forearm. Their stand of 119 was not a pretty one, in Hussainís case it was downright ugly, but it took England a good deal of the way towards their objective of a first innings lead. After a lengthy interruption for rain and bad light, it looked as though they had also steered the tourists safely to the close at a creditable 150-odd for 2, but in dim light and an atmosphere of inevitability, the players trooped back on for a brief resumption and the stand was doomed to be broken.
Butcher, his concentration fatally disturbed, began flashing wildly outside off-stump at Edwards. The first edge was spilled by Lara at the cost of a dislocated finger, the second pouched safely by Jacobs. A few balls later it was all over for the day. The showers continued on and off next morning. In between them Hussain battled on gamely, Thorpe settled and began to impress and Edwards departed the scene with a side strain severe enough to prevent him from bowling for the rest of the match and perhaps keep him out of the next match too. This might have brought some relief to Englandís bombarded batsmen, but instead it only encouraged Tino Best, hitherto very much a supporting act, to move upstage and perform.
Regularly touching 92mph, Best hurled himself at the English like a charging bull. Thorpe, having looked good for his 19, was lured into a rushed hook and holed out to long leg. Hussain, having looked bloody awful for his 58, tried to turn another short one to leg and could only lob a catch to extra cover off the leading edge. At 209 for 5, England were still more than 100 adrift and with Flintoff and Read at the crease, West Indies felt that one more wicket could expose the tail to the rampaging Best.
But Flintoff and Read are not the types for a sturdy rearguard action, more the audacious counter-attack and they rapidly assembled a run-a-ball stand which took England further towards their goal. Flintoff looked to be approaching a fine 50 when, on 46, he tamely clipped the leg-spin of Sarwan to midwicket. Soon afterwards, Read hooked the first delivery with the second new ball straight down long legís throat. Theirs had been a valuable partnership, but careless cricket brought an end to both their innings and left the tail with some work left to do if England were to get that crucial first innings advantage.
Fortunately, the tail was up to the task. With Ashley Giles supplying a characteristically upright 27, Hoggard lingering limpet-like over 71 balls for an undefeated 9, and small but vital contributions from Jones and Harmison, England scampered, drove and nudged their way to 339. It was not much of a lead, but it turned out to be enough.
West Indies began day 4 twenty behind on 8 for 0, looking to build a strong enough lead to put pressure on England in the fourth innings. With the balance of the game having shifted so often and so quickly, and plenty of time left for several twists yet, all looked set for six sessions of tight, tense Test Match cricket. Two hours later the game was all over, Sabina Parkís passionate and raucous supporters stunned into disbelieving silence. Gayle was first to fall, brilliantly caught high at third slip by Thorpe. Sarwan soon followed, lbw on the back foot to complete his pair. Chanderpaul then played on for the second time in the match before Lara completed a trio of middle order ducks with a straightforward edge to second slip off Hoggard.
It was Hoggard who bagged the next one too, reacting well in his follow through to snatch an attempted on-drive by Devon Smith. After that, apart from the wicket of Hinds caught behind off Jones, it was all Harmison. Jacobs fended a well-directed bouncer to short-leg, Best edged a lifter to the keeper, Sanford and Edwards both edged drives to slip. The West Indies were gone, rubbed out, obliterated for just 47, their worst ever Test score, the 15th worst by anyone. Harmison was left with the best figures ever recorded at Sabina Park and seven memories which will last him a lifetime. The home side were left with bruised egos and battered reputations, much as England themselves had been when skittled out for just 46 at Port of Spain ten years before.
As Graham Thorpe remembered in a post-match interview, that England side of 1994 picked themselves up after their humiliation in Trinidad to record a famous victory in the previously invincible fortress of Barbados. Hope still, for the West Indies then and a reminder for England that, when the joy of this victory subsides, there are still things to be improved upon and still a series not yet won.
West Indies: 311 (Smith 108, Hinds 84, Hoggard 3-68) & 47 (Harmison 7-12)
England: 339 (Butcher 58, Hussain 58, Edwards 3-72) & 20 for 0
England won by 10 wickets.
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