Match Report by Neil Robinson 15/04/04
If ever there was a case of one man being bigger than his team, then Brian Lara is probably that man and the current West Indies side that team. His historic innings of 400 not out, caning a second generation of English bowlers to all parts of the Recreation Ground at St Johnís after his 375 on the same ground 10 years ago, was the dominant feature of this drawn final game of the series. It was a stunning return to form for a man who has appeared a lost soul in more than just his batting throughout this series, but in his determination to surpass Matthew Haydenís standing Test record of 380 and in batting on until the West Indiesí innings had reached the giddy heights of 751 for 5, Lara lost precious time in the match and reduced his bowlersí chances of dismissing Englandís batsmen twice on a dead flat pitch. One man bigger than his team? As a batsman no doubt, but as a captain? Perhaps not!
That the West Indiesí priority was the avoidance of a humiliating 4-0 whitewash, rather than the winning of a consolation victory, was apparent from the first reading of the pitch, a pale, lifeless thing created with the sole purpose of negating the skills and breaking the hearts of Englandís formidable pace attack. Not even the cloud cover and humidity of the first day, when rain restricted play to 52 overs, could aid Englandís bowlers in causing the faintest flutters of concern among the home sideís batsmen. Daren Ganga fell early, lbw to Flintoff for 10, but Chris Gayle settled well, playing straighter and more cautiously at first, then opening his shoulders to slash 12 boundaries in a fierce innings of 69 from 80 balls.
His wicket, an early caught and bowled for the off-spin of Gareth Batty, left the home side 98 for 2 at lunch. By then Lara was already well underway, at last staying more still at the crease, his head position exemplary, his footwork more confident, his strokeplay more ominous. Even so, he remained at best uncertain against the short stuff, especially from Harmison, and perhaps England were at fault for not directing more such bowling at him early in his innings. But while Laraís home turf of Trinidad remains frustratingly unsuccessful for him, Antigua is his element, the place where past glories can rid him of present demons and he can bask in the atmosphere of familiar success and widespread adulation. It was not the shattered Lara of one week ago at whom England were bowling, but the young genius of 1994 reborn and unshackled by the cares of carrying this talented but unfocused West Indies side.
As day 2 progressed, it became obvious that this innings was assuming monstrous proportions. With Ramnaresh Sarwan playing nicely for a four-hour supporting 90 in a partnership of 232, the match was rapidly moving beyond England. Lara moved from 86 overnight to 165 by lunch, 224 by tea, 313 by the close. From that point there was no doubt that he would be setting out for the summit next day, little doubt that on this pitch and in this form, he would get there.
Sarwan probably deserved a hundred too, he has suffered enough for such a talented and stylish player this series, but a good spell from Harmison saw him edge to slip just ten short. Ricardo Powell, playing his second Test Match five years after his first, then played a frantic cameo of 23, filled with audacious, at times half-witted strokeplay and ending with an awful swipe at Simon Jones. Ryan Hinds played more responsibly for 36 before he too fell caught and bowled to Batty, before Ridley Jacobs came to the crease to play his part in the second colossal partnership of the innings.
Amid all this, England were toiling but doing so respectably. Batty, replacing Ashley Giles who was suffering from a stomach bug, compiled a marathon effort of 54 overs, generating little turn but testing the batsmen with variations in flight and pace. Flintoff and Hoggard, who spent much of days two and three back at the hotel suffering with Giles, also bowled with control and good heart, only Simon Jones lacked rhythm, his 29 overs costing 146 runs. The inclusion of Batty for Giles was one of two changes for England, Kentís Geraint Jones coming in as wicket-keeper in place of Chris Read. Read had looked as good as anyone since Knott or Taylor with the gloves, but hadnít produced the runs England expect at number 7. Young Jones, for his part, kept perfectly well and indeed the score had already passed 730 when the first byes of the innings slipped down the leg-side, the rookieís grunt of anguish at this suggesting an appealing degree of perfectionism.
Meanwhile Lara motored on. Despite a superb new ball spell from Harmison early on day three, he never looked like getting out or deviating from his objective. But West Indies had begun the third day on 595 for 5, already immune from defeat in all but the most freakish circumstances, was it really necessary to bat on and waste the chance of having almost three days to bowl at England? It is a question of what would mean more to West Indies cricket, a consolation victory in a dead series (which has never been much of a consolation to England in recent Ashes encounters), or the further proof that in Brian Lara West Indies have a batsman of unparalleled genius among his generation, proof which Lara himself perhaps needed more than most at this point.
England, wilting in the fiercest heat of the tour, depleted by the absence of Hoggard, now suffered a further blow when Harmison, clearly flagging was warned for a third time for following through down the wicket and removed from the attack. His figures of 37-6-92-1 were easily the most respectable of the innings, and he could hardly suppress a grin of relief as he made his way to the outfield. A long spell of spin and swing from Batty, Vaughan and Trescothick now ensued as Lara strode ever closer to the record. One massive straight hit for six off Batty brought him level, then the next ball was swept fine for four and it was Ď94 all over again. The wild celebrations in the crowd, the invasion of the pitch by local dignitaries, the ritual kissing of the turf, the England players lining up to offer their congratulations to this most remarkable and mercurial of men.
In the lull between 380 and 400, local hero Jacobs also received a generous reception for a well deserved hundred, England saw another record created in the form of the highest score they had ever conceded in a Test, beating the 729-6 dec amassed by Australia in 1930.
At last the declaration came and England faced the stiff prospect of making 552 to avoid the follow-on. They did not start well. The West Indiesí fast bowlers have performed pretty well all through this series, making England work hard for their runs. Now they had the added confidence of a massive total behind them, their tails were up and despite a frustratingly slow pitch they steamed in, bowling full, fast and straight. That said, there was more than an element of luck about their first wicket, Vaughan given out caught behind despite making no contact. Trescothick then made another dreadful error to go with the many he has made this winter, an ugly slash outside off giving Jacobs another catch just before lunch.
So often in this series Butcher and Hussain had been the men to pull things around after early losses, but this time Tino Best fired one straight through Hussainís gate, a fine half-century from Butcher was ended by a good swinging ball from Collins, then Thorpe ended a skittish innings of 10 with a careless clip to fine leg. It was clear that England were not going to avoid the follow on, but if it hadnít been for Andrew Flintoffís most professional Test innings to date, a patient, well-judged undefeated hundred made in company with a typically determined tail, things might have been much worse. As it was, Geraint Jones compiled a useful 38 on debut, Hoggard hung around for 50 minutes and Simon Jones for 83, seeing Flintoff to his century and taking England to a total of 285 all out.
With a day and a half left, England needed a good start to their second innings, and at last they got one. Vaughan and Trescothick batted through to the close and took their stand on to 185 the next day before Trescothickís potentially career saving 88 was ended by a misjudged drive at Edwardsí slower ball. Vaughan ploughed on, with good support from Butcher again, to compile a captainís innings of 140 which ought to silence the critics for a while. Butcher and Hussain helped themselves to another fifty apiece, and by the time they both fell to the left-arm spin of Hinds and Flintoff fell early to Sarwan, the match was already over as a contest. Did Lara then, perhaps, feel a twinge of regret at having batted on so long?
So, no whitewash for England, a little less humiliation for West Indies, but still a series which tells a story of great hope for one side and great concern for the other. Englandís fast bowling attack may have prospered against a weak, dispirited opposition, but they could hardly have bowled better whoever they were up against. Sterner challenges await, but they can look forward to them with optimism. The side has continued to evolve on this tour, the addition of Geraint Jones adding strength to the batting, but how much longer they can persevere with the in and out form of Trescothick is a question they must ponder.
For the West Indies a mass of questions, too many to list here. And few of them with obvious answers. But, at least for a while, they can content themselves with memories of one manís remarkable achievement and yet another innings that St Johnís, and the world, will never forget.
West Indies 751-5 dec. (Lara 400*, Jacobs 107*, Sarwan 90)
England 285 (Flintoff 102, Collins 4-64) and 422-5 (Vaughan 140, Trescothick 88, Butcher 61, Hussain 56)
England win series 3-0.
Man of the Match
Man of the Series
Editors note: It is incredible to think that Steve Harmison has come so far and developed into the bowler he now is considering his very first match in Australia at Lilac Hill during Englandís tour in 2002 was a total disaster. Read Why