Match Report by Neil Robinson 17/08/04
It is a sign of a good Test side that it can go through a match in which it has played below its best and still, by virtue of hard work and self-belief, come out victorious. It is a sign of a poor Test side that it can play itself into a winning position and yet still self destruct. These two truisms were to the fore in the Third Test Match between England and West Indies at Old Trafford. Two-nil down and needing a win to salvage hope of a drawn series, West Indies batted and bowled well to earn a crucial first innings lead. They then got off to a solid start in their second innings, only for a middle order collapse to allow England back into the game. Set 231 to win, the highest ever winning chase in an Old Trafford Test, the hosts showed they could take their opportunities, cruising to a seven wicket win to make it a remarkable six consecutive Test victories for Michael Vaughanís men.
England were unchanged from Edgbaston, while West Indies brought in Fidel Edwards and Carlton Baugh for the injured Jermaine Lawson and Ridley Jacobs and dropped Omari banks and Devon Smith to make way for Dave Mohammed and debutant Sylvester Joseph. Joseph was quickly into the action as West Indies won the toss and batted on a firm, dry pitch, showing good judgement and some lively back-foot shots in making 45. He shared a partnership of 75 with Ramnaresh Sarwan, who built upon the good form of Edgbaston to make 40. Their stand was crucial, coming as it did after Chris Gayle had, for once, fallen early, given a good working over by the improved Harmison, then playing early at Hoggard and slicing to backward point.
Sarwanís wicket, bowled off the inside edge by Flintoff, led to a brief wobble, Lara yorked inspirationally behind his legs by Flintoff again, then Joseph losing concentration for a moment and edging Harmison to slip. But Dwayne Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul rebuilt the innings with a confident stand of 157. Bravo has been the biggest discovery for the West Indies this summer, dangerous and inventive with the ball, brimful of confidence, if a little raw, with the bat. Having been twice bowled by Giles at Edgbaston, he altered his stance minutely to cover his stumps against the ball turning from outside leg, an all too rare example of a modern West Indian cricketer learning rapidly from his mistakes.
Bravo played his strokes with great style, watching him bat was a pleasure, watching Chanderpaul more perplexing. His technique is so completely unorthodox it seems barely conceivable that it might be flawless, yet England plainly havenít the faintest idea how to get him out, save by the old expedient of bowling a testing line and length and praying for a mistake. He hasnít made many this summer. It was the persevering Hoggard who got both of them in the end, in rapid succession, both caught behind having made just that mistake England were praying for. But Carlton Baugh carried on where they left off, with good support from Dave Mohammed and Pedro Collins.
Baugh played with a confidence which did more than border audacity, it launched a full scale invasion of it. With a steely glint in his eye which belied his schoolboy stature, he smacked Harmison back over his head after riding a wave of bouncers. The look on the big fast bowlerís face was worth setting the video for. Baugh had the whole of the washed out second day to ponder the wisdom of his tactics, but when play resumed on day three he was in even more belligerent form, responding to Englandís excessive use of the short pitched delivery with a series of bold uppercuts and dabs over the keeperís head. When Harmison tried to york him, he strolled across his stumps and flicked him over square leg.
He lost Mohammed to a misjudged pull for 23, then Collinsí brave 19 was ended by a vicious ball from Flintoff which struck him on the chin and forced him to retire hurt. Baugh flayed on, remorselessly, rushing to 68 from 84 balls before a misjudgement of his own lobbed a catch to Vaughan.
Collymore was bowled by Hoggard on the stroke of lunch, and with Collins still technically available to return, Lara imaginatively kept England guessing, delaying his declaration until they were already out on the field for the afternoon session. 395 for 9 declared marked a reasonable return for Laraís men, but England would not have been too worried. Throughout their unbroken sequence of wins this summer they have not once bowled the opposition out for under 350 in the first innings. They might, however, have reflected that their two fastest bowlers, Harmison and Flintoff, had overdone the short stuff and that Anderson remained worryingly inconsistent. Hoggard and Giles, on the other hand, were reliability itself.
If Lara was hoping that his sudden delaration might upset Englandís batsmen, he may have been right. Trescothick flashed at the second ball of the innings from Edwards and was caught at slip. Key then lost his off-stump to a beauty from Corey Collymore which pitched middle and hit off. Key didnít offer the straightest of bats, but it was one hell of a ball anyway. Then, with only 40 on the board, England lost Vaughan too, bowled off his pads by the golden arm of Bravo. It was a worrying situation which called for discipline and guts. Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe provided both in full measure.
There has been much talk lately of how weak a team these West Indians are, and of how much stronger their batting is than their bowling, but Englandís tussles with them in the Caribbean a few months ago were marked by the frequent necessity for a backs to the wall effort from their batsmen. Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain were the two battlers in chief over there. This time Thorpe, having made one of the best hundreds of his career in a similar cause in that earlier series, played another gem, with Strauss proving that he too can be man for the tough situation, not just a dominator of the crushed in spirit.
The West Indies threw everything they could think of at Thorpe, the ferocious spell of fast bowling by Edwards on the fourth morning in particular was a challenge to rank with the hardest Thorpe can have faced in his long career. In two successive balls he was struck on the hand, then the head, but he reamined unflustered, bothered neither by the aggressiveness of the bowling nor the stagnancy of his scoring rate. It took him 93 minutes to move to his century from his overnight 89 (not that the turgid over rate helped). His final total of 114 lasting five hours, and leaving him with a broken finger, courtesy of that blow from Edwards, which is likely to keep him out of the final Test at The Oval later this week. Without it, England would never have been in this game.
Strauss had fallen late on the third evening, a tired drive at Bravo during an extended final session cannoning off bat and pad onto stumps. Local hero Flintoff emerged to his customary roar of popular acclaim, only for it to be swiftly silenced by a dubious but brave lbw decision by umpire Taufel, who could be seen immediately afterwards blowing out a deep, stressful breath. No evening jog around the streets of Manchester for him that night one suspects.
It was nightwatchman Hoggard who stuck around with Thorpe long enough to guarantee the Surrey veteran his hundred, but the rest of the tail was blown away rapidly and Englandís 330 left them some way short of parity. And for much of the day it looked as though that lead of 65 might be a decisive one. West Indies reached 41 before losing Joseph, driving to mid-off. Then Gayle and Sarwan sailed majestically on and began to accelerate towards an impressive declaration total. Vaughan turned to his spinner to reassert control, and Giles did the job, cutting the scoring rate dramatically until Gayle could stand it no more and lofted him to deep mid-on.
If that wasnít the turning point of the match, what happened next surely was. Having removed Lara with one piece of genius in the first innings, Flintoff did it again in a markedly different way. His bowling in this game matched Harmisonís for pace and aggression, and surpassed it in accuracy. There was nothing Lara could do when the ball reared up off just short of a length towards his throat, save getting the splice of the bat in the way of it. The ball looped up invitingly and fell gently into the waiting hands of Strauss, who made no mistake.
Although Sarwan, who had dropped easy chances off Thorpe on 57 and 100, hung on determinedly, the West Indies batting now fell away alarmingly. No-one else made double figures as Harmison, with four wickets and Giles and Flintoff, three each, scythed their way though the opposition. The last wicket fell to Harmison early on day five, leaving England their modest target of 231 to win. The highest previous fourth innings total to win at Old Trafford was 144, but the wicket here is far less prone to deterioration these days and if England could only avoid the bad weather sweeping the land, surely they stood a good chance.
West Indies didnít make it easy for them. Collymore produced another swinging beauty to bowl Trescothick, and Strauss toe ended a pull to mid-on. There was a skier just out of the keeperís reach from Vaughan and a bit of playing and missing too from Key. But the two right-handers, not troubled by the ball dusting out of the footmarks outside the left-handerís off stump, began to look more confident as lunch approached, Key clipping the ball nicely off his legs, Vaughan unleashing his trademark drive.
It was during the lunch break that the only rain of the day fell on Old Trafford. At the time it was unclear who would be happier to see the rain, but as the afternoon wore on and the ground retained a miraculous oval of sunshine while thunder and lightning raged all around it became clear that England held the advantage, and only they had the confidence to press it home. They were still some way distant when Lara turned to the off-spin of Gayle, whose first ball reared surprisingly at Vaughan who could only nudge it to slip, but Flintoff came in to play one of his calmest, most sensible innings, giving admirable support to the increasingly assured Key.
he first ball after tea was pulled to the boundary by Key. Two balls later he was put down at second slip by Joseph and all the stuffing went out of the West Indies. Before the break they had been all aggression, Edwards following through to give Key a bit of verbal, Key responding with grins and pulled faces. Now there was not a word left to say, not a ploy left to play. The fireworks from Flintoff which his home crowd had been waiting all match for finally came near the end as he smashed Sarwan over long-on for two huge sixes to bring up his fifty and take England to within four of victory. Key deserved the extra seven runs for his hundred, but didnít seem to mind not getting them, the joy of success in this team outweighing individual aspirations. It was Flintoff who struck the winning runs, but Key who played the winning hand.
Englandís six consecutive wins could become seven at The Oval in a few days time. Indeed, it is hard to imagine it any other way. If the West Indies could not beat England from this position, it is hard to see them doing so at all on this tour. England will probably be without Thorpe, Warwickshireís prolific youngster Ian Bell has been called up as cover, and might even take their foot off the gas with the series in the bag, but do the West Indies have enough fight left in them to produce a winning performance?
West Indies 395-9 dec (Bravo 77, Chanderpaul 76, Baugh 68, Hoggard 4-83) & 161 (Sarwan 60, Harmison 4 -44)
England 330 (Thorpe 114, Strauss 90, Bravo 6-55) & 231-3 (Key 93*, Flintoff 57*)
England won by 7 wickets
Man of the Match