Match Report by Neil Robinson 24/03/04
Perhaps itís something in the Yorkshire water, but when England sealed their second consecutive win in this series by the comfortable margin of seven wickets, captain Michael Vaughan became the first England skipper to win two matches in a series in the Caribbean since his fellow Yorkshire opener Len Hutton back in 1953/54. Hutton, of course, was also the skipper who retrieved the Ashes for England after a gap of two decades. Apropos of nothing, you understand.
Losing the toss again and faced with a much slower, flatter pitch for their fast bowlers to toil upon, England had to work somewhat harder for this victory. In fact, for much of the first morning as Chris Gayle and Devon Smith raced to a century partnership, it looked as if the momentum of this series might swing back in West Indiesí favour. But this is an England side brimful of confidence and reaping the rewards of the strict work ethic instilled by Vaughan. Patience, dedication and a couple of inspired bowling changes saw England keep up the pressure until the home side cracked, and so badly did they crack that with a series victory and recovery of the Wisden Trophy now impossible, the demoralised West Indies now find themselves staring down the barrel of a total whitewash of the kind they used to dish out to England as a matter of routine.
All this looked far away as Gayle and Smith raced away on the first morning. Hoggard and Harmison were not bowling quite to the same standard they had achieved in Jamaica, Hoggard in particular sending down too many half-volleys which were latched onto by the free-flowing batsmen. Gayle seemed to have learned from his crooked batted efforts in the first Test and was making a deliberate effort to play straighter. In all twelve fours and a six thundered off his bat as runs flowed like sweat down the smooth thighs of the Carib Beer Girls busy shaking their hot stuff in front of the Trini Posse stand.
Pardon me while I hold that thought for a moment...
After about 90 minutes of this sort of treatment it was beginning to look as though Vaughan ought to be thinking about protecting the off side boundaries or at least overcoming that traditional reluctance of England captains to place a third man. He toyed with Ashley Giles for a while, but another diffident three over spell from the left-arm spinner resulted in twenty runs, six of which came in one hefty thump over long-on from Gayle. Flintoff too was looking a shadow of his usual reliable self, so Vaughan took the decision to give Harmison his second spell of the morning, this time from the Pavilion End where a low sightscreen might give the batsmen difficulty in spotting the ball. It was a decision which would change the game, and bear immediate fruit.
There were just ten minutes to go before lunch, but it would be hard to imagine ten minutes which altered the course of a game more significantly. After scoring 62 thrilling runs from 81 balls, Gayle nicked a well directed ball from Harmison to the keeper. In Harmisonís next over, he brought one back a touch to trap Devon Smith in front for 35. Then, after a tortured four ball stay, Brian Lara received the kind of ball he could never have expected on such a slow pitch, the kind of ball a man still concerned about a dislocated finger suffered earlier in the week would be praying not to get. It was fast, it lifted from just short of a length and reared up towards his nose. Lara jerked his head back and removed his injured hand from the bat, the ball struck the handle just where the hand had been, flicked up to strike his helmet and looped to Giles in the gully. The dejected Lara hung around for a moment, as if expecting the umpire to have noticed the hit on the helmet but not the one on the bat handle, only to trudge off sadly with the whoops of English joy still ringing in his ears.
The old Boycottian slip (add a couple of wickets to your score and see how it looks then, says Geoffrey) is well established among cricketers and happens often enough to be regarded as a blip you can recover from. But losing three key wickets at a time when they had been dominating seemed to take all the wind out of the Windiesí sails. And when, soon after a lunch break extended 80 minutes by rain, Shivnarine Chanderpaul edged Simon Jones to give Chris Read another comfortable catch behind the stumps, the impression of a side on the slide was confirmed.
Harmison, meanwhile, was in the middle of a spell he later claimed was even better than his stunning 7 for 12 burst at Sabina Park. His hostility, combined with a McGrath-like command of line and length (are you reading this Lilac Hill?) bore that out. Two more wickets were to come his way before the close, Dwayne Smith (returning in place of the unwell Ryan Hinds) struck three extravagant boundaries before being tempted into the pull once too often and skying a catch to Hussain; Sarwan, after 160 minutes of strokeless resistance, fended to slip. With Tino Best giving a routine edge to the keeper off Hoggard and Adam Sanford run out by a superb throw from the deep by Vaughan, West Indies slumped to 165 for 8, a situation only moderately relieved by a fighting innings from Ridley Jacobs, which helped add 34 more runs before the close.
Another 19 were added on the second morning before Jacobs made the mistake of trying to capitalise on a Giles misfield. Pedro Collins, having battled 54 minutes for his 10, then missed a fast straight ball from Harmison, giving the big paceman innings figures of 6 for 61, his third consecutive 5-wicket haul in Tests, bringing his third consecutive match award too. West Indies last two wickets had yielded 43 vital runs, but their total of 208 still looked painfully inadequate.
But for all their dominance in this series so far, England are not without their own problems. The most immediate must be the failure of their highly talented opening batsmen to make any impression on this series. Marcus Trescothick is rapidly acquiring an unfortunate reputation as a batsman who can only score runs when in top form, while the whisperings continue about the captaincy having a negative effect upon Michael Vaughanís batting. TV commentator Mark Nicholas has even begun to speak about Vaughan taking over the number 4 slot when Nasser Hussain retires, but this would surely be a mistake. England have a number of young middle-order batsmen (Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Sales) who could conceivably take over from Hussain, talented openers are rather thinner on the ground. Vaughan is also, despite his success on this tour, not yet such a great skipper that it would be a huge blow if he were no longer to perform that job, but he is such a fine opening batsman that it would be a dreadful loss not to have him at the top of the innings.
Vaughan has actually looked in good form on this tour, without the results backing that up. Trescothick, on the other hand, has looked awful and could have been out twice in this innings (one umpiring error, one dropped catch) before he skied a hook off Best for 1. By that time Vaughan too had gone, lbw to a well-aimed inswinger from Collins for a duck. Rain returned before Butcher and Hussain could get very far in their second rebuilding exercise of the series. Their 120 run partnership, spread over the remainder of day two and the first half of day three, was an exercise in application and grit. If Kenny Barrington and Chris Tavare had ever had the chance to get together in a rearguard for England, it might have looked something like this, except perhaps less ugly.
Butcher, well-balanced, watchful, was the picture of restrained elegance, Hussain, well, just restrained. This was the puritan instinct of English cricket coming to the fore in the age of instant gratification, an exercise in gritting it out and winning ugly because thatís better than not winning at all. It was dour, grim, merciless stuff and if the crowd didnít find it enthralling, well they could always join in with Mick Jagger who was leading the Barmy Army in a chorus of ďI Canít Get No Satisfaction.Ē Iím sure the West Indies bowlers felt the same.
Those bowlers, in fact, performed extremely well in pinning down the Englishmen and making them fight for every run. Corey Colleymore in particular bowled quite beautifully at times and was dreadfully unlucky to remain wicketless. But the discipline shown by the West Indian bowlers was more than matched by that of the England batsmen and, for all the plaudits sent the way of Steve Harmison and his fellow bowlers, it is probably the striking difference in the two teamsí middle-order batting which has been the key to Englandís dominance. While Butcher, Hussain and, in this match, Thorpe have contributed as a group in both matches, West Indiesí much vaunted nucleus of Sarwan, Lara and Chanderpaul have hardly made a run between them. Not only that, but they have looked as if expecting to get out at any time, greatly aiding the psychological hold over them which the England bowlers have.
If the England batsmen had largely self-destructed after getting set in Jamaica, there was nothing that could be said against them here. Butcher fell eventually for 61, thanks to a poor bit of umpiring which mistook a deflection out of the bowlerís footmarks for one off the bat as he went to drive a full, wide ball from Best. That brought Thorpe to the wicket and heralded the start of English acceleration. After a scratchy start, Thorpe quickly settled to play one of those scampering, nudging innings, punctuated by the odd rasping back-foot shot, for which he is justifiably renowned. Another 58 were added with Hussain continuing his limpet-like performance to balance Thorpeís verve.
It was the second new ball which took care of Hussain in the end, Best nipping one back to penetrate the former skipperís tired defensive prod. But other than that, the new ball did little to improve West Indiesí prospects. Andrew Flintoff turned on the style against some wayward stuff from Best to give the crowd something to appreciate at last, scoring 23 at near-on a run a ball. But he fell to the part-timer again, giving a return catch to Dwayne Smith off the leading edge. Chris Read fell for 3, trapped by a Collins inswinger just as Vaughan had been. But Ashley Giles stayed with Thorpe until bad light brought a close to play, the upright number 8 actually matching his more illustrious partner at times in the quality of his strokeplay.
Their partnership of 85 took England well beyond the West Indiesí paltry total, but it was a little disappointing that the innings should fold so quickly on the fourth morning when the opportunity was there to extend the lead well beyond a hundred. Giles and Thorpe, the latter in sight of an excellent hundred, both edged Collins to slip before Jones and Harmison were both bowled offering limp strokes at the part-time spin of Gayle. The last four wickets went down for just four runs, but the overall lead of 111 was a powerful one.
To their credit, the West Indies top-order actually put up more of a fight in the second innings, but it was a fight they simply couldnít sustain. Gayle and Devon Smith again saw off Hoggard and Harmison, but all that changed when Simon Jones entered the attack. His first ball slipped way down the leg-side for four wides, but his second was bang on target and removed Gayleís off-stump after a little uneven bounce allowed the ball to sneak beneath the tall left-handerís back-foot defence. There had been suggestions throughout the match that uneven bounce would come into play later in the game, but, Gayleís dismissal apart, this never really happened. It certainly didnít account for Devon Smithís loose drive straight to mid-off to give Jones his second wicket, or the sad shuffle across the crease which had Sarwan lbw to give him his third. Smith and Sarwan, incidentally, were both sent on their way with a little too much verbal help from the fired-up Jones, a slip in etiquette for which he later apologised and was fined 50% of his match fee.
Amid all this it had not gone un-noticed by the Trinidadians that their -sometime- favourite son, Brian Lara had not emerged in his usual number 4 position, instead Ridley Jacobs was sent up the order to provide some much needed grit. While this move did not suggest that all was well in Laraís mind, it worked from a tactical point of view as Jacobs and Chanderpaul made England toil during a 102 run stand which, for a while, looked as if it might give West Indies something to bowl at. Jacobs edged Jones to slip for 70 with the score at 158 for 4. A lead of 47 with Lara coming to the crease on a pitch expected to deteriorate was by no means a lost cause, but local hopes were not to be revived for long.
Sensing a crucial point in the match, and with Jones tiring, Vaughan turned to his most dangerous bowler and gave the ball to Harmison. Lara immediately looked uncomfortable. He didnít survive the over, continuing with his curious technique of jumping across to the off-side before the ball is bowled, only to find a full length ball which pitched on middle and off and straightened thudding into his pads. This time there was no need to linger, and as he headed back to the pavilion he took all the fight left in the West Indies with him.
Another brief cameo by Dwayne Smith was ended by a superb diving catch in the gully by substitute Paul Collingwood, a deserved wicket in a much improved spell from Andrew Flintoff which also brought the wicket of Chanderpaul for 42. Hoggard then returned to trap Best lbw for 2 and have Sanford caught at slip before Vaughan brought back Jones and a fast yorker shattered Collinsí stumps to end the innings in fine style and bring the Glamorgan quickie a joyful maiden Test five-fer. Jonesí long absence through injury may have caused him to lose ground in his development compared with Harmison, but a fine performance here suggests that England may now have a pace spearhead potent enough to trouble the best batsmen in the world on the flattest pitches. It is a long time since that was the case.
The West Indies had lost their last five wickets for just 15 runs, their total of 209 leaving England just 99 to win. Despite losing Trescothick for just 4, England set off at a gallop, clearly intent on finishing the game off that evening. Vaughan and Butcher looked in excellent touch, Butcher throwing off his first-innings shackles and Vaughan unleashing his trademark pull to lash one terrific six over square leg. They put on 51 together before Vaughan was nailed lbw by Sanford courtesy of another short-sighted umpiring decision. The light was dim now, but Butcher and Hussain were keen to stay on and keep the momentum going, to rub further salt into local wounds by winning at a canter. They turned down an offer of the light, only to be told they were going off by umpires Bowden and Harper a few minutes later with just 28 needed. Laraís harrassment of the umpires during this period was to earn him a fine too, capping a sad match on home turf for a weary and distracted looking West Indies skipper.
There was a faint glimmer of hope for West Indies on the final morning when Hussain edged the second ball of the day from Sanford to Jacobs. Three balls later Thorpe edged a straightforward chance to Jacobs, who went for it one-handed and spilled it. One fine over from Sanford was all the West Indies had to offer. A couple of crisp strikes from Thorpe, then three in one over from Butcher finished the game off and England had retained the Wisden Trophy.
The post-match picture of English joy was mirrored sadly by West Indian dejection, just as English professionalism has been mirrored by West Indian sloppiness. The series claimed its first casualty as long-standing Windies manager Ricky Skerritt announced that he is to step down in June, citing his increasing frustration with trying to instill any kind of professional attitude into his charges. Stories of four players responding to the humiliation in Jamaica by going out partying straight after the game, of poorly attended ďvoluntaryĒ net sessions, of players turning up for the tour of South Africa two stone overweight, suggest an ill-disciplined, poorly led group of players (one could hardly call them a unit) going nowhere but down. The mention of voluntary nets calls to mind David Gowerís ill-fated 1986 tour of the Caribbean; the result is beginning to look equally one-sided.
Both teams now repair to Barbados where a weekís gap will allow tired English bowlers to rebuild their stamina. Brian Lara has pledged hard work before the Third Test begins on April 1st, but he may be on a foolís errand.
West Indies: 208 (Gayle 62, Jacobs 40, Harmison 6-61) & 209 (Jacobs 70, Chanderpaul 42, Jones 5-57)
England: 319 (Thorpe 90, Butcher 61, Hussain 58, Collins 4-71) & 99 for 3 (Butcher 46*)
England won by 7 wickets.
England lead series 2-0.
Man of the Match