Match Report by Neil Robinson 29/07/04
Fate seems to like taking a hand at Lordís. A freak knee injury to Michael Vaughan before the New Zealand Test earlier this summer led to the call-up of Andrew Strauss and, well you know the rest. Then, with Mark Butcher looking likely to recover from a thigh strain in the run up to the First Test against the West Indies, fate decided to give another little push to youth and sent another car into the back of Butcherís at some traffic lights, leaving the Surrey left-hander with whiplash.
This time the beneficiary was Kentís Robert Key, a young man drinking in the last chance saloon after a string of lax dismissals in his few international appearances to date. Butcher, after an unbroken sequence of 42 Tests, could hardly begrudge the man another go, and would probably have cheered as heartily as the rest of England had he been moderately successful, but he could be excused for feeling more than a little queasy as he watched the cherubic Key compile a masterly 221 which turned the last chance saloon into Bunterís tuck-shop.
Keyís innings was one of several English performances which kept the match well beyond a mercurial West Indies side. Strauss continued his love affair with his home ground with an immaculate first innings 137, Michael Vaughan completed a fine return to form with a hundred in each innings (only the third man to achieve this feat in a Lordís Test, after George Headley and Graham Gooch), Andrew Flintoff produced some crowd pleasing fireworks with the bat and eased concerns about his ankle-spur problem with three quick wickets to clean up the West Indiesí tail. But the man of the match award went, deservedly, to the long-suffering Ashley Giles, who built upon the confidence gained in fine performance against New Zealand last month to make vital breakthroughs in both innings and claim nine wickets in the match.
After some promising performances in the one-dayers, reaching the final at Englandís expense, this was a disappointing return to earth by the tourists. Apart from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who anchored both innings with great discipline and came desperately close to emulating Vaughanís twin centuries, there was little sign of the application needed to prosper against top class opposition. There was style and dash as usual from Chris Gayle, promise aplenty in the performances of young all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Omari Banks and some useful swing bowling in the second innings from Pedro Collins, but it was far from enough. As Imran Khan said many years ago, Test cricket will remain the true test since success requires a comprehensive team performance, while one-day matches can be turned by individual brilliance. Until West Indies can show the desire to work together and work hard, they will have many more years of struggle ahead in the longer game.
It started on the first morning, well these things usually do. Lara, faced with a cloudy sky but a dry, straw coloured pitch and a good forecast, won the toss and put England in. Nasser Hussain will know how he feels now. From the first over it was clear that this was a pitch with no pace or bounce and little real movement. Apart from the early loss of Marcus Trescothick, spooning to square leg, there was little trouble for the batsmen as Strauss and Key put together a record second wicket partnership. It was quiet, attritional stuff before lunch, Key settling in and savouring the atmosphere, and benefiting from a dropped chance at slip, Strauss playing himself in diligently. But by the afternoon England began to storm ahead. The seamers fed Key with a series of leg-stump half-volleys, his favourite delicacy, while Strauss found the same width outside off, lashing everything in sight through the covers with sublime placement.
It was disappointing how quickly the West Indiansí shoulders slumped. There seemed a lack of leadership within the side, a reluctance of anyone to take responsibility for what was happening on the field. The captaincy of Brian Lara has been under fire for a while now, he lacks tactical nous and the ability to build team spirit, but it may be that even a change of captain would not be of much benefit. When a team is dominated by one world class player such as Lara, it can be difficult for an alternative authority figure to emerge. All eyes look to Lara for the match winning performance, the moment of inspiration, the ability to drag, persuade or bully his men through the toughest challenges. His very presence discourages the rest of the side from making the most of their own abilities, developing their own leadership skills. It is like watching a great Test player leading a team of schoolboys, only instead of true leadership there is a vacuum. The overwhelming brilliance and presence of Lara makes him a player the West Indies canít do without. But if only they could.
The Key-Strauss partnership grew to an immense 291 before Strauss got a thin edge cutting Banks. Vaughan came to the wicket in need of runs after a bad trot, and settled in with the clear intention of getting them. Perhaps there had been a lack of form, or luck, in recent months, but a worrying degree of impetuousness had also crept into his batting, a habit of reaching for his favoured off-drive even when the ball was never full or straight enough. Catches had flown to keeper and slips a little too often for comfort. But the England skipper is a hard worker. Long hours in the nets had borne fruit in a firmer base at the wicket, less of a shuffle, more of a solid forward press in his trigger movement, a head more still and a mind more calm. It took a while for the old fluency to return, but once it did it wasnít going away in a hurry.
With Key he took England to 391 for 2 overnight. A huge achievement off less than the full 90 overs and a big hill for the West Indies to climb. On day two Vaughanís budding innings blossomed into one of quiet elegance, content to remain in the shadows as Key built on his overnight 167 to go to a maiden double century, but always filled with strokes of grace and timing. When Key fell to the nagging seamers of Bravo, Vaughan was joined by Thorpe in a promising stand of 42. Then, and only then, did the West Indies begin to show signs of life with the ball and the England innings fell away.
Thorpe cut loosely at Bravo and was caught behind, Flintoff hit one massive straight six off Banks then played on next ball, Geraint Jones (who had a scrappy match with bat and gloves), edged one angled across him by Collins, as did Giles, as did Vaughan. Collins then completed a fine spell of 5-17 with a Yorker landed on Simon Jonesí toe before Harmisonís stumps were splattered by Bravo. In an old-style collapse, England had lost their last 7 wickets for just 41 runs. Fortunately their first 3 wickets had put on 527 beforehand.
In reply Gayle and Devon Smith set off at a gallop, putting on 118 in 92 minutes, taking 24 from Harmisonís first three overs and hitting him out of the attack. It was not as if Harmison, or any other England bowler was bowling badly, the two left handers were in superb touch, standing tall and hitting good length balls at the top of their bounce off the back foot. It was a rousing response, but one not destined to last. Vaughan quickly turned to the spin of Giles, and the Warwickshire spinner responded with his most vigorous performance for years. He ran in with enthusiasm and confidence, brought his body into his action, pivoted and ripped and span the ball out of the rough. The old roller had become a young ripper at last. The batsmen found the ball rearing and spitting at them from outside off. Smith tried to cut and played on. Gayle, having survived several lbw appeals, fell to another on the sweep (a touch unluckily it seemed). His third victim was Lara, given out caught behind with his bat hidden behind his pad; another lbw verdict might have been more justified. Meanwhile Sarwan had fallen too, lbw to Hoggard shuffling across as so often in the Caribbean back in the spring.
There was some stiff resistance from Chanderpaul and Bravo, lasting into the third morning. Bravo played some handsome strokes, while Chanderpaul was in shellfish mode again, limpet-like, a barnacle, no, whoever first described his batting as crablike had it best. The open stance, the sideways shuffle, the scuttle for a quick single, the armour-plating, how else could you describe him? As an infuriating man to bowl to probably, a style full of grotesque contortions, making ugly rather than graceful shapes, but producing from it all shots of breathtaking audacity and skill, he defies convention. And how to work him out? A player with so many apparent technical flaws, which one to exploit, which way to trap him? If only the flaws were real rather than apparent.
Bravo was less comfortable on day three with Giles making him come at the ball. But he gutsed it out until Simon Jones got one to rear at him outside off stump, the edge flying to Geraint Jones. Jacobs played a pugnacious 32, then Banks came in to play another promising innings, seven well struck fours and one mighty six in his 45. He was missed twice, a sitter by Thorpe at mid-on, then soon after a high half-chance to Harmison at mid-off. But mistakes aside it was an innings of high promise which made the skin tingle and the mind look forward to future events.
It was Flintoff who fired him out in the end. Turned to late and reluctantly by Vaughan, the big Lancastrian later insisted that his ankle spur is only a tiddler by comparison with those suffered by Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee and that now the inflammation has gone he is fit to bowl, it was soon clear what England had been missing. Fast inswinging yorkers were speared in at the batsmen, Banks, Best and Collins all losing their stumps. Giles finished off by bowling Edwards and West Indies were all out for 418.
Chanderpaulís undefeated 128 had helped West Indies avoid the follow on, but on a good flat pitch the deficit of 152 was a big one. Notably, for all Laraís pre-match comments about England lacking a plan-B for when Harmison didnít come off, England had bowled themselves to a match-winning lead without a single wicket from the Durham express.
England pushed on hard for the declaration. Trescothick and Strauss put on 86 in 28 overs before Trescothick was decisively yorked by Collins, Strauss pulled low to square leg to end a rather skittish 35, then Key was run out ball-watching for 15. But Vaughan was soon reprising his form from the first innings. He and Thorpe took England steadily towards a declaration total with a stand of 116. Thorpe, his share just 38, was finally tricked into popping up a return catch by Gayle, but this brought in Flintoff and sparked the acceleration. The next ten overs took the score from 223 to 325, Flintoff striking 58 off 42 balls with orthodox brutality. But Vaughan was not upstaged, having built up his form and confidence, he was able to unleash the formidable range of strokes he had shown against India and Australia in 2002 and 2003. One over brought 18 runs off Collins, Vaughan strolling across his stumps to hit into vacant space on the leg-side, once almost glancing the ball onto his own stumps.
Flintoffís wicket brought the declaration, with the West Indies facing a massive target of 478. On a good pitch, with four sessions left, it was theoretically possible. But for West Indies there was only one hope, that some brilliance from their captain would take them there, at least part of the way.
Chris Gayle knows just one way to play, and he set off as if chasing for the runs. Admirably positive, but positivity not matched with judgement. He got away with it for a while, while at the other end he lost Smith, bowled by Giles with Sarwan again lbw to Hoggard. By the time the tourists reached 102-2, Gayle had made an incredible 81 of them, and Lara had been at his side since the second wicket fell at 35. But it was at that point that Gayle finally gave Harmison his first wicket of the match, failing to keep out a searing yorker.
Lara battled hard into the final day, getting his head down and showing uncharacteristic restraint as he played for the draw. But Giles, in a marathon spell from the nursery end, turned one a mile out of the rough to bowl him. Chanderpaul continued on with Churchillian defiance, but the support simply wasnít there. Bravo was caught and bowled by Giles, Jacobs ripped out by Hoggard, Banks bowled all ends up by Harmison, then Tino Best responded to some friendly ribbing from Flintoff by charging at Giles to be stumped by a yard.
Chanderpaulís mettle was further displayed by a ninth wicket stand of 44 to which Collins contributed a mere 2, but once Collins too had been stumped off Giles (the fifth wicket earning Giles a long awaited 5-for and a place on the honours board), Flintoff was back to finish off Edwards and leave Chanderpaul stranded on 97.
Sobering stuff for the West Indies, that England can replace two of the obdurate middle-order threesome who defied them so often a few months ago with players like Strauss and Key, that they can win a match on a dead flat pitch with the minimal contribution from their key strike bowler, that a top-class performance from a batsman like Chanderpaul can be rewarded with defeat. England will find friendlier surfaces than this for their bowlers to prosper on. West Indies will continue to rely on individual brilliance and, surely, against this professional England team, who play with a smile on their faces and steel in their hearts, that will not be enough.
England 568 (Key 221, Strauss 137, Vaughan 103, Collins 4-113) & 325-5 dec (Vaughan 101*, Flintoff 58)
West Indies 416 (Chanderpaul 128*, Gayle 66, Giles 4-129) & 267 (Chanderpaul 97*, Gayle 81, Giles 5-81)
England won by 210 runs
Man of the Match