Going with the flow
It's been a long time coming - 36 years to be precise, in case anyone has failed to notice - but England are finally within touching distance of their first series win in the Caribbean since 1968. Another dominant bowling performance has left England in command of the third Test, and judging by the morning papers, it was not just superlatives that were flowing in Barbados last night.
For yesterday's main man was the people's favourite, Andrew Flintoff, whose quest for a maiden Test "Michelle [five-for]" has finally come to fruition. "Flint Stoned" proclaimed a worryingly ambiguous headline in The Sun, although the potential misinterpretation was quickly cleared up by the sub-heading: "Fired-up Freddie skittles Windies with five-star show."
As The Mirror's Mike Walters pointed out, Flintoff is soon to become a father for the first time, and with 12,000 of his most ardent supporters in Barbados to celebrate on his behalf, there was plenty of wetting of the baby's head going on last night. "As the Barmy Army spilled into Bridgetown's beach bars last night," enthused Walters, "everyone agreed: Flintoff is Daddy Cool."
Angus Fraser in The Independent joined in the chorus of approval. "The bars of Bridgetown will reap the benefits of Flintoff's toil," he declared, "even if Brian Lara's side do not." The Daily Mail's Mike Dickson, on the other hand, predicted the opposite effect - at least by day. "Flintoff's batting has for some time emptied the bars," he wrote, "but his bowling has never been quite so dramatic. Until yesterday, that is."
Even Christopher Martin-Jenkins was going with the flow, although his focus was on a less hedonistic aspect of the day's play. Seizing on Michael Vaughan's "bold, if unnecessary" decision to field first on winning the toss, CMJ wrote in The Times: "It was akin to the Boat Race captain choosing the Middlesex bend in the hope of getting a commanding advantage early in the contest."
Settling into a steady rhythm, CMJ's metaphor raced past Craven Cottage and down towards Hammersmith Bridge. "If, on this occasion, England were ahead by rather more than a canvas after the early clash of blades, West Indies held on past Harrods to leave everyone guessing about which crew would be ahead when Chiswick Bridge hove into view.
"What happened here was simply a mirror image of West Indies versus England in the 1980s," added CMJ. "It is exactly what Clive Lloyd or Viv Richards would have done when 2-0 up in a series and armed with four strong and confident fast bowlers." And even if The Daily Telegraph's Derek Pringle remained unconvinced by the wisdom of the decision, thanks to Freddie, he could hardly carp about its success: "It was made to look like divine inspiration rather than a reckless gamble."
"Rampaging in from the Southern End and hammering the ball into a pitch offering some life, the Lancastrian's bullish fast bowling blew the stuffing out of the West Indies innings," wrote Mike Selvey in The Guardian, adding that the key moment of the day was his dismissal of Lara, just as he was looking set for his first big innings of the series. "Lara stood in the crease," added Selvey, "and pushed his helmet to the back of his head in disbelief." As well he might, for at that moment England had seized control of the game.
But, as Marcus Trescothick's late wicket demonstrated, all hope has not yet been abandoned by the Caribbean's commentators. Tony Cozier, a vociferous critic of West Indies' performances in the first two Tests, was as overjoyed as the eight fast bowlers in this match to see a nice, bouncy, green-tinged pitch that reminded him of years gone by. Writing in The Independent, he went out of his way to praise the new head groundsman at Bridgetown, Richard Applewaite.
"What [Applewaite] presented at Kensington yesterday was not a lawn," said Cozier, "but in appearance at least, it is the kind of surface on which Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and their accomplices ensured 11 successive West Indies victories on the ground between 1978 and 1994."
And Tony Becca, writing in the Jamaica Gleaner, predicted that this Test would be "short and spicy", even if he lamented the lack of home support. "[Although] surrounded in their own backyard by an army of British fans, this match could still be close and exciting." We await West Indies' response with interest.