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April 2, 2004
Even as England mopped up the tail yesterday, a little voice inside was whispering that they hadn't bowled or fielded terribly well, and that they should have bowled West Indies out for about 150. Three catches had gone down, after all - and the main beneficiary of that was Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who was dropped off a sitter when 10 and went on to a phlegmatic 50.
Still, several coopfuls of chickens were counted last night, as England fans - and half of Fleet Street - wrote West Indies off. Today Fidel Edwards decapitated a few of those chickens, and at tea 224 wasn't looking such a bad score after all. England hung on, mainly because Graham Thorpe refused to give in, and also because their tail has far more idea with the bat than West Indies'.
But it was a mighty struggle - and a compelling one - on the sort of spicy pitch that would have had Curtly Ambrose licking his lips and reconsidering retirement. England were lucky that the current model of West Indian fast bowler is more tadpole than beanpole - at least it was only fingers in the firing line this time, not noses.
Fidel Edwards, with his slingy roundarm delivery, was still quite a handful. There will be days when his action won't be quite right, and the ball will disappear down the leg side. But today, until he understandably tired (it's barely a fortnight since he limped off at Kingston with a side strain), Edwards zeroed the ball in at the base of the stumps, or zapped it past the gloves at an awkward height and an awkward speed. Pedro Collins played a useful second Fidel to his half-brother, taking three wickets and bending the ball in at a handy pace, while posing problems with his unfamiliar left-arm approach. The bubbly Tino Best was strangely underused - he bowled only 14 overs in the innings, just one more than came from Chris Gayle's undemanding straightish offspin.
Thorpe, though, was simply magnificent, making up for his near-miss 90 in Trinidad in great style. All angles and attitude, he rolled on to 119 not out, dominating an innings in which the next-best score was a paltry 17, by Michael Vaughan. Thorpe punched 13 boundaries, and somehow wrung 71 vital runs from the last two wickets, of which his studious partners contributed seven. Not that Thorpe was complaining: he was just glad they were still there. And the joy that this undemonstrative man exhibited when he reached three figures showed that he knew just how valuable it all was.
It was similar in some ways to Thorpe's adhesive innings at Lahore in November 2000. There, Thorpe hung in like Muhammad Ali roping a dope, only occasionally landing a punch of his own - he battled for 432 minutes for 118, facing 301 balls, and hit only two fours, one of them after he'd reached his hundred. That epic led to a draw ... this one might yet set up that first series win in the Caribbean for 36 years. There's a long way to go, though, and another determined little left-hander might yet have a say.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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