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April 18, 2004
When Chris Read was cruelly jettisoned from last week's fourth Test, his predicament generated an extraordinary wave of sympathy. For Read's wicketkeeping had been exemplary throughout the Test series, but his lack of runs was a concern that could no longer be overlooked. But when he was subsequently retained for the one-day series, ahead of the superior batsman, Geraint Jones, that sympathy turned to bafflement.
Not for the first time this winter, however, it turns out that England's management had played a psychological masterstroke. Read is an unassuming character, who is not given to unseemly displays of emotion. But, as he admitted in his online column, he entered this match with a point to prove, and how gloriously he proved it. England were dead in the water with two overs remaining, but Read's open-shouldered thumping silenced a joyous crowd, some of whom had been waiting since the gates opened at 6am. Read's sixes, especially, were strikes that belied his slight frame, but we shouldn't be surprised at the power he can generate. He has done this sort of thing before - in Johannesburg four winters ago, when he took the long handle to an incredulous Shaun Pollock.
Read's intervention papered over the cracks in England's batting, but as Michael Vaughan admitted, there was plenty of room for improvement in their performance. Without the middle-order ballast of Graham Thorpe, Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain, they were a pale imitation of the team that swept (almost) all before them during the Test series, and they were spluttering from the moment that Vaughan himself edged a third-ball jaffer from another player with a point to prove - the Test discard, Merv Dillon.
It was a day dominated by men whose egos have been dented. After Darren Gough's early success with the ball, Shivnarine Chanderpaul took centre stage. His gloriously Jekyll-and-Hyde performance was an eloquent response from another taciturn man, who was also axed from the fourth Test in puzzling circumstances last week. For a while today, while he was grinding his way to 10 not out from 52 balls, he seemed to have forgotten to change into his pyjamas in the meantime. But nothing could have been further from the truth - on a treacherous wicket that had already done for three of his team-mates, Chanderpaul knew full well that his first priority was to be there at the end of the innings. After that, it was over to his bottom hand, and his penchant for the outrageous sweep-shot. It was the sort of performance that ought to get several counties sniffing around Guyana come Twenty20 time.
Vaughan had been perfectly justified in choosing to bowl first on winning the toss, because in reduced-over slogs, it can be hard to gauge just how fast you should come bursting out of the blocks. Gayle and Ricardo Powell, as they are wont to do, tripped over their shoelaces as they rushed to get the 30 overs out of the way, but Chanderpaul showed the restraint and tactical know-how of a marathon runner. For someone with such a crabby technique, he can be devastating when the mood takes him - as he demonstrated on this very ground last year, when he clattered the Australians for a 69-ball century. His lack of panic rubbed off on Sylvester Joseph, whose boundaryless 23 not out from 32 balls was invaluable in the circumstances.
It was a harsh defeat for West Indies, who - with the Barmy Army nowhere to be seen and the stands swaying with home supporters - produced their best team performance of the winter. On his captaincy debut, Ramnaresh Sarwan had a forgettable day with the bat, but in the field, with a young and enthusiastic team to back him up, he mixed up his options well and trusted in the deceptive pace-changes of Chris Gayle's offspin, who rewarded him with the vital wickets of Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood, not to mention Read late in the piece. Collingwood's dismissal, to a wondrous tumbling catch from Dwayne Smith, typified the renewed spirit of the West Indians.
The result of this match augurs well for the rest of a exhaustingly lengthy series. But, even though they ended up on the losing side this time, West Indies might just be the more satisfied of the two sides this evening. England's effortless superiority in the Tests isn't going to sustain them for the remainder of this tour.
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