Harmison speeds England towards the whitewash
Close West Indies 152 (Lara 79, Harmison 6-46) and 84 for 2 trail England 470 (Vaughan 66, Bell 70, Flintoff 72, Giles 52) by 234 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Stephen Harmison marked a stunning return to form on the second day of the final Test at The Oval, grabbing eight wickets in the day, including 6 for 46 in West Indies' first innings, to go with his Test-best 36 not out in a 60-run last-wicket partnership with James Anderson. West Indies were then demolished for 152, and despite a wonderful unbeaten cameo from Chris Gayle, they are staring down the barrel of an innings defeat - and a 4-0 series whitewash - at 85 for 2, 233 runs behind.
It was a fine display from Harmison, who had claimed only eight previous wickets in the series. Today, rhythm returning with every wicket, he added eight more, including his 100th in only his 23rd Test.
Things had looked very different first thing, as West Indies had threatened a fightback with an early double strike, with both Geraint Jones and Andrew Flintoff dismissed without adding to their overnight scores. Corey Collymore deceived Jones with his fifth delivery of the morning, moving one away and taking the edge. Ramnaresh Sarwan held a tidy catch at third slip, and Jones was out for 22 (313 for 6). Fidel Edwards then dished up another short one at Flintoff, who went for a one-legged pull but mistimed to mid-on, where Jermaine Lawson took an excellent one-handed catch tumbling backwards (321 for 7).
Giles dominated his partnership with Hoggard, collecting several fours off Collymore, Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Smith. Not too far behind, Hoggard was off the mark with a nice clip off his legs for four off Collymore, and followed that up by whipping Dwayne Bravo to the midwicket boundary. Two overs later Hoggard was at it again, hitting Bravo for three more fours to take his partnership with Giles to 50.
After bringing up England's 400 with a scampered single off Lawson, Giles brought up his fifty with a four and a two off Bravo. Two more took him to 52, but Giles could do no better, edging Bravo to Lara, who held the catch this time (408 for 8). Lawson finally got his man in the next over, as Hoggard mistimed a drive straight to Sylvester Joseph at cover (410 for 9), but Michael Vaughan chose not to declare, and Anderson and Harmison came back out to bat after lunch.
They immediately set about the bowlers with even more contempt than Giles and Hoggard. Harmison clipped and pulled Lawson for two fours in the first over back, and then smashed Bravo over long-off for a huge six. Harmison then heaved Lawson over midwicket for another six, and smashed Bravo over long-on for his third. A single to third man by Anderson brought up the fifty partnership for the tenth wicket, and Harmison moved past his own previous-highest score in Tests with a pull off Bravo that raced to the midwicket boundary.
Anderson joined in the run-fest with an unbelievable Adam Gilchrist-style uppercut over the slips for four, but the fun finally ended in the next over, as Anderson missed a swipe at Gayle and was bowled for 12. After a last-wicket stand of 60, All 11 English batsmen reached double figures - the first time this had happened since 1928-29.
West Indies' reply got off to a shaky start, as Gayle was sent back to the pavilion following a thin edge off a short, leg-side delivery from Harmison (19 for 1). Harmison struck again in his next over, with Giles taking a simple catch at gully after Sylvester Joseph was squared up by a short, fast one (22 for 2). Flintoff came on for Hoggard at the Vauxhall End, and in his second over Sarwan edged to Andrew Strauss in the slips and was out for 2 (26 for 3).
Shivnarine Chanderpaul fell in the first over after tea, pulling Hoggard to square leg, where Robert Key took a stunning one-handed catch diving to his left (54 for 4), but Lara was intent on attacking: cutting and driving Hoggard for fours two overs later, and then pulling Flintoff powerfully for consecutive boundaries on the leg side. Lara then crashed Flintoff through point as he moved closer to a vital fifty.
But wickets kept tumbling at the other end. Bravo had moved quietly to 16 with some well-timed strokes on the off side when he tried an over-ambitious pull at a Harmison bouncer, and Jones held the resulting top-edge (101 for 5). Lara brought up his half-century with a slightly streaky edge to third man off Anderson, but Carlton Baugh lost his concentration after the drinks break, guiding the simplest of catches to Strauss at third slip to depart for 6 (118 for 6). With Smith in hospital undergoing a precautionary x-ray on a side-strain he picked up while fielding, and therefore unable to bat, Collymore came out into the middle to join Lara.
Running out of partners, Lara stepped up a gear, unleashing his trademark cover-drive on Anderson, and cutting Harmison down to third man. But the procession at the other end continued, and Collymore lasted just seven balls before edging to Marcus Trescothick in the slips to give Harmison his first five-wicket haul of the series.
With Edwards in, and only Lawson to come, Lara chipped Anderson just short of Key at mid-on, and then decided to take on Harmison, slamming him through the covers and then behind square on the leg side. But Harmison won the duel next ball, as Lara's attacking instincts got the better of him, and he lofted another pull to Ian Bell at fine leg (149 for 8). Confused calling lead to Edwards's run-out for a duck in the next over, and West Indies were forced to follow on - an embarrassing 318 runs behind on a good pitch.
Coming out to bat for the second time in the day, Gayle clipped two fours off his legs in the first two overs of the second innings, but this was merely a taster of what was to come. Refusing to lie down and die, Gayle crashed all six deliveries of Hoggard's next over for fours - the first time this has happened in Test cricket - with not a slog in sight. Time after time the ball raced to the boundary, through midwicket, to long leg and through the covers off both the front and back foot.
Vaughan immediately changed Hoggard for Giles, and Harmison for Flintoff, but Gayle wasn't finished. After taking stock of the bowling, he drove and pulled Flintoff for two more fours, and one over later, for a third to reach his fifty from only 36 balls.
But Joseph couldn't match Gayle's firepower: and nor did he have any answer to Harmison's. He fell to a fast, brutish short ball that took the edge and flew to Jones, who took a tumbling catch (73 for 1). That was Harmison's 100th wicket in Tests, and in his next over he made it 101 as Ian Bell took a blinder in the gully to dismiss Sarwan for 7 (81 for 2). Lara and Gayle played out a nervous two overs to the close without any further scares, but all signs point to England applying the whitewash some time tomorrow.
Liam Brickhill is editorial assistant of Wisden Cricinfo.