West Indies v England, 1st Test, Kingston March 15, 2004

The tale of Grievous Bodily Harmison



The Daily Mirror even moved Manchester United to one side to accommodate England's stunning success © Getty Images

England's astonishing victory in Jamaica was, predictably, seized upon by Fleet Street. It even knocked Manchester United's surprise defeat at the hands of their neighbours Man City off the back page of some of the papers. At the height of the football season, it takes an amazing performance indeed to do that.

The Daily Mirror, though, gave the Jamaica demolition and the Manchester derby equal billing on the back page, under the header "The day sport turned upside down". Inside, they trumpeted that "Super Steve Harmison was walking on sunshine after his career-best figures of 7 for 12 fired England to a sensational ten-wicket triumph", and had "Grievous Bodily Harmison" gasping: "I could not believe what was happening out there - I feel numb."

Over at the Mirror's redtop rival The Sun, A SunSport Reporter was equally gobsmacked: "The 6ft 5ins Durham quickie, 25, reduced the Windies batsmen to quivering wrecks with his pace, bounce and aggression, and Brian Lara's side were blown away for 47 ... The Windies batsmen had neither the technical nous nor stomach to survive against Harmy."

In the broadsheets, the tone was slightly more measured, but still a whiff of wonderment wafted through. In The Independent, Angus Fraser - who twice took eight wickets in an innings in West Indies himself - wrote: "During an unbelievable 132 minutes of cricket, the Durham paceman transformed an even contest into a stroll for his side with an awesome display of fast bowling. The West Indies simply had no answer to Harmison's pace and bounce." Elsewhere in the Indy, Tony Cozier admitted that Brian Lara's young side had wilted under the pressure: "Not two months since Lara was bemoaning that `it doesn't get lower than this', it did." That was after the Windies collapsed to 54 all out in a night game in South Africa - but at least then, said Cozier, "the wobbling white ball was a factor". No such excuse this time: "It was, once again, evidence of the West Indies' susceptibility to sustained pressure. It was, too, a tribute to England's diligent preparation and discipline."

Mike Selvey, in The Guardian, was also rubbing his eyes with disbelief. "The England team, so often derided as being the slowest dog out of the traps, barnstormed their way to a ten-wicket win which, even by the surprises and turnarounds that the modern game seems to produce, was truly astonishing." And Selvey, who felt the force of West Indian firepower in the 1970s, raised concerns about the future of Test cricket in the region. "It would be hard to calculate the reverberations that this defeat will have across the Caribbean. These have been a torrid few months for West Indies cricket, with severe damage done in South Africa before Christmas. At home, though, they are required to raise their game ... Local expectations had been high, but now they were left in tatters like the topsails of Port-Royal pirate ships after a round of grapeshot."

The press box's third England paceman, Derek Pringle of the Daily Telegraph, joined in. Under a huge "Hurricane Harmison" headline, he observed: "The collapse was breathtaking in its speed and execution and had little to do with the pitch, which played fast and mainly true all match. Spectators, settling in for the day's play, barely had time to apply their first layer of sun-cream before a joyous England team were on their lap of honour."

And in The Times, Christopher Martin-Jenkins was as surprised as anyone as the whirlwind end. "The outcome was a stunning conclusion to four days of hard-fought cricket in which even Nasser Hussain thought that the good old days were returning for West Indies, with two hostile fast bowlers in full cry, a joyous Jamaican crowd roaring them on and the England batsmen drawing on all their experience in the fight for survival. Sadly for the cricket-loving Caribbean, it was a fleeting vision ..."

CMJ went on: "[West Indies'] old supremacy was based on their fast bowling, but the production line has developed flaws since the retirement of [Curtly] Ambrose and then Courtney Walsh. They used to turn out models of every description, from juggernauts such as Andy Roberts and Colin Croft through streamlined classics such as Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall to high-class performers in Joel Garner, Ambrose, Walsh and many more besides. They are producing them still, but they keep breaking down." And he concluded: "So it is back to the drawing board for Brian Lara, their crestfallen captain, who went out to bat with a dislocated finger and was one of five to make ducks."

The Caribbean papers were, predictably, less restrained. "How much lower can it get? How much more can Caribbean people take?" asked the Barbados Nation. Inside, Haydn Gill wrote that Harmison's after-match surprise at his stunning spell "summed up the feeling of anyone who watched the fourth morning, either here, in the rest of the Caribbean, England, the rest of the world and even as far as Mars or Venus".

In the end, said Gill, "Enough was enough for West Indians. The quicker it finished, the better it seemed. The agony wasn't prolonged. The misery was over, the West Indies innings lasting only 25.3 overs. What next!"

Meanwhile, in the Jamaica Observer, Garfield Myers remained slightly more down to earth. "As England closed in for the kill ... the post mortems began. A popular, knee-jerk assessment as the shock set in was that the West Indies had spinelessly capitulated, as they have done countless times in recent years. That view ignores the quality of Steve Harmison." The Jamaica Gleaner talked of the "vicious assault" from Harmison, "a tall, gangling fast bowler from cold Durham in the north-east of England".

The Trinidad Guardian mourned: "West Indian stocks in world cricket sunk yesterday ... [England's supporters] were already in full voice in the midst of a Caribbean capitulation that left the home supporters in stunned silence ... the embarrassingly swift demise of the home side was all the more shocking, even for battle-weary media professionals who had witnessed previous humiliations over the last five years."

Perhaps optimistically, many locals recalled that after West Indies were shot out for 51 by Australia five years ago, they bounced back in the next Test, with Brian Lara making a fabulous 213 in a ten-wicket victory. It might be asking a bit much for him to repeat that with a dislocated (or possibly broken) finger - but that's what will be expected of him at home in Trinidad when the second Test starts on Friday. Watch this space.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.