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The Wisden Verdict by Freddie Auld in Port-of-Spain
March 21, 2004
Forget, if you can for just a minute, all the runs, risks and razzmatazz of modern cricket. Today was a throwback to the good old days of patience, persistence and resistance. And, fittingly, it was England's three old-timers, Nasser Hussain, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe, who dug in when the going got tough.
While it's been the rough and ready duo of Harmy and Hoggy shining with the ball for England so far, Butcher and Hussain have been producing the goods with the bat, and yet again today they proved they're no southern softies. Between them they have now scored over a third of England's runs in the series. Innings of 61 and 58 won't look that special in the scorebook in years to come, but in the context of the match - and on a misbehaving track - they were worth a whole lot more. Time at the crease was everything as they reached lunch unscathed, and England are now in a position to push for victory.
Butcher is now the fifth-most prolific No. 3 that England has ever produced, having nipped past Hussain in the last Test in Jamaica. He's now only 202 behind that other graceful curly-haired left-hander, David Gower, who these days calls his shots from the commentary box. Butcher has also been an ever-present in the side since his surprising but successful recall against Australia in 2001. This is his 37th consecutive Test - an impressive record in era of intense touring.
In the latest edition of the Wisden Cricketer, Butcher insists that he's not as laid-back as people think, and he showed that when given the crooked finger by Billy Bowden. His mouth was as open as wide as Mick Jagger's as he began his reluctant trudge to the pavilion, and nobody could doubt how much he is relishing this scrap.
Hussain, meanwhile, has batted for well over ten hours (629 minutes, to be exact) in the two Tests for only 116 runs. More master borer than master blaster, but in this series, that doesn't matter a mite. Without him, both here and in Jamaica, England would have struggled to gain that all-important first-innings lead. But all that gritty grinding can get too much, even for Nasser, who let his tired defences down to the little bruiser Tino Best.
So the stage was set for Thorpe to come counter-punching into the spotlight, and, with the help of the ever-improving batsman Ashley Giles, he used all his nurdling nous to nudge England into the lead. Not even a Best beamer could ruffle him. Best himself was the one ray of light for West Indies, geeing up the crowd as he charged in for every delivery. As Hussain said in Jamaica, Best certainly does have a touch of the Darren Goughs about him.
It was again England's day, but there is one spooky stat that might just improve the mood in the West Indian dressing-room tonight. In the past decade, England have suffered only two defeats in Tests where they have held a first-innings lead. The first was in 1994, the second in 1998 - and both happened at the same ground. Where? I'll give you one guess.
Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is following England's fortunes in Jamaica and Trinidad.