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September 25, 2004
It looked all over bar the shouting when Shivnarine Chanderpaul chipped a catch to Michael Vaughan in the covers. West Indies were 147 for 8, 71 short of their target, and the light was ebbing away watt by watt. In came Ian Bradshaw to join his Barbados team-mate Courtney Browne, and somehow they inched the Windies over the line, even though by the end the scoreboard was almost invisible, let alone the grubby white ball.
It was an amazing performance by Browne - the most local lad playing in the match, in one way, as he was born in Lambeth - and Bradshaw, both of whom smashed their previous one-day bests and ignored the gathering gloom as if they'd been munching carrots non-stop for weeks just in case. The twilight twosome established a new West Indian ninth-wicket record, too.
The climax was spine-tingling stuff: veterans of England's Test win in Karachi at the end of 2000 were comparing degrees of darkness, but the batsmen didn't seem too bothered. They even turned down the umpires' offer of the light - and probably averted a mini-riot in the process - as dusk deepened.
Andrew Flintoff, England's bowling hero and conqueror of Brian Lara yet again, came and went. Steve Harmison hurtled in for one last hurrah, and the Barbados Bs saw him off. And the wicketless Darren Gough galloped into the sunset - probably for the final time for England - and couldn't find the magic he needed. It was a stirring end to a competition which finally caught light after the touch paper was an awfully long time a-smouldering.
And so the organisers got away with the scheduling ... just. The middle half of this game, and the end, was played out in gloom so Stygian that Dickie Bird would have been reaching for the smelling-salts and a handy flashlight. The West Indian batsmen had trouble spotting the ball, and although it was similar for both sides - the second half of England's innings was conducted in persistent drizzle - the conditions weren't really suitable for such a major match. Or, if they were, we need never go off for bad light in a Test match ever again.
One solution would have been to play the final at a ground with floodlights (like Edgbaston), or at least to have installed them at The Oval. Better still would have been to play this tournament at the height of the English summer, rather than keeping fingers firmly crossed for a sunny September. It would have been a festival of fun in July, instead of this year's strangely low-key NatWest Series. Or much more lip-smacking than next year's planned threesome with Australia and Bangladesh, which bone-headedly is to be followed immediately by yet more one-dayers against the Aussies.
But none of that will bother Lara and his nerveless ninth-wicket pair. It's been quite a journey for the West Indies after an awful summer. All that talk of a new captain can be put on the back burner for a while, and Bradshaw and Browne can tell all their mates at the Kensington Oval about dancing in the dark at the Kennington one.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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