September 4, 2000

Over to the WI batsmen

London - Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh spent their last day together on a Test match ground performing a role that has become routine in their long and renowned partnership. For five tireless hours, they battled against the pain of overused muscles and joints, the frustration of undeserved misfortune and the doggedness of an old and respected adversary to inspire a West Indies revival in the final Test.

They were impressively supported by the younger bowlers, Nixon McLean and Mahendra Nagamootoo, and by alert, disciplined fielding that retrieved a cause all but scuppered by the limp batting on Sunday.

When their job was through, they took their tearful leave in the afternoon sunshine, arm in arm, 888 wickets between them, with a farewell acknowledgement to the capacity Oval crowd for the kind of prolonged ovation reserved only for great players and great occasions.

In what Ambrose is adamant is his last Test, and in what could well be Walsh's last as well, they and their accomplices had confined England's second innings to 217, leaving their batsmen the implausible, but not impossible, target of 374 to win from a minimum 104 overs.

Walsh had four wickets to bring his collection for the series to 34, only one short of the record for the West Indies against England of 35 held by the late Malcolm Marshall, and will be the first recipient of the memorial trophy named in honour of the great fast bowler as the highest wicket-taker on either side.

Ambrose, handicapped by injury but soldiering on gamely all the same, got none, but his influence was always present.

Only victory will square the series and keep the Wisden Trophy in their grasp and they have now been at least given the chance.

It was a chance that did not seem plausible as the first five first innings wickets tumbled for seven runs off 22 balls before lunch on Sunday.

In 14 overs available to the close, Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith set an early platform, gathering 33 of the runs so that the equation on the last day of a remarkable series is 341 from the stipulated90 overs.

It would have been appreciably more favourable for the West Indies but for seven hours, 25 minutes of typically disciplined and determined resistance from the opener Michael Atherton.

Application

First in, he was last out for 108, his 15th Test century, his fourth against the West Indies. Following his first innings 83, it was a testament to his application and experience in a match in whichonly one other batsman, his opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, has passed 50.

His 13 boundaries included several sizzling cover-drives and pulls and was indicative of how quick he was to seize on the few loose balls that came his way.

This is Atherton's 102nd Test and his 27th against the West Indies. In all but one, he has had to confront Ambrose and Walsh and it was appropriate that their last joust should have been as rivetting as it was.

He was especially bothered by Walsh who pinned him down, repeatedly beat his bat and lost several close lbw appeals before he finally had removed him, caught behind, after 38 overs of trying.

Take away half of Atherton's cumulative score in the match and the West Indies' requirement would be 183. It is a revealing statistic.

Even183 might have been a challenge and 374 is a mountain. The West Indies have never scored as many to win a Test, yet there are famous memories to stir optimism, however far-fetched.

The most recent is the 311 raised against Australia in Barbados last year and, if Kensington Oval's pitch and size were more accommodating than Kennington Oval's, the catylst for that victory is listed at No.4 just as he was when his incredible, unbeaten 153 sealed the result then.

Rare talent

His name is BrianLara and, for all his inconsistency in this series (one hundred, one 50 and five single figure scores), he is possessed of that rare talent through which virtually anything is possible. If he gets going, it will be a remarkable climax to a remarkable series and pigs mightfly after all.

The England players had not yet reached the steps to their rooms after stumps were drawn when Lara was on the outfield knocking up just as he was prior to his 112 in the third Test at Old Trafford. It was a heartening sign.

When play began on a bright, cool morning, England's lead was already 212 with only two wickets down.

Like the West Indies', England's batting is brittle. It has already fallen for less than 200 three times in the series and passed 300 only once so that the West Indies were not without hope.

Throughout their opening spells, Ambrose and Walsh offered only one loose ball. It was a long hop from Walsh after quarter-of-an-hour and it was pulled by the left-handed Graham Thorpe straight to square-leg where it was caught by Griffith who enjoyed an outstanding day inthe field.

The first addition to the total was an Ambrose no-ball in the seventh over and the first hour yielded nine runs. Ambrose's opening six overs cost six runs and, even more amazingly, Walsh's 11 before he was replacedby Nagamootoo, conceded four and included nine maidens.

But Atherton and Alec Stewart, each in his 102nd Test, kept together until 25 minutes after lunch, adding 65, when Stewart thought he spotted an inviting short leg-break from Nagamootoo and cut hard. As with Trescothick in the first innings, the leg-spinner gained bounce from the delivery and the resulting top-edge was again snapped up by Campbell at slip.

It was a timely break but the West Indies could not afford similar lengthy partnerships if theywere to keep theirinterest alive.

By now, Ambrose was favouring his left calf and was clearly not his most mobile, a distinct setback. Even though he used the second new ball, taken after 94 overs, he was clearly struggling.

Walsh, as always, took up the slack. In his second over of his first spell after lunch, he had Michael Vaughan lbw, missing a dead straight delivery, and found Graeme Hick's tenative outside edge second ball for another Campbell slip catch, into his lap at second.

Dissatisfied with their pedestrian rate of progress, England's late order clearly arrived with instructions to attempt a few more shots and Craig White and Dominic Cork duly obliged, takingtoll of Walsh's eventual weariness.

White scored 18 off 25 balls before Griffith's swooping pick-up from cover and a direct hit of the bowlers' stumps ran him out.

Only six

Cork hoisted Walsh for the only six of the match over square-leg in a run-a-ball 26 that saw Atherton to his 100 with a cut single off Ambrose, his longtime tormentor.

He was then the first of two wickets in the same over from McLean, continuing the trend in the match. Pushing forward, Cork was lbw and, two balls later, Andy Caddick snicked onewide of off-stump to Ridley Jacobs.

With Darren Gough the last man, it seemed certain Atherton would have the rare accomplishment of carrying his bat throughto the end. Instead, attempting to steer Walsh to third man to keep the strike, the deflection was too fine and was caughtby Jacobs.

The three main antagonists trooped off to their deserved plaudits and the match was now back in the hands of the West Indies batsmen.