July 3, 2000

West Indies v England: Test No. 2: Many Mistakes cause a Shift of Ascendancy

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Now that all of the euphoria has died down in England and wherever their supporters reside, one must take a very critical, almost mechanical eye, as to why the West Indies lost this game, not so much why England won it, for that is exactly what happened at Lords, an occasion celebrating the West Indies first Test win, in 1950, against England.

I firmly believe, and said so then, during radio commentary during the 1st day, that if the West Indies were to eventually lose the 2nd Test, then they have no-one else to blame but for their diabolical collapse on the 1st day, yes, the first day, and not, repeat, NOT, as everyone was suggesting, on the 2nd day, when they were routed for 54. England came back into the game a long time before that occurred.

If one is absolutely honest, the West Indies started losing the game with the fall of Sherwin Campbell's wicket in the 1st innings. Before that, though, Adrian Griffith had contrived to run himself out, with the West Indies in ascendancy at that time, with the score settled nicely on 80-0 and England very unsettled, being "cold".

It was very obvious that the West Indies had taken advantage of England starting cold and both Griffith and Campbell had batted very well to that point. Then the Griffith foolishness occurred and the situation began to slip. By the time Campbell stretched to his limits, with the score at 162-1 to reach one of those "looping" useless bouncers from Dominic Cork, only to see debutante Matthew Hoggard take a good running catch at fine leg, the pattern was set. Those catches win matches. That one, along with the one Darren Gough took at wide third man off the same batsman from the same bowler in the 54 rout, certainly did. Neither of those shots from Campbell was necessary at all, loose at best.

I do not believe in this crap I keep hearing from the West Indies camp that this English win was "good for cricket." Professional sportsmen at the top of their game must not concern themselves with what is "good" for any game outside of playing it fairly and honestly. Simply, winning at all legal costs is all that should concern the West Indies camp. Professional sportsmen provide enough "entertainment" by playing any game hard and well without trying to be "nice".

Does anyone think that in the 70's and 80's, when the West Indies beat everyone for about 15 years, that we thought about "good for cricket"? Does anyone think, now, that the Australians, on the verge of eclipsing the presently West Indian-held record of consecutive Test wins, could be bothered by "good for cricket"? This is not a public relations gambit. This is professional sport at the highest level, and once the games are played properly and legally, the West Indies team's collective public relations contributions are complete. All that they should be thinking is; "Win, baby, Win!!".

From 162-1 the West Indies made 267, and in effect, lost the game there. With that type of start, the minimum they should have made was 300. With 350, which should have been the goal of the West Indies batting team, England would have been effectively batted out of the game even before they had batted a first time. By not getting at least 300 runs, the West Indies let England back into the game with a small pinprick of light. That pin-prick became a gaping hole when the combined magnificence of the West Indies batting managed only 54 in the 2nd innings, with no excuse except poor batsmanship, to use. The pitch was totally blameless.

As I have said before, and will say again, Dominic Cork's exclusion from the 1st Test should have had all of England's selectors having their heads removed, or at least, examined. It is reported that Cork "has an attitude". Well, every great professional sportsman I know has one too, or they would never become good, much less great. This asinine subservience that cricket administrators around the world seem to think they must get from players at Test level is absolutely foolish, since many of these administrators never held a bat in their lives, much less get to some heights in the sport.

Cork was the instrument of England's revival long before the game was completed and he was made "Man of the Match". He galvanized the rest of the fast bowlers into being aggressive and totally committed. While Darren Gough is always giving 100%, a true professional, Andy Caddick sometimes need a kick up the back-side to produce. I am very sure that Cork provided the impetus to the English fast bowlers coming back into their own after Edgbaston's non-effort.

Alec Stewart, the stand-in captain, too must take tremendous credit for this too. This is a guy whose record at captaincy in Tests is as good as any other captain recently for England, and better than most. He was actually dropped at being captain for England's Test team because he had failed to bring the one-day team any glory in the 1999 World Cup. Go figure!! No, I cannot understand it either, though there are whispers that he did not "have the right cut for captaincy", whatever that means, despite his success in Test matches.

Added to that fact, Stewart is almost West Indian in his make-up. He is aggressive, bats and thinks thusly, and knows his cricket too. He and I are pretty good friends, as cricketers go, and he was so disappointed after England' initial showing in Birmingham, and even for the first hour of the Test at Lords. Like he did in Barbados with those two Test centuries in 1994, he attacked always, with the hope that something will break. The West Indies did, making only 267 and even worse, 54.

With Cork, Gough and Caddick in such aggressive mood, aptly aided and abetted by their captain, that West Indian 267 all out, a tremendous collapse from 162-1, was actually expected by some. The pressures were just too much for the West Indies, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul still suffering from his tennis elbow, Brian Lara still trying to find real form, Jimmy Adams even more subdued than normal and Wavell Hinds, while very positive when playing shots, not sufficiently mature yet to appreciate that 50 or 60 in a flash sometimes mean little in the context of a game. With the pain of losing, perhaps even being embarrassed, as surely he and the rest of the West Indies should have been last Saturday afternoon, he will learn.

Even with the paltry 267 already in the book. Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were magnificent, again, in England's first innings, and of course in the 2nd, straining every sinew to effect a West Indian come-back. They probed, teased, manipulated and even sometimes tried to manhandle the English batsmen with their experiences and guile. Once Michael Atherton and Alex Stewart were gone, it was only a matter of time that England would have capitulated. They did, for 134, a handy, but not altogether commanding lead of 133 for the West Indies. Think about a lead of perhaps 183, or perhaps 233, and then see where the West Indies could have been if they had made at least 350, even 300.

In that 1st innings, as was to be evident in the 2nd, the younger fast bowlers, Reon King and Franklyn Rose, disappointed so much that it would not be too far fetched to suggest, now, that, unless they show a remarked improvement of fortunes, attitude, ability and production, that both, not one, but BOTH, should be dropped for the next Test. In a word, both were very useless in this 2nd Test.

Ambrose and Walsh bowled 31.2 overs between them, getting 8 wickets between them for only 73 runs in that 1st innings. The back-ups managed only one wicket, from 17 overs, giving away 56 runs. That simple comparison should suggest how far removed King and Rose are from the excellence of Ambrose and Walsh. We will not even go into the last Test at Edgbaston or even the 2nd innings of Test 2, when England, needing only 188, found both Ambrose and Walsh something else again. Once they had been seen off, albeit with several wickets and tight bowling to their name, King and very especially Rose, became cannon fodder, slashed and slogged everywhere.

Nothing further could be said abut the batting, or lack thereof, of the West Indies 2nd innings. While Andy Caddick did bowl with tremendous hostility and was ably assisted by Gough and Cork, the pitch was playing well enough for the West Indies to do much better than 54. Remember, this is Test cricket, so to play with the "big boys", figuratively and practically, one has to be a big boy and take the strain. The West Indies failed miserably at doing that in the 2nd innings. Strangely, no-one, not one of the West Indies batsmen, with so many illustrious names included, thought that they could just "stop there", cast anchor and end the rut, even though, for the 2nd time of the game, Wavell Hinds seemed to have some misfortune at his dismissal.

So, compare this again. Courtney Walsh, bowling like a player possessed, until he finally ran out of gas, got the first six wickets as England set off for that 188. While Ambrose got no wickets, Michael Atherton himself admitted afterwards that "Amby" was the man to watch, as he exerted so much pressure on the batsmen that Walsh, as good a bowler as he is, reaped some benefit from it. Walsh ended with glorious figures of 23.4 overs 5 maidens 74 runs 6 wickets. Ambrose, great frugality personified, had 22 overs 11 maidens 22 runs 1 wicket. These guys are truly incredible. Never will the likes of them be seen anywhere again in cricket, I promise you.

Alas, when England lost their 7th wicket at 149, that of Knight, their last fully fledged batsman, the follow-up West Indian bowlers could not capitalize. Even when Ambrose got Caddick's wicket to make it 160-8, still needing 28, the West Indies should have won, but then two things happened at once.

The 2nd tier of fast bowlers, or should we say one of them, Rose, continued to bowl absolutely poorly, at best. Additionally, his captain, Jimmy Adams, the only person around the world, and certainly at Lords, who did not seem to recognize that Rose was indeed" bowling sh..", to coin a Caribbean phrase, kept him on, despite Rose being dispatched for a four and a six in one over. It was if the team was moving around in a trance. Why that happened could only be answered by Adams. Rose ended up with 16 overs 3 maidens 67 runs 1 wickets. There must be something wrong there, not to recognize, at all, much less early enough, that all was not well.

It was totally poor judgement on the captain's part, when there was very few runs to play with. Inevitably, there has been the suggestion of the captain did not know what was going on. At 160-8, the West Indies still should have won that game, but no effort was asked of Reon King at that time, who, to that point, had bowled 8 unconvincing overs for 17 runs, but could not have done worse that Rose was actually doing at the time.

Even if King was injured, the only person in Lords who did not think that he should have been tried was Adams, so no-one else could take the blame with continuing with Rose than the captain. Reaction to pressure, in the field, trying to win a game, is very different to reaction to pressure when batting to win a game. Every ball your bowlers deliver is important when fielding. Adams simply did not react sufficiently quickly. By the time he did, bringing on Walsh at the end, it was too late, as Rose's erratic bowling had erased the buffer of runs.

England won well, but they were aided by the West Indies. Only time will tell if the West Indies could regroup from this for the 3rd Test. In a strange way, they seem to need this break for one-day cricket much more than the English do. That should not have been so, had the West Indies won Test No. 2. For many of the wrong reasons, this Test, the 100th at Lords, from a West Indian perspective, will be remembered. Hopefully, this loss would have toughened their resolve.