June 30, 2000

West Indies shot out for 54 in incredible day at Lord's

    Superb bowling - poor batting - pitch not to blame

The Friday of the Lord's Test was one of the most bizarre days in the game's history: twenty-one wickets went down. After England had collapsed dismally for 134. West Indies, themselves, were shattered catastrophically for 54. England need 188 for a third-day victory. All on a blameless pitch.

The bowling of Ambrose and Walsh was superb, but they were matched by Caddick, Gough and Cork. But this was no excuse for the batsmanship of both teams. England's batting was poor but West Indies' was appalling, with soft dismissals the order of the day.

Play began under the same dreary overcast sky as the previous day, with the ground distinctly less than half full. The first period of play could not have been shorter or sweeter - for England, at any rate. Andy Caddick trapped Courteney Walsh lbw with the very first delivery of the day, leaving Reon King not out on 12, and West Indies were dismissed for their overnight score of 267.

    England plunge into mire

But England, perhaps inevitably, were not to make a good start in reply. With the final ball of his over and with just a single on the board, Ambrose drew Mark Ramprakash, who had not scored, forward to snick a low catch to Brian Lara at first slip. Unless he can produce something remarkable out of the bag very quickly, Ramprakash's second career as an England opener may well grind to a halt after four largely unsuccessful Tests.

England plunged further into the mire when Atherton (1) played a nightmare stroke to the last ball of Walsh's opening over. He went to what appeared to be a half-hearted cut or dab outside off stump, with a diagonal bat, and the ball flew straight to Lara again. England were one run for two wickets and again the vultures were circling.

Ambrose found the edge of Michael Vaughan's bat, but Sherwin Campbell at second slip just failed to reach what would have been a marvellous low catch, the ball rocketing through to the boundary. Nowadays Walsh and Ambrose have slowed down to an average speed of just over 80 miles per hour, but such is their expertise and experience that the hapless English batsmen seemed to have no idea how to score off them at all. After eight overs the score was also eight - three leg-byes, Vaughan's snick and Atherton's single.

    Ambrose Mile-stone

Vaughan (4) suffered an unlucky dismissal: an inside edge bounced on to his thigh pad and then rebounded on to the stumps, giving Ambrose his 150th wicket against England, who were now 9 for three. A back-foot push through the covers by Hick off Walsh brought two and took England into double figures.

When Franklyn Rose replaced Walsh after the latter's fifth over, the pressure relaxed and Hick responded to it immediately with four fours in the over, three through the covers and one a pull through midwicket. In the eyes of the eternal optimist, it aroused thoughts of at last a dominating innings in a Test crisis by the most prolific batsman of the last 15 years. Would it happen, or would the cynic again be able to say, "I told you so" after another brief, glorious cameo?

Sadly for England, the cynic won his point. Ambrose beat him through the gate between bat and pad as he tried to force him off the back foot, and he was bowled for 25, another infuriating dismissal for those who just long for the real Graeme Hick to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time in Test cricket. England were now 37 for four.

Stewart, on 9, drove loosely outside off stump to Rose and Lara put down what was probably the easiest of his three chances during the morning. Then Ambrose was rested after taking three wickets for 17 runs in his nine-over burst, and King took over from the pavilion end.

England were to get no further than their 50, coming up in the 20th over, before losing Knight (6), another whose Test future is in serious question. A flying delivery from King had him fending just outside the off stump and edging a catch straight to Campbell at second slip. Stewart defiantly hit Rose for two successive fours and England went in to lunch on 58 for three (Stewart 17, White 0).

    Batsmen struggle for survival

Just as a useful partnership was developing after the interval, Stewart (28) followed a ball from Walsh that moved away outside the off stump and edged a catch to the keeper. Craig White and Cork struggled for survival, but the score reached 100 before further disasters struck. First of all White (27) ran himself out, pushing Walsh to midwicket and fatally chancing Jimmy Adams' arm; a direct hit at the bowler's end found him short of his ground. Five balls later and without addition, Cork (4) poked wimpishly outside the off stump to Walsh and snicked an easy catch to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs.

Possibly that is rather a harsh condemnation of Cork, as the light was deteriorating and he might just have failed to sight it properly. With new batsmen Caddick and Gough at the wicket, the umpires inquired quite unnecessarily as to whether they would like to leave the field. Play was therefore suspended at 2.55 p.m. An early tea was taken, and an announcement made that play would recommence at 3.30, weather permitting.

Gough played an entertaining innings, including a remarkable pulled six over midwicket off Walsh, but lost Caddick (6) when Walsh turned him around and had him caught at second slip by Campbell. England were 118 for nine. Matthew Hoggard also played some bold strokes in his first Test innings, hitting Ambrose for eight leg-side runs in an over, before Gough (13) slashed at Ambrose and hit a comfortable catch straight to Lara at first slip. Hoggard was left unbeaten on 12. Once again Ambrose and Walsh had done for England, taking four wickets apiece, for 30 and 43 runs respectively. England had just managed to score more than half of the West Indian total, by the smallest of margins.

    Gough and Caddick hit back

It looked all over for England, 133 runs behind on first innings, but Gough and Caddick did not agree. Fired up, they came charging in at the West Indian openers, desperate to fight back after what had so far been a disastrous day for England.

The West Indies went out to bat again just before 4.30 on the second day, with a lead of 133 runs. Gough bowled testingly, probing the line of the off stump, and he it was who took the first wicket - but as a fielder. Campbell (4) slashed at Caddick, perhaps being too close to the ball, and Gough at third man raced round to take a superb catch. Only two balls later, Wavell Hinds fended off a lifter from Caddick, for the ball to be held at short leg by Ramprakash. Umpire John Hampshire gave the batsman out, caught off the glove, and West Indies were 6 for two.

Lara looked uncomfortable and was hit on the helmet by Gough. Adrian Griffith (1) was next to go, playing tentatively at Gough outside the off stump and snicking a catch to Stewart behind the stumps. It is an indication of how the game has changed in recent years that the fact that Griffith walked off without awaiting the umpire's decision caused considerable discussion.

    Lara late on stroke - wickets tumble

Lara scored only 5 before he appeared to be too late on his stroke and the ball glanced off the open face of his bat into the gully where it was held by Cork. Astonishingly the West Indies were now 24 for four; the ground was almost full now and baying with excitement.

Adrenalin flowing again, Caddick gave Jimmy Adams a torrid first over. Chanderpaul (9) was next to go, though, pushing a lifting ball from Gough off his glove tamely to Ramprakash at short leg. He scored 9 and West Indies were 24 for five, in the 13th over.

Jacobs had a narrow escape as he slashed at a ball from Gough that flew like a bullet overt the head of Knight at first slip. Knight remarkably got a hand to it but failed even to slow it down on its way to the boundary; clearly hurt, he had to leave the field immediately and news is awaited about the possibility of a fracture. Gough finally came off after a superb spell of 8-3-17-2, to be replaced by Cork.

Ridley Jacobs slashed at Caddick with a diagonal bat and only Atherton' s safe hands at first slip prevented the ball from drilling a hole in his chest. West Indies were now 39 for six, and lost a further two wickets on that score. Adams (3) battled for survival in vain. Unwisely padding up to Cork without offering a stroke, he was given out lbw by umpire Venkataraghavan, although the replay seemed to cast doubt on whether the ball would have hit the off stump. Then Ambrose (0) turned Caddick gently into the hands of Ramprakash at short leg, and West Indies were in danger of 'improving' on their lowest ever total of 51 against Australia just over a year ago - but at the same time could well still win the match.

Rose (1) was next to go, to the softest of dismissals, popping a simple return catch to Cork - 41 for nine. Walsh swung Cork for two over mid-on, while King nudged another couple from Caddick past the slips. Caddick bounced King and gave away four leg-byes off the back of his helmet, and then King pushed a ball into the covers to bring up the West Indian fifty, to ironic cheers, after 26 overs.

    West Indies avoid record "low"

King scooped Cork for three to leg to avoid the indignity of a record lowest total for West Indies. After another single, King (7) stepped across to try to turn Cork to leg and was adjudged lbw by umpire Venkat, leaving Walsh unbeaten on 3. The total of 54 was the lowest by West Indies against England, and this left the home side to score 188 to win. Caddick, bowling throughout the innings, took five wickets for 16 runs in his 13 overs, while Cork took three for 13. The innings contained just 24 scoring shots.

Atherton dabbled at Ambrose's first ball of the second innings, but he successfully played out a maiden over. Then the umpires looked at the light but decided to let the game continue; after one ball they reconsidered, and the players left the field after one of Test cricket's most remarkable days.

In theory, on this pitch, England have an excellent chance of winning this match on the third day - weather permitting. But first they need to conquer the bogey of the ageing warriors Ambrose and Walsh. The critical question is whether they can dig deep into their collective character and experience to do so. The West Indians are well known for their ability to defend much smaller targets than this, and with that in mind they must be favourites to win.