September 3, 2000

West Indies face uphill task for final day

Ambrose and Walsh
Ambrose and Walsh leave an English Test Ground together for the last time
Photo © AllSport UK

A day which would otherwise have passed as largely inconsequential, will in fact, long be remembered for two momentous events.

They occured almost simultaniously, first, an invaluable century, one of great merit, indeed, from Michael Atherton and then an emotional farewell after his final bowling spell, of one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has seen, Curtly Ambrose.

Cornhill Insurance

The stage was set for a typical Atherton innings when England lost their third wicket, that of Graham Thorpe in the third over of the morning without an addition to the overnight score of 56 for two. England needed to put together a substantial innings and West Indies, having conceded a huge first innings lead of 156 needed wickets. As it turned out, Atherton, almost single handedly thwarted the tourists' attack while he kept losing partners at the other end.

The one stage where West Indies bowlers did appear to struggle was when Atherton and Alec Stewart put on 65 for the fourth wicket, either side of lunch. But not long after Stewart's departure with the total on 121, Courtney Walsh struck twice in one over removing Michael Vaughan and Graeme Hick. By this time Atherton was fighting a near enough lone battle.

England had been looking well placed earlier - in terms of an overall lead - on 121 for 3 but the picture had changed rapidly on 139 for six. The tourists could not, however, penetrate Atherton's defence which remained solid and gritty. He had passed his fifty earlier in his stand with Stewart and it had come in over four hours at the crease.

The second fifty of his fifteenth Test century came quicker and by then he had occupied the crease for all but five minutes of seven hours. When he, eventually, lost his wicket, the last to fall, England had reached 217 and half of those runs had come from the bat of one man. The next highest individual score in the innings was 26 and that is a further indication of Atherton's enormous effort.

He remained patient and determined, concentrating intently throughout, it was a great example of a resolute character with discipline and application when it was so required by England. They could not afford a low score in the innings and give West Indies a chance to level the series. Atherton was there to take up the challenge, as he always does in such circumstances. Who can forget his epic innings in Johannesburg in 1995-96.

With England dismissed, Ambrose made his exit from the field to a memorable ovation. He raised his arms in acknowledgement to all sections of another sell-out crowd as he finally took leave along with Walsh with whom he formed such a formidable bowling partnership. It was quite apparent how emotional the moment was for this great, absolutely outstanding fast bowler who, during this series, became only the fifth in history to take four hundred Test wickets.

On 33 without loss West Indies need a further 341 on the final day to win the Test. It's a tall order to go for but a drawn Test is of little use to them.