September 3, 2000

A War of Attrition; The Devil Takes the Hindmost

Cornhill Insurance

One thing was certainly obvious after the end of the 4th day's play. The West Indies cricket team have made some very impressive, and more importantly, successful friends along the way. Manchester United and England soccer striker, Andy Cole was their guest for the 4th day, after just helping England draw 1-1 with European and World Champions France. Of course Dwight Yorke, of Man U and Trinidad & Tobago, is also Brian Lara's close friend and business partner, so it is easy to see the connection.

One would hope, from a West Indian perspective, that some of that success, effort, courage and simple production would now have rubbed off on the West Indies cricket team, making them ready for the superhuman effort that would be obviously needed for the final day of this Test and series. I would not even mention, fully, that since Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke play for Man United, they are also "heroes" of mine too, in a way, since I have been a devout Man U supporter since 1977, when I played at Lancashire County Cricket Club, about 800 meters from Man U's magnificent stadium.

As it is, the West Indies have a hell of a final day ahead of them. They need to score a further 341 miraculous runs to win this Test and even the series 2-2. With fully ten 2nd innings wickets in hand, that is very possible, but one wonders how many people would be willing to bet their mortgages on such a result?

I remember the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) Network in the United States of America asking a question, in 1980, as the US Ice Hockey team held on to beat the USSR's corresponding team, for the first time ever, at the Winter Olympic Games that year: "Do you believe in miracles?" We shall see!

In 1999, against Australia, Brian Lara, with a magnificent 153 not out, lasted long enough into the last day, with each batsman in his team, as the West Indies needed an improbable 311 to win, in my mind, the best Test match ever played. That 311 was achieved for the loss of nine wickets, with last man Courtney Walsh helping Lara to a wonderful success and almost single handedly lifting him from the field afterwards. In 1984 before that, the West Indies needed 344 to win at Lords and managed it also on that last day, Gordon Greenidge blasting the English bowling for 214 not out, while Larry Gomes managed 92 not out. Special feats like these can be achieved. If this present West Indies team in England can do similarly is left to the imagination.

The West Indian batsmen should look no further than Michael Atherton, who persevered for 280 minutes for his 1st innings 83, and then a mammoth 444 minutes for his very first Test hundred in London, for an idea as to how to play responsibly. This was his 15th Test century, and his 4th against the West Indies, in his 102nd Test match. However, I doubt that any before, even his majestic 183 against South Africa a few seasons ago, could have been of greater importance. Atherton made 108 at the Kennington Oval, almost exactly one half of the 217 eventually made by England. Without that Atherton century, England would have been tottering on the ropes, despite that 1st innings lead of 156. Because of Atherton's vigilance and lengthy occupation of the crease, England could at least leave the West Indies to get a very tantalizing 374 to win the game.

That England was bowled out at all for 217 was again almost entirely due to the efforts of those two magnificent exponents of fast bowling, who, for the final time, reminded us as to what we would be missing. Courtney Walsh teased, taunted and even traumatized a few of the English batsmen, again, with a magnificent spell; 38-17-73-4; as he toiled, ala 1983 when he started his Test career, to bring the West Indies to some parity. By the end of England's innings, he had just fallen short of Malcolm Marshall's record of 35 wickets in a 5-Test series against England, ending with 34 wickets, far and away the best bowler on the tour. Overall, Walsh now has 483 wickets from 122 Test matches. There is nothing more one can say about this performance!

Walsh was ably aided and abetted by his also departing (from the international scene) partner and friend in production, Curtly Ambrose, who managed 22 overs on a slightly pulled left hamstring muscle, getting one wicket for a very miserly 36 runs. While he did not get many wickets, Ambrose gave us a study, as he did in the 2nd Test at Lords when he bowled 22 overs for 22 runs while taking one wicket as England tried to win that game, as to how to stop batsmen scoring quickly, or at all, for that matter, putting great pressures on the batsmen. Ambrose also showed the younger members of the West Indies Test cricket team, as Michael Atherton had shown the youngsters of England's Test cricket tea, what the word "determination" really means. To the last hour, the very last ball, getting 17 wickets in the tour to end his Test career with 405 wickets, Curtly gave his all.

I am not a very emotional person, as I believe that sportsmen should not be revered for doing the jobs they were selected, and paid to do, if they do it well. After all, that is what they were expected to do when selected in the first place; a proper job. However, I would attest to a special feeling for the departure from international cricket for these guys as a pair, since I have played Test cricket 27 times. That is much less Test cricket than Ambrose and Walsh, and I know exactly how hard it had been for me physically to get that far. I would not even pretend to know how their bodies feel now. They have served West Indies excellently and they have my every salute, as they deserve every kudos that could be heaped on them. Thanks, Cuddy and Amby, from the bottom of my heart.

At the start of this final game, both Roger Harper, the Coach of the West Indies cricket team, and Jeff Dujon, his assistant, had almost identical thoughts. "It would be nice to send these guys into the sunset with a win, a great present, and to keep our heads high and some good history continuing."

Adrian Griffith and Sherwin Campbell both survived well enough, albeit with some pain to the body, for the 14 overs at the end of Day 4, but the six or so hours of Day 5, and England's fast bowlers, beckon. This final game has now come down to the final day, and there are perhaps four possibilities as results.

Firstly, at the end of Day 5, the West Indies could be level on runs, with 373 on the scoreboards. That would be a "tie." Then, of course, England could bowl the West Indies out for less than the 373, despite the West Indies starting at 33-0, thus winning the game, and the series 3-1. On the other hand, the West Indies could probably get some mastery, at last, from probably Brian Lara, or possible Wavell Hinds, either of both batting the best they have ever batted, helped by the rest of the team, as the West Indies just manage to get the 374 needed overall to win the Test and even the series 2-2. Finally, the last possibility is a tame draw.

Somehow, going into the final day, I would not bet on a draw. One of the other three is definitely going to happen. Whatever transpires, history will again be made. The final day will allow the "Devil to take the hindmost." He who endeavors, achieves and, normally, wins!!