Chanderpaul challenge brings out England's best
Nothing said more about the intensity of this match than England's celebrations at the end of it. Michael Vaughan had just edged ahead of Peter May as his country's most successful captain with 21 victories in 35 Tests, but as he wandered across to shake the hand of the unbreakable Shivnarine Chanderpaul, his team-mates formed a huddle and bounced with glee on the edge of the pitch. Relief was intermingled with jubiliation, because they realised they had come good in the stiffest test of their resolve for months.
It was a test that nobody, least of all the players, had foreseen. Chanderpaul's unbeaten 116 - an innings he himself rated as the best of his career - hauled West Indies back from the brink of ignominy, through the threshold of respect, and almost all the way to glory. "They were really only one partnership away from achieving that total," said Vaughan. "Full credit to West Indies. Yesterday and this morning I thought we bowled brilliantly, but the way they fought, they made it very difficult."
The series may be over, but the respect between the teams has been renewed by the events of the past two days - and that, at a time when there is too vast a gulf between the haves and have-nots of international cricket, is the greatest thing that could have come of this match. England have taken some hammerings themselves in the past 18 months, but in terms of victories this was the hardest they had been pushed since Australia succumbed by three wickets at Trent Bridge in 2005. Coincidentally or otherwise, that match was the last that Vaughan had won in his first incarnation as England captain.
"I'm really proud of the team," he said. "We've been asked a lot of questions, been asked to show character both as a team and individuals and we've certainly shown that. The Headingley victory was nice but this one is a special one because we've know we've had to work hard for it. Yesterday's play was a great advert for Test match cricket. We threw everything at them but they batted tremendously well on a wearing wicket."
Yesterday's play was a great advert for Test match cricket. We threw everything at them but they batted tremendously well on a wearing wicket
Michael Vaughan on England's win
Chanderpaul's performance was sensational. Off the field he is quiet and timorous, as wary of his public profile as England's own man of the match, Monty Panesar. On the field he is a fighter and an inspiration, and nothing that England threw at him could prise him from the crease. "That was as good Test match batting as I've seen," said Vaughan. "You take guard in the second innings, you see all that amount of rough and you know you've got to face someone like Monty Panesar, it's a hell of a knock to go and be 100 not out in those circumstances. I know you always say that when it's just happened, but I can't remember a better innings than that. It was a very special knock."
It was a special knock that required a special knockout, and in Panesar and Steve Harmison, England had two men who were ready to rise to the occasion. Harmison required a bit of coaxing, as he is prone to do, but his burst after lunch was irresistible. Jerome Taylor, who had already batted for twice as long as his average Test innings (47 balls, compared to 19), had no response to a vicious gloved throat-ball, while Fidel Edwards was similarly blameless three balls later.
"He showed more character than any of us," said Vaughan of his team-mate, Harmison. "I've never been a bowler so I can only imagine how hard it must be when you know you are not at your best. You know you are struggling and you are having to continue to bowl in front of many people watching. He looked at himself, answered a few questions and came back in the second innings. He really worked hard. I don't like to say he's back to his best but he was certainly back to some real consistency in the second innings."
Panesar, by contrast, had no such demons to conquer. Remarkably, this was his first Man-of-the-Match award in 16 Test appearances, but Vaughan had no fears that it was about to be his last. "He's becoming pretty special," said Vaughan. "He's a real nice left-arm spinner. He bowls in good areas, and give him a bit of rough and he can hit it. He's just great to have in the team. Chasing that amount of runs with him in the side, it was always going to be difficult for them."
And so England survived a Test in which their confidence levels at times dipped below the critical. But Vaughan, with two wins out of two since his return, was hungry for more. "I'm looking for 3-0," he said. "Winning becomes a habit, as does losing. I want us to be ruthless. There was a little spell in this game when we weren't as ruthless as I would have liked, and I remember thinking at lunch we are really going to have to fight. If not we could be staring at a historic defeat. You do build better as a team when you win tight games and that was a tight game."
For England this was a record 11th consecutive home series without defeat, a sequence that dates back to the Ashes loss in 2001. The previous record of ten came under May's captaincy in the 1950s. But for West Indies, there was still an afterglow of satisfaction to be had, even in defeat. "After the loss at Headingley, we were written off in this series," said their captain, Daren Ganga. "There were little points in this match where we faltered and that cost us in the end, but these are things we are going to learn from. We have a lot of confidence to take to Durham."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo