England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day June 9, 2007

Sammy injects some West Indian joy

Darren Sammy: he got the ball in the right areas. And England crumbled © Getty Images
It will not be enough to save West Indies in this match or the series, but Darren Sammy's stunning debut performance was the fillip that the team has been crying out for all tour. On an extraordinary day at Old Trafford, in which the number of streakers (three) seemed to match the number of straight deliveries that Steve Harmison has bowled all game, it took a 23-year-old debutant allrounder to shame his side into a performance befitting their illustrious history. By the close, England were two good sessions from another crushing victory, but nothing could wipe the grin of self-satisfaction from Sammy's features.

"I always dreamed of playing for West Indies, but I never thought it would turn out like that," said Sammy. "I am very satisfied with my performance today." His second-innings figures of 7 for 66 were the best at Old Trafford since the great Malcolm Marshall's 7 for 22 in 1988, and the best by any West Indian on debut since Alf Valentine took 8 for 102 way back in 1950. His home nation of St Lucia, for whom he is the first Test representative, is set for the biggest party since Freddie stepped aboard that Pedalo.

Sammy was a surprise selection for this Test. His bowling, though sharp, hardly seemed to merit his inclusion ahead of the hard-working Daren Powell, and to judge by the toe-curling dross that a semi-fit Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul served up in the first two sessions, Marlon Samuels and his part-time spin might have been a wiser inclusion on a pitch with turn and bounce.

And yet Sammy showed he had a knack for making things happen. From the moment he stuck out his left mitt and snatched a stunning caught-and-bowled off Michael Vaughan, everything just seemed to fall into place for him. "I remember when we walked out I told Cramps [Chris Gayle] that something special will happen today," said Sammy. "He said, 'yeah? See boy, you have to make it happen.' And I just went along and put the ball in the right areas, and I came out successful."

There it is again. That infuriating cliché that has become the mot juste for this Test. Those that have been able to groove their actions and put that wretched ball "in the right areas" - Sidebottom, Panesar, and Sammy in particular - have reaped handsome rewards on a springboard wicket. Those that have been unable to do so - in particular Harmison, Plunkett and even the wholehearted Edwards - have been plundered with piratical glee. It's not rocket science, gentlemen, as Matthew Hayden told England's bowlers during their Melbourne debacle last Christmas.

When we walked out I told Cramps [Chris Gayle] that something special will happen today. "He said, 'yeah? See boy, you have to make it happen.'

Darren Sammy predicted a successful day

In truth the standard of the cricket in this match has been abysmal, but for Sammy nothing was about to dampen his day. Already the ball with which he wrecked England's middle order is winging its way to the MCC museum at Lord's, and to judge by the speed with which his country's Sports minister got on the end of the phone, further accolades are just around the corner. "The St Lucian people will be very happy today," he said. "My family have been at home, watching every ball."

Whatever he goes onto achieve in his Test career, Sammy will be hard-pressed to improve upon the thrill of that single over - the 17th he had sent down in England's second innings. Three wickets in five balls, including two of the series centurions in Ian Bell and Matt Prior. "The skipper might have changed me, but I was just saying to myself, put the ball in the right area," he said, as well he might. "And the first ball to Bell came out exactly as I wanted it to. Then Prior came and [I bowled] exactly the same ball. The hat-trick ball just swung too much, but it was unbelievable how the ball was landing in the right areas. That's what I was picked to do and the coach is happy with my performance."

Sammy's skill and enthusiasm brought out the best in his team-mates, not least Dwayne Bravo, who at times was limping with such gusto it seemed his ankle might soon send him the same way as his English counterpart, Andrew Flintoff. After the woeful efforts in the first two sessions, when dropped catches and misfields helped drive Alastair Cook to the most hassle-free century of his prodigious young career, Bravo produced two stunning moments that had the entire squad leaping in gleeful unison.

The first was a bouncer out of the blue to unsettle the mighty Kevin Pietersen. "I've never seen anybody get out like that before," said the man himself, after Bravo's vicious lifter had cracked into the side of his helmet, broken the chinstrap and tumbled onto the stumps. "It was really bizarre, freakish. But it was a good sign for our bowlers tomorrow because if the ball bounces like that and flies through the top, it will help us wrap a series victory."

Pietersen couldn't help but express a slight degree of irritation at the manner of Bravo's celebration, as he hurtled off in the direction of midwicket pursued by his joyful team-mates, but later backtracked and admitted that they deserved to enjoy their successes. Amen to that, because moments of inspiration are what make Test cricket tick, as Bravo later showed with a brilliant scooped catch at gully to put the seal on Sammy's stunning over.

"The guys are working hard and every now and then there are going to be a few mishaps in the field," said Sammy. "But the guys are putting in the effort and it came out after lunch and after tea. We were much better in the field, and I think we bowled much better as well."

But amid all the highs, lows, thrills and spills, there was one cricketer who just chugged on with a single-minded dedication that continues to belie his tender years. Cook still has six months and a maximum of seven Tests until he turns 23. Already he has amassed six Test hundreds to match, at the same age, the prococious achievements of the likes of George Headley, Garry Sobers and Neil Harvey. The incomparable Don Bradman had eight to his name before his 23rd birthday, as did Sachin Tendulkar, while Javed Miandad is third with seven. You could hardly wish for more exalted company.

"The sky's limit for anybody who tries to achieve," said Pietersen - and he should know. "Sport's a funny game - we all go through our rough times. But at 22 years old, he's got six hundreds. There's no reason why he can't get 30 to 40 hundreds. He's got a good 13, 14, 15 years of opening the batting for England. Who knows where Cooky can go at such a young age playing so well."

Consistency has been Cook's watchword throughout his 17 Tests. Today it was Sammy's as well. If only the other participants in this match could be so cool and composed in their performances. Then maybe the standard of this series would be worthy of its history.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo