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June 18, 2007
A magnificent 128 from Paul Collingwood, together with three late wickets from England's bowlers, has put them in control of the fourth Test against West Indies at Chester-le-Street.
What made the day all the more depressing for West Indies - apart from going to stumps on 83 for 3 - was their haplessness with the ball in the afternoon session, throwing away the advantage their bowlers had engineered in the morning. England were still trailing by 85 at lunch, with both Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell back in the pavilion, and the West Indies had bowled beautifully. It was they who went to lunch the happier of the two sides, and by some distance too. Beyond Prior lay very little.
And then the match turned. Whatever the dinner ladies served for lunch clearly upset the bowlers' control, and Daren Ganga's captaincy, as a mishmash of dreadful bowling, sloppy fielding and thoughtless cricket punctured West Indies' advantage. Quite what Ganga was thinking when he tried Marlon Samuels for five overs is anyone's guess, but the standard of bowling was embarrassingly mediocre. So Collingwood exploited it, nudging runs all around the wicket and placing the ball into the gaps at will, accelerating at ease. It was a Sunday afternoon knockabout, not Test cricket at its most taxing. West Indies' wheels hadn't so much fallen off, as rolled down the hill into the water.
After bringing up an 85-ball fifty, Collingwood opened his shoulders - perhaps influenced by the natural aggressor, Prior, at the other end - driving with authority through the covers. He was notably quick to pull anything a fraction too short - a sure sign that he's in form - and, when the new ball finally arrived, he smote it all over the ground.
Fidel Edwards, who had earlier bowled beautifully with the old ball, was entrusted with the task of breaking through but, by now, Collingwood was in no mood to be contained. A beautiful clip off his pads was followed by a fierce pull to the square-leg boundary, prompting Collingwood to yelp and roar his delight in making his fifth Test hundred. It was his first at Chester-le-Street, his home ground and his second fifty came from just 64 balls. Often considered one of Test cricket's more dogged batsmen, how appropriate that he should have accelerated so impressively - on a day when Michael Vaughan stepped down as England's one-day captain.
Oddly, Prior played second fiddle to Collingwood - a revealing fact in itself - but nevertheless brought up his 50 from 85 balls with a remarkable flick over midwicket. He too took advantage of the bowling as West Indies practically gave up the ghost. Even the captain, Ganga, stood with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumped. All he needed to complete the act of surrender was a large white handkerchief.
Prior's exuberance finally cost him when he tried to pull Edwards over midwicket - Devon Smith diving forward at deep square-leg to take a fine catch. It ended a superb stand of 169 - the first time in 23 years that England had put on more than 150 for the seventh wicket. But by now the damage had been done; between lunch and tea England added 139 for the loss of just one wicket. It was a startling transformation.
Ryan Sidebottom chivvied his way to an entertaining 26 to give England a sizeable lead of 113 and, rather inevitably, Matthew Hoggard struck in the second over to trap Smith in front for a duck. Chris Gayle, with half an eye to the one-day series, was in ebullient mood, carving Hoggard and Steve Harmison off the back foot to bring up a fine and characteristically entertaining fifty.
Once Runako Morton was bowled by Monty Panesar, leaving West Indies still trailing by 30, the match turnaround was complete. All of a sudden, England are scenting an unlikely victory.
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