West Indies v England, third Test, Port-of-Spain, 1994

Tall, dark and awesome

Keith Fletcher
When Ambrose ripped the heart out of England's batting



That first ball: Ambrose gets Atherton on day four © Getty Images

In some ways "England all out 46" doesn't do justice to our performance in the match. It was a Test we should have won, but we let it slip, and West Indies made the most of the chance we gave them. In the end two things tilted the balance in their favour: their experience, and the pace combination of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

It should be remembered that Michael Atherton was leading a team - a young team - to the Caribbean for the first time. We had lost the first two Tests. Even so, we went into the third match with a lot of spirit. From the beginning of the tour we knew that to compete with West Indies we would need to play at our best - and do it consistently. But our inexperience came to the fore every now and then, and at crucial junctures.

Richie Richardson won a very good toss here and without any hesitation elected to bat. The pitch in Port-of-Spain had a reputation for deteriorating - later in the match the ball either shoots along the ground or hits you in the throat.

We crossed our first hurdle, when our seam attack of Gus Fraser, Chris Lewis and Andrew Caddick restricted West Indies to 252. Gus didn't have the fire that he had on our previous trip to the Caribbean, in 1989-90, but he could still bend his back. He led the youngsters in the absence of Devon Malcolm, who had gone back home because of an injury. Our batsmen then played defiantly and we took a handy lead of 70-odd.

On the third day West Indies lost their top order - Desmond Haynes, Richardson and Brian Lara - with our lead still intact. And at stumps we had them at an effective score of about 70 for 5. Caddick bowled beautifully.

We now had a chance to dictate terms, and spent the rest day anticipating glory.

We started the fourth morning on the wrong foot, with our close-in fielders frittering away several chances. Graeme Hick, our best slip fielder, dropped two regulation catches off Shivnarine Chanderpaul - the first one when Chanderpaul was yet to open his account. That was the first turning point.

Chanderpaul rubbed it in with a steadfast half-century, and along with the tailenders he helped the West Indians set a target of 194. I really thought we should have been chasing a target under 100. But it wasn't too bad; there was hope yet.

Then things happened so quickly on that fourth evening that we didn't even have time to think. Ambrose just kept taking the wickets one by one. The pitch fuelled his aggression and he delivered like any premium fast bowler would have done. He bowled fast and full, and our batters, reluctant to move forward, suffered. The idea was to play forward on that up-and-down wicket, but it was not easy to do so against Ambrose and Walsh.

There had been a session earlier in the series that affected our performance here. It was on the third evening of the first Test, in Kingston. With a hostile spell of short-pitched bowling Walsh unnerved our batsmen, especially Michael, who I feared was left fairly shaken by the episode. The West Indies philosophy since the Clive Lloyd era had been "Cut off the head and the rest will follow." In a marathon spell of 14 overs, Walsh had planted a number of doubts in our best batsman's mind.

In Port-of-Spain, Ambrose exposed this hesitancy. With the first ball of the innings he trapped Michael lbw. This, to me, was the second turning point of the match.

Ambrose signed off by bowling Graham Thorpe with his final delivery of the day to finish with 6 for 22 off 7.5 overs. England were 40 for 8. The following day we were all out. The whole innings lasted less than 20 overs.

It was the worst moment of my coaching career, but I was not too surprised at the final figure of 46. Any fast bowler in his prime on that sort of a wicket would have moved in for the kill. Ambrose was a superlative performer. He didn't need too much inspiration.

Keith Fletcher was England's coach on the 1993-94 tour of West Indies and later served as team manager. He spoke to Nagraj Gollapudi. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine