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Toss: England. Test debut: A. P. Wells.
Not for many years had a Test in England received such advance attention; in the circumstances, the draw was a deflating anticlimax. The cricket was conditioned by a pitch that had been anaesthetised for the occasion and was lifted above the humdrum only by several fine innings and the peerless fast bowling of Ambrose, on what appeared to be his final Test appearance in England. It left the series drawn, justly and honourably - but, as four helter-skelter matches, packed with drama, had been sedately followed by two tamer draws, it also left both sides sensing a missed opportunity.
Only 22 wickets fell in five full days of cricket and the body language of many a bowler told of the bias of the conditions. Paul Brind was making his Test debut as head groundsman, but the challenging pace and bounce that characterised his father Harry's recent Test pitches had been replaced by something unfailingly true but far more sluggish. As there was no help for spin either, the batsmen held sway virtually undisturbed. It was only the speed with which West Indies, in particular Lara, scored runs that imposed pressure on England to bat out time on the last day. This they achieved through the latest demonstration of Atherton's technique and stoicism.
England had caused surprise by recalling Tufnell to their squad but caused more by then omitting him from the eventual eleven; they also brought back Malcolm, dropped after the First Test, to the scene of his triumph against South Africa. Alan Wells was given a belated and, as it transpired, unfortunate debut. Gallian joined his three Lancashire team-mates at the last minute because Knight had damaged a finger. Hooper and Ambrose returned after injury for West Indies, who dropped Arthurton and Dhanraj. Atherton won the toss for the fourth time in five Tests and might have been revising his views on the pitch when Ambrose's second ball struck him in the ribcage. The first hour was difficult, the bounce of the new ball a shade uneven, but the pitch was never again to betray itself. England were uneasy at the end of the first day, having lost the assertive Thorpe and Wells in successive balls from Ambrose. Wells had played 15 seasons of county cricket before this moment - he played his first delivery off his chest to short leg. Hick and Russell then put on 144 for the sixth wicket. Both fell in the nineties and, in between, Watkinson became Walsh's 300th Test victim. After more than 11 hours in the field, West Indies' out-cricket bore signs of fatigue and resentment. But patriotic belief that their batting would disintegrate proved fanciful in the extreme: for the ensuing two days, they dwarfed England's once-imposing 454 to lead by 238.
England paid dearly for some missed opportunities on the third morning. Benjamin, the night-watchman, ought to have been caught at slip off the first ball he received from Malcolm and instead occupied 80 minutes; then Lara, habitually a chancer in his early overs, could have been run out just before lunch. He did not err again, his majestic 179 coming from only 206 balls and containing 110 in boundaries: 26 fours and a six. Atherton dispensed with all close catchers long before the end of Lara's innings, his third century in consecutive Tests, lifting his aggregate to 765 runs in the series. There was general sympathy for the popular Richardson, out seven short of his hundred, but the weary England bowlers may not have shared it. Hooper, back in the middle order, did complete his first century of the series and Chanderpaul, so long in the wings of his team, made a cultured 80. He became the third victim of Cork, who bowled with heart despite being restricted by a groin strain.
West Indies' total of 692 for eight was their biggest against England and the tenth-highest in Test cricket; five of the ten have been achieved at The Oval. England did not help themselves - Hooper was dropped by Malcolm, off his own bowling, when on one - but it was a tiresomely one-sided contest, called off in time for England to face 19 overs before the close of the fourth day. These were safely negotiated but Ambrose, bowling with withering speed, dismissed Gallian and Crawley in quick succession on Monday morning. When Walsh removed Thorpe just after lunch, England were still 106 behind and defeat remained possible. Atherton stood firm with Hick, however, and when finally he fell after six hours, the fourth man in the match to be out in the nineties, Wells had time to register three Test runs.
The first four days of the game had been sold out for several months and all tickets could easily have been sold twice over. It was an occasion to savour, at the end of a compelling series, but it was not a good cricket match, because neither side ever really looked likely to win it.
Man of the Match: B. C. Lara. Attendance: 71,301; receipts £1,511,379.
Men of the Series: England - M. A. Atherton; West Indies - B. C. Lara.
Close of play: First day, England 233-5 (G. A. Hick 43*, R. C. Russell 9*); Second day, West Indies 50-1 (S. L. Campbell 17*, K. C. G. Benjamin 2*); Third day, West Indies 424-4 (R. B. Richardson 87*, C. L. Hooper 5*); Fourth day, England 39-0 (J. E. R. Gallian 22*, M. A. Atherton 17*).