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The West Indian tourists of 1991 were not so formidable as their predecessors of 1984, who won 5-0, or 1988, who won 4-0; and therefore their Test series against England was the more interesting and attractive. From the moment at Leeds when England showed that they could at last compete with West Indies on roughly equal terms, public interest increased, until many a Test match day was sold out. In all, the series grossed receipts of £4,776,229, including the first £1 million Test at the Oval, a record for a Test ground other than Lord's. In financial terms, at the very least, the TCCB's decision to invite West Indies back after only three years, so that the lucrative tours by Australia and West Indies should not follow one another, was justified to the full.
Some critics had forecast that spectators would not be attracted by the sight of four fast bowlers hurling down bouncers, and taking longer than six hours to bowl the mandatory minimum of 90 overs. But their judgment was a little too aesthetic. Once England, in the persons of Graham Gooch and Robin Smith, had stood up to the West Indian bowling, the country at large was enthralled by the conflict, however far it was from subtle. Gooch had first fortified his players on their tour of the Caribbean in early 1990, but it was a welcome change for the British public to see England in something other than headlong flight.
The series was made even more attractive for being staged in the best of spirit, without any of the bad blood which had sullied the Australians' visit to the West Indies earlier in the year. Viv Richards, backed by a firm and worldly-wise manager in Lance Gibbs, promised at the outset a nice, peaceful tour, and Gooch made a full contribution to its fulfilment. Indeed, had the weather been less cold in the early part of the season - there can be no doubt that this, along with their feeling jaded after the series against Australia, contributed to the West Indians' slow start - the summer could have ranked among the vintage ones. Only once before had England shared a home series 2-2: in 1972, when their series against Australia had been a fluctuating, seesaw affair. This time England won the First Test, on the back of what was widely considered to be as fine a captain's innings as there has ever been, when Gooch carried his bat for 154. Then, after a draw at Lord's, they appeared to succumb gradually yet inexorably to the cumulative shellshock which had done for previous England teams. Surprise, surprise, therefore, when England retaliated in the Fifth Test to square the series, and at The Oval, too, where West Indies had not been beaten since 1966.
It had been thought that the one Test pitch with some life in it would favour the tourists. However, the West Indians gave the impression of relaxing a shade after their victory in the Fourth Test at Edgbaston, which ensured that their record of being unbeaten in a Test series extended back to 1980. England, for their part, went for a daringly chosen team at The Oval, and its eventual success reflected great credit on Ted Dexter, Micky Stewart and Gooch himself. They brought back Alec Stewart to keep wicket and to score runs on his home ground, though he had not kept in a first-class match since the winter tour of Australia; Ian Botham, after a two-year absence from Test cricket (he had played in the first one-day international, but pulled a hamstring); and Philip Tufnell, who had been disregarded all summer because of his attitudinal problems in Australia. Each of them played outstanding parts in England's victory, as did David Lawrence, who returned for his second match of the series and supplied the pace and enthusiasm which England had vainly wanted from Devon Malcolm. It was Botham's first victory in his twentieth Test against West Indies.
Compared with their immediate predecessors, the West Indians were virtually as strong as ever in their first-choice Test bowling of Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh. They had declined in their batting, however - the loss of Gordon Greenidge during the Old Trafford one-day international was insuperable - and in their close catching, both in the slips and at short leg, where Gus Logie stood too deep and was anything but the world's best fielder that he could claim to be in other positions. The effect which the four main West Indian bowlers had on Mike Atherton, Graeme Hick and Allan Lamb demonstrated that their inherent quality was as high as their predecessors'. Atherton, after being the pillar of England's 3-0 victory in the one-day series, either misjudged the line of off-stump balls, or received a debated leg-before decision, or steered with an open-faced bat to slips who had not been there in the limited-overs games. Hick never made the runs commensurate with the enormous reputation he had built up, except in the third Texaco Trophy international at Lord's. During the Test matches, his footwork - never fluent - froze into immobility; then, to counter the short ball, he experimented with a more open-chested stance.. But above all the newly qualified Zimbabwean was too hesitant, introspective and focused on defence to assert himself. For all his technical limitations, Hick could still have made some runs, against the less than new ball, had he been the confident young batsman of 1988 who had played his strokes and scored 172 against the tourists at Worcester.
Ambrose removed Hick in six of his seven Test innings with short-pitched bowling which was awesome not simply in its speed but in its pinpoint precision. However, if an England batsman had the expertise to deal with bouncers, the West Indians seldom bothered to bowl them. The pitches were uniformly slow, although the one at The Oval did have some bounce, and suited the home side, which had not been the case in 1984 and 1988. Unmitigated accuracy had to be the plan, both for West Indies and for England, although the latter usually had only Phillip DeFreitas and Derek Pringle to implement it.
Since the 1988 tour, Ambrose had improved his control to the point where a batsman had to play almost every ball - and not with a scoring stroke, either. In fact, both of England's victories could easily have been defeats: if Ambrose had been fully fit on the last day at The Oval, when England were 80 for four in pursuit of 143; and if Richards, instead of rotating his bowlers as usual, had kept Ambrose going after lunch on the third day at Headingley, by when he had reduced England's second innings to 47 for three in his opening spell. Ambrose's rise to the status of a giant-with the mannerism of celebrating each wicket by whirling his arms upwards, like a flock of doves taking to the air - was offset by Marshall's decline since 1988. The speed to frighten was no longer there, and less of the out-swinger, too. That most of Marshall's wickets now came with the in-swinger was a tribute to the cleverness of his wristwork at the moment of delivery. It was also a criticism of the England management, for failing to prepare their players fully with video analysis of Marshall's action.
Like Ambrose, Patterson was consistently better than he had been in 1988, through becoming accuracy itself for a bowler of his extreme pace. But in the same way, his improvement was offset by the tiredness of Courtney Walsh, who never bowled waywardly but was not as incisive as he had been. Walsh's place was under no threat: Ian Bishop had to withdraw from the original party with a stress fracture of the lower vertebrae; Ezra Moseley was left behind, perhaps because he had toured South Africa as a rebel, and neither Ian Allen nor Hamesh Anthony was ready for Test cricket. Anthony, however, had the makings of a Test all-rounder. At the start of the tour he was bowling from wide of the crease and angling the ball in, but he got closer to the stumps and made it run away by the end. Likewise, the batting of this young Antiguan became less leg-sided.
Against such fast bowling, Gooch and Smith batted with astonishing consistency - Gooch had one score in the series under 25 - and the utmost mental rigour. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say they both batted virtually as well as humanly possible, knowing exactly when to take the risk of counter-attacking. Mark Ramprakash was also able to survive, but without having the experience to judge when to play his strokes. And that was the sum total of England's specialist batting until the final Test, when Stewart made runs and Hugh Morris battled through his difficulties with the short ball to share a century opening stand. However, England's lower order made frequent contributions, a sign of high morale, as it had not done in 1984 and 1988. In particular, Pringle held up one end, and Defreitas or Chris Lewis or even Lawrence took the attack to the fast bowlers, who were at times confounded by their assault.
Over the series England averaged 27 runs per wicket, while West Indies averaged 30, a figure down on previous visits when Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had launched the innings. England's lowest total was their 188 at Edgbaston, the one occasion when their batting was an outright failure. The tourists bettered that, in paucity, three times, and if Richie Richardson had not made his adjustment to English pitches for the first time, they might have been embarrassingly short of runs. Richardson waited for the ball to reach him, instead of throwing himself forward at it, as he had tried to do on his 1988 tour of England. More may be read about him, and Ambrose, in the section on Five Cricketers of the Year. Phil Simmons, who replaced Greenidge in the Test team, had a similar power of stroke, but not the masterful judgment in deciding which ball to leave. Moreover, he was all at sea against spin, falling to the first over from Hick at Lord's and the very first ball in Test cricket from Richard Illingworth at Trent Bridge. Clayton Lambert, on the other hand, showed some capacity for improvement, though he could have done with being given an opportunity before the age of 29. Called in from the North Yorkshire and South Durham league club of Blackhall when Greenidge's knee gave way, Lambert made 99 against Glamorgan and a century against Essex, only his second in first-class cricket outside his native Guyana.
For brief periods the senior batsmen, Richards and Haynes, batted as well as ever, before furnishing evidence for the belief that long innings are the domain of the younger player, and at The Oval Haynes carried his bat for the second time in Tests. Richards was as eye-catching and unpredictable as ever, but strokes at Headingley and Trent Bridge made him hang his own head; and at The Oval he had the match in his hands during the follow-on before one last, fatal lapse. Against those unforced errors, he threw himself forward in the Third Test to avoid being leg-before and built the first-innings lead that brought West Indies back into the series. In the Fourth as well, albeit after another shaky start, he settled the outcome with a blaze of his finest strokes and was carried shoulder-high from the field.
It was hard on Brian Lara, the Trinidadian left-hander, that he should have injured an ankle during practice at the Edgbaston Test, so that it was Lambert who replaced Logie at the Oval and made his début. Logie had torn knee ligaments. Although Lara did not make many runs in the county games, it was felt that he was more than ready for a run in Test cricket. Logie and Dujon had been the leading run-makers in the 1988 Tests, but Logie's 78 at Nottingham was their one substantial innings this time. The wicket-keeping of Dujon had deteriorated, however, and in warding off the challenge of the no less accomplished David Williams, he was able to move into second place in the Test list of career dismissals.
The tourists hardy felt their lack of a specialist spinner, for Carl Hooper bowled plenty of his improving off-spin in the county games. Their failure to win more than three of them was largely a result of rain. And in any event, come rain of shine, the £50,000 jackpot offered by Tetley Bitter to the tourists for winning nine or more out of eleven county games was little more than a publicity stunt. Even Don Bradman's 1948 Australians did not win so high a proportion of their county games, with fifteen out of twenty.
Hooper's tour batting average of 85.46 was the highest by a West Indian in England, and he also provided the most exciting passage of play in the series, when he assailed Tufnell and Lawrence with his high-class strokeplay on the fourth morning at The Oval. Could a batsman from any other Test team have hit three sixes in the first twenty minutes of any day's play, let alone when his side was following on? The cricket played by the West Indians was not their most successful, but it was entertaining - as entertaining as modern cricket, based on fast bowling, can be.
In this context, a surprising feature of the summer was that while crowds flocked to the Tests, there was a decline in active support for the tourists from West Indians living in Britain. Various causes were put forward, such as the ban on taking musical instruments into grounds and so making the occasion into a carnival, or the high cost of tickets, which often had to be purchased months in advance. There was also a sociological explanation, that the West Indians lived mainly in Britain's inner cities, where cricket is hardly played; and another that England's Test team had come to include two or three players of West Indian origin. Whatever the reason, the tourists received less support than previously, and the Tests were less colourful and animated as a result. But this time at least, the quality of cricket made good the deficiency.
Test matches- Played 5: Won 2, Lost 2, Drawn 1.
First-class matches- Played 16: Won 5, Lost 2, Drawn 9.
Wins- England (2), Middlesex, Leicestershire, Kent.
Losses- England (2).
Draws- England, Worcestershire, Somerset, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Essex.
One-day internationals- Played 3: Lost 3.
Other non first-class matches- Played 7: Won 3, Lost 1, Drawn 3. Wins- Gloucestershire, League Cricket Conference, Wales. Loss- Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk's XI. Draws- Oxford & Cambridge Universities, Minor Counties, Ireland.
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