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When England headed for the Caribbean in January 1994, many people might have predicted that the series would end in a 3-1 win for the West Indies. And that, three months later, was how things turned out. So everything went to plan? Well, hardly. Modern tours seldom seem to run along humdrum straight lines but this one broke all the rules of logic and expectation. It was a tour of exhausting extremes, on which despair gave way to triumph at impossibly short notice and soaring personal achievement attended every game in the series and, it sometimes seemed, every day. Some of the performances - like Curtly Ambrose's amazing bowling to turn the Port-of-Spain Test, the heroic deeds from Alec Stewart and Angus Fraser to give England an improbable, indeed almost unthinkable, win in Bridgetown and, above all, Brian Lara's world Test record 375 in Antigua - will be remembered as long as the game is played.
In the final analysis, it was a disappointment for England because, with only a handful of exceptions, the selected players made no obvious progress and, as a unit, they made no impression on the supremacy that West Indies have paraded for so long. But disappointing did not mean dull, nor did the eventual outcome begin to measure up to the misery for England that threatened in the stunned hours and days following the nadir of 46 all out in Trinidad. That was quite some way to lose a match which ought to have been won, and a series which, at that stage, appeared to be heading inexorably towards a West Indian clean sweep.
In this context, England's subsequent victory in Barbados, where no visiting Test side had won for 59 years, was a monumental feat, fit to stand alongside the greatest of all Test wins. Here was a team which had suffered humiliating disillusionment and all the accompanying torture from within and without, but recovered to defeat the world's strongest side in their acknowledged fortress. If Mike Atherton never achieved anything else as England captain, he could forever be proud of that.
But Atherton seemed likely to achieve plenty more. Only the following week, he was cajoling his weary players to one final effort of defiance when faced by a West Indian total approaching 600, including Lara's world record. Atherton made 135 himself, with the resilience he had maintained throughout the tour and, against all likelihood, England ended the series with honour intact and heads held high. Quite how much of this can be attributed to the captain can never accurately be measured; suffice to say that a weaker man than Atherton could not possibly have returned home from what remained an emphatic defeat with his reputation enhanced.
In retrospect, the most baffling aspect of it all was that, not 12 months earlier, Atherton had been unsure of even a place in the England side; in India the previous winter he was conspicuously excluded from all plans. At that stage, the thought that he would inherit the captaincy before the end of summer was a fanciful one: if Graham Gooch was about to go then Stewart was well-established as his deputy - and Mike Gatting waited in the wings.
The shift of mood that swept Atherton into power did an immeasurable service to English cricket. This means no disrespect to Stewart, because his role on tour would have been vital even if he had not flourished with the bat. But Atherton, surprising many who had mistaken his reserved nature for weakness, offered a strength of character rare in one so young. He was able to rise above the petty problems which afflict any tour without ever distancing himself from his players. He was loyal without pandering to inadequacy, opinionated without being intransigent. Tactically, the harsh could call him negative at times but, with the resources available, no blame could be attached. Then there was his batting. Like Gooch before him, and like Allan Border in Australia, the additional responsibility was no impediment, much more an inspiration. Atherton knew his resolve would be specifically tested by West Indian fast bowlers who make it their business to undermine a new opposition captain. They set about him in Jamaica, during the First Test, when Atherton was subjected to as harrowing a spell of legitimate short-pitched bowling as I have seen. But he did not weaken under the assault; the ultimate mark of respect was that it was never tried again. Atherton went on to make 510 runs in the five Tests, more than anyone bar Lara, and with Stewart scoring 477 and both men averaging above 50, the new opening pair was demonstrably England's greatest single advance of the tour.
While Atherton's batting shouted defiance as it proceeded in a correct and measured fashion, Stewart thrived as a shotmaker of great fluency. There were times when Courtney Walsh, in particular, was quite unable to bowl to him and, on pitches when the bounce was relatively even (a rarity in the Caribbean), Stewart's favoured pull was irrepressible. He became, in Barbados, the first Englishman ever to make centuries in each innings of a Test against West Indies. Like Atherton, he returned with his stature greatly increased.
This could be said of precious few others in the party, which was responsible for the noticeable stress suffered by the team manager, Keith Fletcher. Nobody looked more shattered by the débâcle in Trinidad, nor more depressed by the feeble surrender to a scratch team in Grenada which followed. At that point, England had lost seven consecutive overseas Tests since Fletcher became manager. With Raymond Illingworth appointed during the tour as a deliberately high-profile chairman of selectors - rather than tour manager M. J. K. Smith - the theory that his position was becoming untenable gathered strength. Fletcher, however, is not only a likeable man but a quietly diligent one; his unseen work with individual players, making them think lucidly about their game and teaching them to feel good about it, deserved appreciation. Barbados was as much a tonic to him as to anybody.
The greatest single failure among the party was probably Robin Smith, though this judgment must be influenced by the fact that he began the tour burdened by so many hopes and expectations. He was, unarguably, the most accomplished player of fast bowling in the side and his role as the foundation of the batting was taken as read. He was a banker, but like so many odds-on favourites, he failed to deliver. His technique developed an alarming blip, his bat coming down crookedly from the direction of second slip, and his confidence nose-dived. He was confessing that his tour had been a disaster even after making 175 in the last Test in Antigua and, when Fletcher publicly warned that Smith was being distracted by commercial activities, he was voicing a common concern.
Like Smith, Graeme Hick averaged 35 in the Tests. But he failed to build on his 96 in the second innings of the First Test, which had all the makings of a career breakthrough. He was not even home before Illingworth was talking ominously of time running out for him. Among the fringe batsmen Graham Thorpe made much the most progress, though he, too, had to cure technical problems before batting with authority late in the tour. Mark Ramprakash continued to look the part without offering any evidence that he has the temperament for this level, and neither Matthew Maynard nor Nasser Hussain advanced their claims for further attention, or justified their original selection ahead of older batsmen like Mike Gatting, David Gower (who retired after his omission) and Allan Lamb.
More worrying, in the longer term, was the bowling, which exhibited the legacies of the soft domestic cricket that Fletcher, like his predecessor Micky Stewart, was fond of castigating. Fraser bowled heroically once his fitness and rhythm were in tune but, critically, he did not once play a Test match with Devon Malcolm. The liaison of pace and perseverance is mutually beneficial and the knee injury which obliged Malcolm to return home for treatment in mid-tour was a grievous blow to England. He recovered sufficiently to rejoin the party but was not risked in the remaining Tests.
To some degree, the inadequacy of the bowling was self-inflicted, for the best use was never made of Phil Tufnell. Whenever he played, he was able to contain more effectively than any of the seam bowlers, buying wickets at the other end. Yet it was not until the last two Tests that he was given his chance, when previously he should have played as well as, if not instead of, Ian Salisbury. Much of the seam bowling was depressingly poor, betraying an inability to adapt to the different demands of overseas pitches. Andy Caddick, in patches, was the best and Fletcher insisted that, properly focused, he could be a high-quality Test bowler for years to come.
West Indies have never been short of this commodity these past 20 years, but there were signs that they are not quite so well provided for as of old. Ambrose was magnificent. He was deservedly named man of the series, not only for taking 26 wickets at 19.96 apiece and deciding the Trinidad Test single-handed, but for the more profound truth that West Indies now look to him whenever they need wickets. In the past, any one of four could notionally be thought the spearhead bowler; now, Ambrose carried the load alone, supported by capable, skilful but seldom devastating seamers, of whom Kenny Benjamin, with 22 wickets, did, particularly well.
There was even talk of an increasing dependence on spin in the Caribbean, borne out by figures in the Red Stripe Cup but not, so far, carried into the Test arena. Spin is still used primarily to give the fast bowlers a rest and cure any shortfall in over-rate. When a young leg-break bowler was included, he was a great success - but with the bat rather than the ball. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, still in his teens and a product of extensive coaching on a Georgetown pitch cut out especially for him when his talent was identified and his schooling terminated early, made a half-century in each of his first four Tests, batting with startling maturity. He does not have the flair or range of his fellow left-hander Lara, but the could be the glue in the West Indian middle order for many years. Another influential figure was Adams who, with Arthurton, completed a run of four left-handers from No. 3 to 6 in the last four Tests.
It was a brave move to choose Chanderpaul, and not only because of his youth and inexperience. The omission of Phil Simmons brought hysterical protests in Trinidad, where the feeling persists that their players are discriminated against in selection. This is legacy of the inter-island jealousies which once divided West Indian cricket but have largely been overcome, thanks to a succession of wise men at the helm. Richie Richardson, the present captain, is among this number. Though growing exhaustion affected his form, and his strategy, especially upon winning the toss, sometimes seemed bizarre, he played a full part in ensuring this series was free of acrimony. The tour's most bitter moment, when Walsh released a barrage at the notoriously inept England No. 11, Malcolm, on the fourth day of the First Test, took place when he was off the field with a headache. Nothing similar occurred again. The matches were, indeed, played virtually throughout in a fine spirit, which says a good deal for both captains.
M. A. Atherton (Lancashire) (captain), A. J. Stewart (Surrey) (vice-captain), A. R. Caddick (Somerset), A. R. C. Fraser (Middlesex), G. A. Hick (Worcestershire), N. Hussain (Essex), A. P. Igglesden (Kent), C. C. Lewis (Nottinghamshire), D. E. Malcolm (Derbyshire), M. P. Maynard (Glamorgan), M. R. Ramprakash (Middlesex), R. C. Russell (Gloucestershire), I. D. K. Salisbury (Sussex), R. A. Smith (Hampshire), G. P. Thorpe (Surrey), P. C. R. Tufnell (Middlesex), S. L. Watkin (Glamorgan).
Tour manager: M. J. K. Smith. Team manager: K. W. R. Fletcher. Scorer: A. E. Davis (Warwickshire). Physiotherapist: D. G. Roberts (Worcestershire).
Test matches - played 5: Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 1.
First-class matches - Played 9: Won 2, Lost 4, Drawn 3.
Wins - West Indies, Leeward Islands.
Losses - West Indies (3), West Indies Board XI.
Draws - West Indies, Barbados, West Indies Board President's XI.
One-day internationals - Played 5: Won 2, Lost 3.
Other non first-class matches - Played 2: Won 1, Drawn 1. Win - Antiguan XI. Draw - St. Kitts & Nevis.
Match reports for