England and West Indies contested a fascinating, fluctuating series watched by packed houses in a gloriously hot summer. For a variety of reasons, they were more evenly matched than for some time and, fittingly, they shared it 2-2.
If West Indies enjoyed the better of the last two drawn, high-scoring Tests, and had the satisfaction of retaining the Wisden Trophy they have held through 22 years and 12 series, captain Richie Richardson's assessment that they performed below their potential was self-evident. In every department their cricket was inconsistent. England showed great spirit to recover from heavy defeats at Headingley and, especially, Edgbaston (where they were routed for 147 and 89) to draw level twice and then bat through difficult last days to safety at Trent Bridge and The Oval when West Indies held the upper hand. The home team overcame injuries that were mainly responsible for the use of 21 players in the six Tests - the longest series ever scheduled between the two teams - and could take considerable comfort from the authoritative leadership of Mike Atherton.
Only a year earlier, the England captain's position was under a cloud following the ball-tampering controversy in the Lord's Test against South Africa. He had returned from a disappointing Ashes campaign in Australia despondent and with his relationship with team manager and chief selector Ray Illingworth unsettled. Now West Indies manager Wes Hall reflected general opinion when, in choosing Atherton as England's Man of the Series, he identified him as the defining difference to the result of this series. Atherton had, observed Hall, led from the front, taking the fire of the West Indies pace bowlers unflinchingly. His influence was established in the one-day international matches which England won 2-1; he was also Man of the Series for those games, as he was in 1991. If there were occasional differences of opinion over selection during the summer, Illingworth acknowledged at the end that he and Atherton had become closer - "we're thinking of getting out the Bowie knife and becoming blood brothers" - and that team spirit was in good shape.
In contrast, Richardson was a captain always under pressure. The 2-1 defeat by Australia in the Caribbean in the preceding series had ended a proud West Indian record of 15 years' invincibility; returning to the helm after his medically enforced rest the previous year, Richardson was made the principal scapegoat by a disenchanted public. A calm, undemonstrative individual, he often let the game take its course and seemed out of touch with his men. His indifferent form that yielded a modest Test average of 34.37 did nothing to dispel the widespread criticism of his leadership. The trauma of the Australian defeat was evident. During that series the new cricket manager, Andy Roberts, the great fast bowler of an earlier era, had publicly charged some of his players with having attitude problems and complained that his fast bowlers would not heed his advice. Yet everyone who played against Australia was chosen for the England tour.
It was soon clear that all was still not well. Between the Second and Third Tests, Hall, another legendary fast bowler, returning as team manager after ten years as a Barbadian cabinet minister, announced the expulsion of Winston Benjamin on disciplinary and fitness grounds. Defeat by an innings and 121 runs by Sussex, the heaviest ever inflicted by a county on an official West Indian team, immediately followed. But at Edgbaston, a pitch of astonishing appearance and menacing behaviour, ideally suited to their fast bowlers, allowed them to regroup within a week, with one of Test cricket's swiftest victories, before lunch on the third day. Yet there was always the feeling that the management had their hands full maintaining control over their charges, especially some of the most eminent. That impression was confirmed when the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, acting on the manager's report, subsequently summoned four players before its disciplinary committee: Brain Lara and Carl Hooper for being absent without leave, Curtly Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin for more general failings of behaviour and attitude. All were fined 10 per cent of their tour earnings. Lara was sufficiently angered to pull out of the World Series in Australia, putting his entire future in question.
The team's packed international schedule over the previous ten months was another consideration in West Indies' erratic performances. From the previous October, they had played nine Tests and 18 one-day internationals in India, New Zealand and the Caribbean, arriving in England for the long, hot summer only five days after they succumbed to Australia in Kingston. By August, they had to summon Phil Simmons and Andy Cummins from the English leagues to shore up a team diminished by injury and fatigue.
As against Australia, the West Indian batting was unreliable and too heavily dependent on the phenomenal Lara, who only found his true touch midway through the season. While Ian Bishop's successful and courageous return to international cricket, after a break of two years, waiting for the second stress fracture of his back to heal, was a definite boost to their attack, there were unmistakable signs that Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were beginning to feel the strain of advancing years and too much cricket. In the first innings of each of the last three Tests, England passed 400, a feat last achieved against West Indies by Australia in 1975-76.
Lara's early failures included his first pair in a first-class match when he was dismissed twice by Julian Thompson, a Kent part-timer whose more regular employment is as a surgeon at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. It was not until late July, in the Fourth Test, that he batted with his accustomed dominance. England had already drawn level in the series once, through a victory at Lord's which was virtually assured when Lara was out half an hour into the final day. At Old Trafford, even his 87 and 145 were not sufficient to prevent England's second victory as most of his team-mates - only one other reached 40 - surrendered their wickets with wanton strokes on a true pitch in the brilliant sunshine. What the admiring public did not know was that Lara was in bitter dispute within the dressing-room and disappeared from the tour for several days after the Test. However, he returned with a flourish, delighting the crowds that packed Trent Bridge and The Oval, as they did everywhere else, with further hundreds, both compiled at the staggering rate of over 80 runs per 100 balls. But these were made on surfaces so unsympathetic to bowlers that run-filled draws were always likely, even though England had their moments of anxiety in holding on. Lara's superiority was emphasised by the statistics. His 765 runs were 259 more than the next highest on either side, Graham Thorpe's 506 for England, and 311 more than his nearest team-mate, Sherwin Campbell.
Campbell's advance was arguably the most encouraging development for the tourists. In his first full series and on his first tour of England, the little opener passed 40 in one innings of each Test and soon adapted to different conditions and situations with his quick footwork and straight-batted technique. He stayed over five hours for 93 in a vain attempt to steer his team home at Lord's, an approach in contrast to his 69 off 101 balls in the First Test and 89 off 152 balls in the last, when he matched Lara stroke for stroke in a partnership of 108. West Indies could be optimistic that they had eased one half of a headache which had afflicted them since Desmond Haynes followed Gordon Greenidge out of the team. Campbell was also a fast and sure-handed fielder, claiming nine catches in the Tests, so that it was undeserving bad luck that the only one that got away, on the final afternoon of the Fifth Test, denied him and his fellow batsmen the chance of a reasonable target for victory.
The latest of several opening partnerships West Indies have tried since Greenidge and Haynes's golden days involved matching Campbell with Hooper, in the hope that the added responsibility would eliminate Hooper's exasperating underachievement. But Hooper continued to add to his list of irrational methods of dismissal, and the experiment came to nothing; he was in his accustomed position in the middle order when he finally showed his class with a hundred in the final Test. The original adjustment meant there was no place for the second young specialist opener, Stuart Williams, until the Fifth Test, which Hooper missed with a fractured finger. Given his chance, Williams batted with more confidence in his two innings than he had shown in his previous ten Tests. Like Campbell, his value was enhanced by his flawless, often spectacular, work in the slips where he snared 11 catches, six as substitute.
Injury and loss of form also prompted the replacement of three established players late in the series. The left-handed Jimmy Adams was not the batsman whose solidity had been such a vital element as a foil to the strokemakers around him. He was unable to play a significant innings before his tour was ended in early August by a blow from Somerset's fast bowler Andre van Troost that fractured his right cheekbone. Keith Arthurton, one of the four middle-order left-handers, secured his place at No. 6 on the basis of his heavy scoring in the early county matches but fell away after an accomplished 75 at Lord's and was dropped. So, too, was Junior Murray, when his wicket-keeping became increasingly untidy and his batting erratic.
The changes allowed the introduction of younger players, all on their first tours of England. Williams, 26, came back to his accredited position, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 21, finally reclaimed his place after an absence of eight Tests and Courtney Browne, 24, was installed as wicket-keeper. Williams fashioned an attractive half-century in his first innings, the left-handed Chanderpaul recorded his highest Test score, 80, at The Oval and Browne's nine catches at Trent Bridge equalled the West Indian Test record. Along with Campbell's consistency, these were encouraging signs for the future.
There were distinctly fewer in the bowling which, except in the helpful conditions of Edgbaston, lacked its customary bite. The amazing Walsh, in his 11th year of Test cricket, continued to defy the effects of anno domini, uncomplainingly bowling more overs (290) than anyone else on either side and, at The Oval, claiming his 300th Test wicket, joining Malcolm Marshall and Lance Gibbs as the only West Indians to have reached the landmark. Yet he could not be expected to maintain such a workload for much longer; he turned 33 in October. Ambrose, a year younger, was always capable of a spell of incisive, quality bowling, even on the featherbed at The Oval, but his body, too, was beginning to react to the demands placed on it over the years. Injuries restricted him to 7.5 overs at Edgbaston and scratched him from Trent Bridge altogether. As he prematurely left the ground on the final day of the series with a leg strain, his arm-waving farewell indicated an uncertain future.
Obliged to alter his action in deference to his fragile back, so that he was more front-on in delivery, Bishop was still capable of out-swing and genuine pace and his 27 wickets - 21 in the first four Tests - were the most by a bowler on either side. His return, as player and influential team man, was a bonus for West Indies but, given his medical history, he is likely to be handled with care. The fourth member of the fast bowling quartet, Kenny Benjamin, made a distinct advance once he finally heeded Roberts's advice to observe a fuller length and more direct line. His probing out-swing and complementary off-cut placed him top of both the Test and tour averages, enhancing his status. Yet, at 28, he continued to be bothered by injury, missing the Second Test and the entire last day of the Sixth when his presence would have made England's fight for survival more difficult.
The two reserve fast bowlers, Barbadians Ottis Gibson and Vasbert Drakes, Winston Benjamin's replacement, achieved nothing of note and, while the leg-spinner Rajindra Dhanraj was given every chance against the counties, claiming 61 first-class wickets, he was found wanting when called up for the Trent Bridge Test. He failed to take a wicket in 55 overs and compounded West Indian doubts about the need for spin bowlers.
If the proliferation of injuries never allowed England to keep a settled team - only Atherton and Thorpe appeared in all six Tests - Illingworth regarded it as an opportunity to look at one or two other players. He said: "We have tried to go for people who have a bit of ticker, a bit of character, and we have seen enough to show there is plenty of fighting spirit there."
No one epitomised that spirit more than Dominic Cork. The ebullient Derbyshire all-rounder, only 24 but for some time on the fringe of selection, won a Test for England on debut with his second-innings seven for 43 at Lord's and set the seal on the Old Trafford triumph in his first over of the fourth day with the first Test hat-trick by an Englishman since 1957. Positive and aggressive in everything he did, not least his appealing, he also contributed important runs lower in the order and quickly had the unenviable tag of the new Botham stamped all over him. Such a heady comparison had been attached to another spirited cricketer only a few months earlier. But Darren Gough, overwhelmed by an abundance of adulation and advice and a shortage of form and fitness, disappeared from the scene after the Third Test. Cork would have heeded the warning but, while neither he nor Gough is likely to match Botham's feats, he certainly brought a Bothamesque vitality to the team.
In a less demonstrative way, the left-handed Thorpe also filled Illingworth's requirements of character. He became the first Englishman to pass 500 runs in a home series against West Indies, albeit in six rather than five Tests, batting with determination and combativeness throughout. In 13 successive Tests since his recall to the team against South Africa the previous summer, Thorpe had accumulated 1,189 runs at an average just under 50, enough to establish a permanence at No. 4. Graeme Hick also went a long way towards a settled place. He removed justifiable doubts about his temperament and technique with 118 not out, 96 and 51 not out in three of his last four innings, though the pitches involved, at Trent Bridge and The Oval, were benign. It was significant that this run followed a straight-talking, face-to-face meeting with Illingworth, initiated by the usually taciturn Hick himself after he was upset by his omission from the final eleven at Old Trafford.
His success was counterbalanced by the unconvincing performances of the younger brigade, Mark Ramprakash, John Crawley, Jason Gallian and Nick Knight, and Alan Wells's first-ball duck in his debut Test innings for which, at 33, he had waited so long.
Illingworth had his way in the use of Alec Stewart as wicket-keeper for the first half of the series. While his breathtaking catch to dismiss Lara in the second innings proved decisive in the Lord's victory, he did little with the bat, either at No. 5 or in his more accustomed role as Atherton's partner. Finally, fingers that had been repeatedly damaged in Australia could not stand up to the pounding they took in front of and behind the stumps; he did not play again for the summer after sustaining a fracture in the Third Test. It would be a blessing in disguise if it finally ended the selectors' policy of landing him with the difficult dual role, especially as Jack Russell, regaining his place after a year and a half, not only kept with his old aplomb but also frustrated the opposition with his unorthodox left-handed batting. Injury also cut short Robin Smith's series. His proven record against West Indian fast bowling earned him his place back after a year's absence, initially as opening batsman, and he was as effective as ever. He top-scored in both innings at Lord's and Edgbaston. But, like Adams a week later, he was forced out when his cheekbone was shattered by a delivery from Bishop that deflected from his bat. He required an operation and was thus denied the chance of batting on the flattest pitches of the summer.
If Cork's success was reason for unquestionable optimism, England ended the series with the future composition of their bowling unresolved. Phillip DeFreitas's dismissal after the first Test appeared to signal the end of his chequered career for England - though it has seemed so many times before - and Devon Malcolm's speed was again only grudgingly trusted for the first and last Tests. Angus Fraser, inexplicably omitted from the First Test, where conditions would have ideally suited his method, was as persistent as ever in the remaining five. Peter Martin, the tall fast-medium out-swinger, was one of the many to succumb to injury after a promising start in his first Test series.
Cork and Martin were fresh, new fast bowlers but England's approach to spin disregarded the future. Mike Watkinson, the Lancashire captain, batsman and off-spinner, gained his first England cap at 33, played a match-saving, unbeaten 82 at Trent Bridge and bowled reasonably but scarcely had long-term prospects in Test cricket. Nor did left-arm spinner Richard Illingworth, almost 32, back in the team four years after his previous two Tests against West Indies, and certainly not John Emburey, summoned in his 43rd year for his 64th and, one assumes, last Test at Old Trafford. He did not take a wicket. Younger men who had been tried already, such as Shaun Udal, Peter Such and Ian Salisbury, were bypassed, as was Phil Tufnell, whose mercurial temperament weighed more heavily with the selectors than his proven left-arm spin.
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