Third Cornhill Test

ENGLAND v WEST INDIES 1995

Robert Mills

Toss: England. Test debut: J. E. R. Gallian.

Test pitch controversies are normally the preserve of Headingley. But all the talk before, during and after this one-sided contest was of an Edgbaston strip of unusual appearance - shaved at each end and grassy in the middle - which was ultimately lethal to England. West Indies won by an innings and 64 runs, at 12.18 on the third day of a match which lasted for only 172.2 overs. The aftermath was queues of disgruntled ticket-holders arguing over where to direct their anger (Ray Illingworth, Mike Atherton and groundsman Steve Rouse were the candidates) amid claims and counter-claims about who was to blame for a fast pitch of variable bounce which played into the hands of the West Indian pace bowlers. They used it with ruthless efficiency.

This was not quite the expected script. The tourists came into the match in some turbulence, having lost at Lord's and then, by a humiliating innings margin, to Sussex, while one member of the party had been sent home in disgrace. The optimistic English view was that they were on the point of reaching for the oxygen masks; a win here would be enough to shatter brittle morale for good. England dropped Ramprakash, after his pair at Lord's, and brought in Australian-born Lancastrian Jason Gallian for his Test debut; with Kenny Benjamin fit again, West Indies omitted Ottis Gibson and reverted to the side which had won at Leeds.

Long before the end of the first day, there had to be a drastic reappraisal of the balance of power. Ambrose's first delivery after Atherton had elected to bat caused consternation in the England camp - it was a huge leg-side bouncer which flew for four wides. Three balls later, Atherton fell to a poor stroke. That set the pattern for a dismal first innings of 147 in 44.2 overs. The exception was Thorpe, who batted with zest to hit five fours in 46 minutes before a ball of spiteful lift from Ambrose flew off his glove into gully's hands. He departed nursing a bruised thumb, the first name on a disruptive injury list. The next, more serious casualty was Gallian, who suffered a hairline fracture of the finger just before playing on to Benjamin. Smith was bravely defiant for 144 minutes and 46 runs, England's best effort of the day. By the time he was eighth out, at 141, they were in disarray. The only consolation was that it could have been worse; Ambrose had broken down with a groin strain in his eighth hostile over and did not bowl again in either innings.

England's only success on the first evening came when Hooper was caught down the leg side by Stewart, immediately after the appearance of two male streakers, ending an opening stand of 73. Stewart then suffered further damage to his suspect right index finger in trying to take a bouncer from Gough. He needed pain-killing injections to get through the second day.

That began with Cork giving England sight of a competitive position by removing Lara, Adams and Campbell, with West Indies' lead only nine. Campbell had struck a bristling 79 from 140 balls, with 16 fours, which earned him the match award. But a tenacious 69 from Richardson, spanning just over four hours, had at least equal value. Richardson had moments of good fortune, but showed such concentration and patience in his side's cause that he was unmoved by being stuck on seven for 75 minutes, or by a score of 16 after two hours of the sort of dogged occupation not normally associated with the West Indian captain. He had precious support from Bishop and Benjamin, who between them batted for more than two hours.

England went in again 153 behind, with a testing 17 overs to negotiate on the second evening. Memories of Trinidad in March 1994 were soon revived as Atherton was speared out by Walsh, Hick timidly fended a catch into the slips off Bishop and Thorpe surrendered his wicket to one of the poorest strokes of the match. That was 26 for three; they closed on 59, but night-watchman Cork's fighting talk became a mockery the following morning, when they were blown away for the addition of 30 runs in a little over an hour. Bishop, achieving vicious lift from a wide angle at the crease, claimed Smith as his 100th Test victim in his 21st match. Smith's 41, a score probably matched by the number of bruises on his arms and body from the ruthless assault, was described by Atherton as worth a hundred on any other pitch. Again, he was eighth out, having been promoted to open because Stewart was unable to bat and Gallian, who had not fielded, could not appear until No. 7. The final blow came when Richard Illingworth broke a knuckle in the hopelessly lost cause. England's theme so far had been their need for five bowlers; their destruction was completed by two, Walsh and Bishop.

Atherton said it was the worst Test pitch he had encountered and that the blame for the early finish lay with Warwickshire. Ray Illingworth, annoyed by suggestions that it was prepared to his specifications, said that he had wanted even bounce but had not got it. He called for a return to the use of lighter soils; reporters were not quite in the mood for such niceties. Warwickshire added a touch of cheek to the drama by filling in one of the missing days with a challenge match between the county and the West Indians on the same pitch - they lost by 22 runs, but the pitch behaved.

Man of the Match: S. L. Campbell. Attendance: 62,544; receipts £1,141,201.

Close of play: First day, West Indies 104-1 (S. L. Campbell 38*, B. C. Lara 21*); Second day, England 59-3 (R. A. Smith 33*, D. G. Cork 15*).

© John Wisden & Co
 
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