This was a series which a boxing promoter would have been proud to arrange: a middleweight contest between two well-matched teams, one on the way down, the other gradually on the way up. In one corner, West Indies, sliding rapidly from their position as longstanding unofficial world Test champions. They had recently returned from Pakistan where they had lost all three Tests by wide margins amid rumours of disunity, centred on Brian Lara, who had lost his batting mastery under the captaincy of Courtney Walsh. Indeed, the very future of cricket in the West Indies was perceived to be at crisis-point.
In the other corner, England were making modest progress after winning 2-0 in New Zealand and losing only 3-2 to Australia, instead of disintegrating as usual. But they needed to win a major Test series, which they had not done since beating Australia 11 years earlier, to give their recovery substance. Their captain, Mike Atherton, thought that beating West Indies was a realistic objective, and hinted that he would resign if England did not win.
And resign he did - at the very moment Lara, who displaced Walsh as captain before the series, was parading the Wisden Trophy round the ground in Antigua, the 13th successive occasion the West Indies captain had received it. West Indies won the Test series 3-1 (and the one-day series 4-1), but it was only at the end - after a series of continual drama which lived up to its billing - that their superiority was definitively established. Along the way, the pendulum swung from side to side with each Test. West Indies had the stronger team, if only because they had Curtly Ambrose back to something near his peak form, but the final margin was unjustly wide.
After the two Trinidad Tests had been shared, three crucial pieces of luck all went in the home side's favour. In Guyana, Lara won a toss which allowed West Indies to bat before the Bourda pitch disintegrated; in Barbados, rain washed out most of the last day when an England win or a draw were the only realistic results; then in Antigua, West Indies, having won the toss, were able to bowl when the re-laid pitch was so damp - it had been over-watered for fear that it would crack up prematurely - that three chunks came out of it in the first over. It slowly settled. When all three events went against England, Atherton could sustain his captaincy no longer, and resigned at once even though there were five one-day internationals still to be played; Atherton sat them out forlornly while Adam Hollioake took charge.
The quality of the pitches was a constant theme of the tour from the opening match in Montego Bay, where one ball would kick and the next would shoot; the game would have ended in two days if the umpires had been disposed to grant more than three lbws. England by this stage were desperate for cricket as they had been on tour for nearly a fortnight. They had opted for practice in Antigua, rather than an extra fixture, and even this was hit by rain. Despite a fine pitch for their second match at Chedwin Park, England suspected well before the First Test that Sabina Park was going to be uneven. They could not have guessed how right they would be. After just 56 minutes' cricket the game was abandoned owing to dangerous conditions.
In order to encourage the home fast bowlers, the whole square had just been re-laid - without leaving one old strip in case the process went wrong - with clay from the Appleton sugar estate in Jamaica. There was nothing wrong with the clay (although it may not have been mixed with sufficient good-quality limestone). What was wrong, as a subsequent report by the Jamaica Cricket Association found, was that the Test pitch was angled and ridged, and that the heavy roller which had been used to lay it was out of round and concave in parts. Senior officials of an embarrassed West Indies Cricket Board, and many local supporters, thought the Test had been called off prematurely. Independent assessors, starting with the umpires and the referee, Barry Jarman, believed the historic decision was right.
|20||New Zealand v England||1929-30 to 1983|
|13*||England v West Indies||1973 to 1997-98|
|11||Pakistan v England||1954 to 1982|
|10||South Africa v Australia||1902-03 to 1963-64|
|8||Australia v England||1882-83 to 1890|
|8||South Africa v England||1938-39 to 1964-65|
|8||Australia v West Indies||1977-78 to 1992-93|
|All dates inclusive|
|Research: Robert Brooke|
With commendable despatch, an extra Test match was arranged at a week's notice in Port-of-Spain. A second Test pitch was already being prepared there in case the Guyana Test was cancelled because of political trouble. It was not quite ready for what became the Second Test, however, and too many balls kept low in addition to hitting the batsmen. Thereafter, there was no excuse for the combination of inadequate net facilities, poor pitches and incomplete stands that bedevilled the tour. At its end, ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin made an official complaint to ICC. But while the physical structure of these grounds sometimes fell short of satisfactory, the prevailing spirit was harmonious, and England supporters, who sometimes out-numbered the home spectators on this tour, were warmly received. A carnival atmosphere prevailed as loudspeakers played music during every break in play, however brief.
West Indies, though, still had Ambrose, who defied every prediction that he was finished after his tour of Pakistan. He was particularly effecive in Trinidad and Guyana, and against Atherton, whom he dismissed six times in the series. His opening partner Walsh, if not quite so formidable with a new ball, was equally accurate and passionate to win. Secondly, West Indies were re-united, with Lara fully motivated having been granted what he - and the West Indian selectors - had previously thought was his due. (The Board had earlier vetoed his appointment for the Pakistan tour.) Immediately he was appointed captain - and told by Board president Pat Rousseau that the future of West Indian cricket depended on him - Lara talked to Walsh and Ambrose, to persuade them to carry on. A careless captain might have lost both of his strike bowlers, but Lara introuced a warm, communicative style, and brought the best out of his veterans and the team. Lara's capataincy was innovative in bowling changes and field-placings. a little too much so at times, as he sought to establish a different style from his conventional predecessors. His decision to open England's second innings in the first of the Trinidad Tests without either Walsh or Ambrose was a notable error (and briefly gave England a taste of how easy life might have been had they retired) but on the whole his captaincy was imaginative, and it worked.
If it was predictable that West Indies would have the edge in strike bowling, their superiority in spin was not. While Ambrose and Walsh took 52 wickets, the other four fast bowlers took only 12 between them. But Carl Hooper and, in two Tests, the leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine collected 24 at 20 runs each. Hooper shifted to a more attacking line on and outside off stump; Ramnarine offered keenness and a well-controlled leg-break on which to base future variations. He and Nixon McLean were the only two new players that West Indies tried; ten of the 18 players they used were over 30. The former last bowler Michael Holding called for the West Indian selectors' term to be increased from one year to three years so they would have more of an eye to the long term.
For England, slow left-armer Phil Tufnell took one wicket every 30 overs at 62 runs each, and his presence in all six Tests indicated the extent to which England's strategy relied on containment. It was rational enough that Tufnell should have been defensive at the start of the series, when Dean Headley and Andy Caddick often lapsed from line and length, but not when they tightened up. In effect, Tufnell was reduced to a stock bowler, and seemed all too willing to oblige by bowling over the wicket at a right-hander's legs. This tactic was a major factor in the first West Indian victory, in Trinidad, as it compelled England's increasingly tired and under-prepared seamers to take all the wickets from the other end. While the other spinner, Robert Croft, would not have been such a run-saver, he ventured and gained more in his single Test.
The batting of the two sides was much of a muchness: some fine individual innings were played, but neither team had the collective strength to produced consistently high totals on bowlers' pitches. Alec Stewart was the leading run-scorer in the series, and unequivocally the best batsman in the two Trinidad Tests (and in the Jamaica Test, so far as it went). A strong body of opinion believed that Stewart should have kept wicket, especially after Jack Russell had undergone some confidence-sapping experiences in Trinidad. But England migh not have lived with West Indies for so long if he had for West Indies, the opening pair of Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams were as unproductived in the first three proper Tests as Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace were flamboyantly fruitful in the last two. Whereas Campbell stayed in his crease and had a poor season in all cricket, his fellow-Barbadian Wallace struck opening bowlers back over thier heads, and hooked and cut them with old-time West Indian panache. His new partnership with Lambert, recalled at the age of 36, re-energised the West Indian effort as England tired in the last two back-to-back Tests.
Lara's high-tempo batting suggested that his record-breaking innings might be a thing of the past, but as captain he became the West Indians' leading run-scorer again. He was to benefit greatly from the starts which Lambert and Wallace provided, after being exposed to the new ball early on in Trinidad and dismsissed by Angus Fraser on all four occasions. Hooper played the innings of his life to win the first Trinidad Test, without going on from there as a batsman; Shivnarine Chanderpaul was steady as usual, whiel Jimmy Adams lost his Test place after two landmark decisions by Darrell Hair in Guyana, when he was twice given out for padding the ball away with bat tucked behind pad.
England tried John Crawley and Mark Butcher at No. 3 without finding an answer. Butcher's best work was done down the order in guiding England home in Trinidad: he had the talent, although his shot selection was another matter. Once Mark Ramprakash came good in Guyana, England had a strong middle order with what looked like a long-term future. Ramprakash's 154 in Barbados was a masterpiece and suggested he had shed the over-intensity which had once consumed him. The Test vice-captain, Nasser Hussain, was perhaps the unluckiest batsman on either side in the decisions he received, while Graham Thorpe was dismissed five times by spin, one more reason to suggest that his counter-attacking style would have been more suited to the No. 4 position.
One consequence of the poor pitches in the first half of the series, when the ball frequently did not carry on the bounce, was the poor wicket-keeping on both sides. A second was the effectiveness of Fraser. Almost until the end he matched Ambrose wicket for wicket, while admitting with characteristic self-effacement that, when he took eight for 53, the best figures for any England bowler against West Indies, it was actually the worst spell he bowled in the Trinidad Tests. The thick-seamed ball used in the West Indies allowed him just enough movement, while Headley kept improving (aside from his no-balling), and Caddick continued to permutate on-days and off. With Darren Gough's absence, it was essential to England that their three experienced seamers should stay fit for every Test and, thanks in part to the support staff of physiotherapist Wayne Morton and fitness consultant Dean Riddle, they did. Nevertheless, Gough was still missed for his effervescence, particularly when Hooper and David Williams were knocking off the runs in Trinidad, and for his ability to reverse-swing the old ball.
In the one-day series, as in the Tests, the bottom did not fall out of England's effort until towards the end, though when it did it was spectacular. The idea of having different Test and one-day touring parties was well conceived and executed. Seven one-day players were to be flown out, to join Atherton, Adam Hollioake, Stewart, Thorpe, Croft and Headley, who were selected for both parties, while three places were left open. This arrangement gave the remaining players on the Test tour something to hope and play for, until the end of the Barbados Test, when Fraser, Ramprakash and Russell were nominated as the final three. Russell's selection proved to be a mistake when Thorpe had to fly home with back trouble after the Barbados internationals, and the forlorn Atherton was ignored, leaving England with too little specialist batting. Moreover, England's medium-pacers were better suited to the slow pitches of Sharjah than to containing West Indian strokemakers on their own patch. After Ashley Giles had withdrawn with Achilles trouble from the party of seven reinforcements, a second spinner - even the defensive Tufnell- would have been useful. Still, on all their previous tours of the West Indies since 1973-74, England had collapsed long before the end.
M. A. Atherton ( Lancashire) (captain), N. Hussain ( Essex) (vice-captain), M. A. Butcher ( Surrey), A. R. Caddick ( Somerset), A. P. Cowan ( Essex), J. P. Crawley ( Lancashire), R. D. B. Croft ( Glamorgan), A. R. C. Fraser ( Middlesex), D. W. Headley (Kent), A. J. Hollioake ( Surrey), M. R. Ramprakash ( Middlesex), R. C. Russell ( Gloucestershire), C. E. W. Silverwood ( Yorkshire), A. J. Stewart ( Surrey), G. P. Thorpe ( Surrey), P. C. R. Tufnell ( Middlesex).
Silverwood was promoted from the England A tour and when D. Gough ( Yorkshire) withdrew through injury.
After the Test series, Butcher, Caddick, Cowan, Crawley, Hussain, Silverwood and Tufnell flew home. The squad for the one-day series was reinforced by D. R. Brown ( Warwickshire), M. A. Ealham (Kent), M. V. Fleming (Kent), G. A. Hick ( Worcestershire), B. C. Hollioake ( Surrey) and N. V. Knight ( Warwickshire). A. F. Giles ( Warwickshire) had been selected for the one-day series, but was injured. A. J. Hollioake, originally named as one-day vice-captain, assumed the captaincy when Atherton resigned after the Tests.
Tour manager: R. Bennett. Coach: D. Lloyd. Assistant coach: J. E. Emburey. Scorer: M. N. Ashton. Physiotherapist: W. P. Morton. Fitness consultant: D. Riddle.
Test matches- Played 6: Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 2.
First-class matches- Played 10: Won 2, Lost 3, Drawn 5.
Wins- West Indies, Jamaica.
Losses- West Indies (3).
Draws- West Indies (2), West Indies A, Guyana, Barbados.
One-day internationals- Played 5: Won 1, Lost 4.
Other non-first-class matches- Played 2: Won 1, Drawn 1. Win- University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI. Draw- Trinidad & Tobago.
Match reports for
Jamaica v England XI at Montego Bay, Jan 16-18, 1998
West Indies A v England XI at Spanish Town, Jan 22-25, 1998
Guyana v England XI at Georgetown, Feb 21-23, 1998
Barbados v England XI at Bridgetown, Mar 7-9, 1998