This match, hastily rearranged after the débâcle of Kingston, did much to restore the tarnished reputation of cricket as the kernel of Caribbean sport. It was a taut, keenly contested game, which fluctuated tantalisingly throughout.
For most of the third and fourth days, England seemed to be on course for victory, but, 20 minutes after lunch on the final day, Hooper stroked the runs that completed a West Indian win by three wickets. Lara, in his first proper Test as the official captain of West Indies, was relieved and triumphant; the England team were desolate. Nothing is so galling in sport as losing a match you should have won. The anguish felt by the senior members of the England party was hauntingly familiar. Fraser and Stewart, who both made outstanding contributions, played, as did Russell, at Port-of-Spain in 1990. The rain from nowhere allowed West Indies to escape with a draw. The same three were also there on the fourth day in 1994, when England, apparently in control, spurned chances in the field before Ambrose ran amok. This defeat was just as numbing.
It was a game in which the battle-hardened pros, rather than the young whipper-snappers, prevailed. The pitch was untrustworthy (except by Sabina Park standards), producing uneven bounce and substantial lateral movement on the first three days; on such a surface, resolution, know-how and patience were the key virtues. For England, Fraser, who took a career-best eight for 53 in the first innings and 11 for 110 in the match, and Stewart, with two battling half-centuries, showed these qualities in abundance. For West Indies, Ambrose, the tiny wicket-keeper David Williams, and Hooper, whose flawless six-hour innings of 94 not out earned the match award, were the architects of victory.
The toss was again an irrelevance. Atherton batted, Lara would have bowled. Initially, the West Indian pace bowlers were off target and Stewart struck the ball with freedom on the leg side. But, taking their lead from the misery Ambrose, West Indies restricted England to 175 for eight on the first day. Thorpe's dismissal, edging the first ball of off-spin he received from Hooper, was the softest; Hollioake's the most controversial. He was run out after a mix-up with Hussain. Admittedly, he was yards out of his ground when a bail was removed, but a subsequent replay confirmed Hollioake's polite assertion to umpire Venkat that the keeper had flicked off a bail before taking Chanderpaul's throw from cover. The third umpire, Clyde Cumberbatch, was consulted, but the only replay he viewed gave him what the referee, Barry Jarman, described as an unplayable lie. Cumberbatch gave Hollioake out anyway.
The second day belonged to Fraser, in his first appearance on the field as an England player for two years. In the morning, he batted stoically for an hour and a half alongside Hussain, who battled five hours for his 61 not out. Then Fraser took five of the seven wickets to fall, including that of Lara, who skied to mid-off for 55. Fraser's method was beautifully simple. Unlike his less experienced partners, he banged the ball down on a length at off stump time and time again. On this pitch, that was enough. The following morning, Fraser's persistence was spectacularly rewarded as he accounted for the last three wickets in 15 balls to give his side an unexpected lead of 23. His figures were the best ever for England against West Indies- beating his own eight for 75, four years earlier.
|8-53||A. R. C. Fraser, Port-of-Spain||1997-98|
|8-75||A. R. C. Fraser, Bridgetown||1993-94|
|8-86||A. W. Greig, Port-of-Spain||1973-74|
|8-103||I. T. Botham, Lord's||1984|
|7-34||T. E. Bailey, Kingston||1953-54|
|7-43||D. G. Cork, Lord's||1995|
|7-44||T. E. Bailey, Lord's||1957|
|7-44||F. S. Trueman, Birmingham||1963|
|7-49||J. A. Snow, Kingston||1967-68|
|7-50||W. E. Hollies, Georgetown||1934-35|
|7-56||James Langridge, Manchester||1933|
|7-70||W. Voce, Port-of-Spain||1929-30|
|7-103||J. C. Laker, Bridgetown||1947-48|
Now Lara made an eccentric decision, much appreciated by England's openers. Instead of giving the new ball to Ambrose and Walsh, he tossed it to Benjamin and McLean. England raced to 50 without loss in 13 overs. Again, Stewart was in princely form; he scored 73 before edging to Hooper at first slip via David Williams's forehead. With sturdy contributions from the rest of the batsmen, England held a mighty lead of 242 at the close, with six wickets remaining. The next day, Ambrose intervened, bowling a devastating spell of five for 16 from 7.5 overs as England added just 39. Shades of 1994 - yet West Indies still required the highest total of the match, 282, to win.
Despite a brave 62 by Stuart Williams, Fraser had reduced them to 124 for five when David Williams united with Hooper. For 23 overs on Sunday afternoon and another 25 on Monday morning, they defied the English attack in a partnership of 129. Williams was quick to pull and given ample opportunities by Caddick and Headley. Hooper batted with elegant serenity. Occasionally, he glided down the pitch to drive Tufnell's left-arm spin, but most of the time he kicked the ball away as Tufnell, bowling over the wicket, employed a negative line outside leg stump. Hooper countered the pace bowlers with expert late adjustments, and punished them unerringly whenever they strayed.
England had their chances. Against the first ball of the final day, Williams checked a drive - but Fraser, in his one false move of the game, could not hold the return catch. Off the second new ball, Williams was dropped again, by Russell down the leg-side. Eventually, Headley dismissed him for 65, his highest and most precious Test innings; in Headley's next over, Ambrose was caught behind. But there were no more dramas, just one moment of black comedy: to underline England's plight, a shooter from Fraser passed through Russell's gloves and hit the helmet behind him, thereby conceding five byes.
Russell's return to the England team had been harrowing. He kept poorly, even allowing for a pitch that was tricky for keepers as well as batsmen, and scored few runs. But more worrying for the management was the bowling of Fraser's partners. Even though Headley took four wickets in the game, he was far too inaccurate; so was Caddick, who remained wicketless on a surface well suited to his style of bowling. Moreover, England had only three days to regroup before playing another Test on the same dreaded ground. - VIC MARKS.
Man of the Match: C. L. Hooper.
Close of play: First day, England 175-8 (N. Hussain 44*, A. R. C. Fraser 2*); Second day, West Indies 177-7 (C. E. L. Ambrose 20*, K. C. G. Benjamin 0*); Third day, England 219-4 (G. P. Thorpe 32*, A. J. Hollioake 9*); Fourth day, West Indies 181-5 (C. L. Hooper 40*, D. Williams 36*).