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Toss: West Indies.
England had needed to summon all their resilience to fight back and square the series in Trinidad. Now, after the rout in Guyana, they were under pressure to do it again. The team responded superbly to the crisis, producing what Atherton said was their best all-round performance under his leadership. But, despite declaring on the fourth evening with a lead of 374, they could not engineer a win. An unseasonal, unrelenting downpour on the fifth morning wasted England's advantage, and ensured that the Wisden Trophy would remain with West Indies for the 13th consecutive series. It was hard on the players, who had given their all, and almost as hard on the estimated 8,000 English supporters who had colonised the island.
There was compensation, though, in the form of an emotional and redemptive maiden Test century from Mark Ramprakash. Coming after 37 innings in his 21 previous Tests had produced only three fifties, his virtuoso 154 proved once and for all that he is capable of reproducing his dominant county form for England. It also transformed him from a fringe player into an outside bet as Atherton's successor.
West Indies dropped four of the men who featured in their convincing victory at Georgetown. Opening batsmen Campbell and Williams were replaced by the 36-year-old Guyanese Lambert and Barbadian captain Wallace. Holder came in for Adams and leg-spinner Ramnarine was replaced by McLean. England brought back Caddick and surprisingly preferred Tufnell to Croft, whose batting might have shortened their over-long tail.
Lara put England in, hoping to take advantage of early life in an otherwise impeccable pitch, and his decision was justified as the top four succumbed for just 53. Before lunch, Ramprakash, on two, survived a caught-and-bowled chance to Ambrose's left hand, and a back spasm left Thorpe lying in a heap.
But a recovery was just around the corner, and it began in a most unlikely way. After the interval, Thorpe chose to be worked over by the physio rather than the quick bowlers, so the out-of-form Russell came to the crease. Fuelled by his rivalry with Gloucestershire team-mate Walsh, he split the field with a series of sweetly timed strokes that gave the innings some much-needed impetus. Thorpe was well enough to return when Russell fell to a bat-pad catch off Hooper before tea, and he found conditions much improved: the pitch was less frolicsome, and the bowlers had been drained by the heat of the afternoon. So began a watchful stand of 205 between Thorpe and Ramprakash that saw both men complete their first centuries against West Indies. They had been batting together (second time round) for 339 minutes when Thorpe finally edged a catch to slip off the preserving Hooper. Then Headley helped England past the 400 mark for the first time since the Ashes opener at Edgbaston, ten Tests previously. Interviewed at the end of the day, Ramprakash said he was very relieved and very, very happy to have reached three figures at last.
But England were not safe yet. Lambert and Wallace had sped off a fearsome pace that evening, racking up 82 runs in barely an hour and a half of flamboyant strokeplay. Wallace was particularly severe on Headley, repeatedly hitting him back over his head, and it might have been sympathy that moved umpire Mitchley to grant a speculative lbw shout just before the close. Still, on 84 for one overnight, West Indies were favourites to take a first-innings lead.
That they ended up with a sizable deficit was testimony to a highly disciplined performance from England's bowlers, who hardly bowled a single four-ball on the third day. West Indies' morale remained heavily dependent on Lara and, after he had driven Headley's away-swinger in the air to cover, nobody else would take responsibility for rescuing the innings. The scoring-rate stagnated so much that only 180 runs were made in the day. Those who tried to lift it - namely Holder and Williams - perished in the attempt.
England were 141 ahead when they began their second innings, late on Saturday evening. Atherton and Stewart endured a fearsome couple of overs before the close, but next morning they recorded their fourth century opening partnership against West Indies. Atherton's 64 was also his first Test fifty in his last 17 attempts. Butcher came close to draining the innings of its momentum with an anxious 26 off 69 balls, but he only emphasised the freedom with which Hussain and Thorpe, in particular, tore into the bowling. Ambrose suffered the rare indignity of conceding 16 runs in one over, which included three pulled fours by Thorpe.
A declaration after tea left West Indies needing 375, more than they had ever made in the fourth innings to win a Test, but the English batsmen had just shown that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Lambert and Wallace were equally adventurous as they provided a reprise of their dramatic first-innings stand. Wallace, driving merrily on the up, was rapidly becoming Headley's personal bugbear, so it was almost inevitable that his skied sweep off Tufnell should fly to Headley at long leg, and that Headley should drop it. West Indies finished the fourth day on 71 without loss, enough to convince the home supporters that they could win the game. England were disappointed, but they knew that their prospects might be improved if West Indies had an outside chance of victory. With any result still possible and a day to go, the game was perfectly poised.
That was the moment when the island's five-month drought, following the age-old precepts of Sod's Law, chose to let up. The rain began in the small hours of Monday morning, and by dawn the roads round Bridgetown had become more like rivers. It did not stop until lunchtime. The parched ground absorbed the moisture fast enough for play to begin at 1 p.m., despite the Barbados Cricket Association's embarrassing inability to locate their motorised whale, but after 18.3 overs another cloud blew over the Kensington Oval and snuffed out England's dying hopes for good. The abandonment of the match was finally announced at ten to four; England's tour would never fully recover from this crushing disappointment. - SIMON BRIGGS.
Man of the Match: M. R. Ramprakash.
Close of play: First day, England 229-5 (G. P. Thorpe 50*, M. R. Ramprakash 80*); Second day, West Indies 84-1 (C. B. Lambert 32*, I. R. Bishop 2*); Third day, England 2-0 (M. A. Atherton 2*, A. J. Stewart 0*); Fourth day, West Indies 71-0 (C. B. Lambert 28*, P. A. Wallace 38*).