Sixth Test Match

West Indies v England

Toss: West Indies.

The fourth day of this Test was Mike Atherton's 30th birthday, but there was scant chance for England's captain to enjoy the occasion. He walked to the crease with his side 373 runs behind on first innings, and facing the task of having to construct the sort of match-saving innings with which he had rescued England in the past. It was too much to ask of a man in desperate form. Shortly after lunch, Ambrose presented him with a familiar gift, a whistling off-cutter that trapped him leg-before. Ambrose had dismissed him six times in the series, three of them lbw. It was the last significant moment of the Atherton era. The following evening, he resigned the captaincy after four and a half years and a record 52 Tests, England having tumbled to an innings defeat to lose the series 3-1. Poignantly, as Atherton deadpanned his resignation statement in the Recreation Ground pavilion, Brian Lara was receiving the Wisden Trophy and celebrating a triumphant start to his own tenure as captain.

England retained the eleven denied a tilt at victory in Barbados by rain, already knowing the best they could achieve was a share of the series. West Indies made three changes, drafting in leg-spinner Ramnarine and quick bowler Rose for McLean and Bishop, whose poor form finally forced a reluctant Lara to let him go. Williams's shabby series behind the stumps was ended by the recall of Murray.

With 5,000 English supporters at the ground, many of them in the new Richie Richardson Stand, Lara inserted England on a drying pitch relaid just two months previously. Only five balls from Walsh were possible before the first shower of a truncated opening day intervened, but the sight of one of them breaking the surface to strike Atherton was enough to start spectators muttering darkly - and incorrectly - of the similarities between this track and the minefield at Sabina Park. Just ten more overs were possible before lunch. Thanks in part to hopelessly inefficient covers, and a ground staff hampered by a broken whale, the players did not emerge again until 4.45 p.m. This third session lasted seven balls. But they came out one last time, and minutes later Atherton and Butcher were back in the pavilion, dismissed in the space of four Ambrose deliveries. England were 35 for two overnight and the die was cast. As one player commented that evening, We're stuffed now.

Beating demob-happy opponents too late in a series had become something of a habit for Atherton's England. But this time they had no resilience. Suspicious of the surface and distracted by the showers, England were dismissed for a paltry 127. The only notable resistance came from Stewart, who laboured 36 overs over his 22, and top scorer Hussain, who fell for 37 to a gravity-defying diving catch at backward square by Holder; the bowler, Ramnarine, finished with four for 29 in his second Test as the final five wickets fell for 22.

If 127 seemed inadequate when West Indies' pinch-hitting pair Wallace and Lambert strode to the wicket, it looked pitiful by the close, after they had all but extinguished it in a violent, hugely entertaining unbroken stand of 126. Caddick went for 20 off the first two overs of his spell and not even Fraser could staunch the flow. Atherton put down Lambert in the gully in the second over, and several run-out chances were fumbled to complete England's worst day of the series.

The carnage continued on Sunday, as England toiled under unbroken blue skies, and West Indies gorged themselves on a pitch now playing very well indeed. The day saw a wonderful contrast of styles as everyone bar Chanderpaul made quick runs against an England attack utterly without penetration. Wallace reached 92, and Lambert his maiden Test century, having been dropped four times. Then Lara, followed by Hooper, launched an exhibition of strokeplay that even the most partisan England supporters had to applaud. Last time he faced England in Antigua, Lara made a world-record 375. Four years on, he looked certain to add at least 100 more until Stewart, diving goalkeeper-style at mid-wicket, took a catch every bit as good as Holder's. Lara had made 89, ending the series without a hundred. The languid Hooper picked up where his captain had left off, milking both seam and spin as he pleased, and became the second centurion of the match after his fellow Guyanese Lambert. It was Hooper's ninth Test hundred. Lara declared on 500 for seven, leaving England to negotiate five and a half sessions to achieve a face-saving draw.

Thanks to a stand of 168 between Thorpe and Hussain, they nearly did it. Resuming on the final day on 173 for three, after the morning was lost to rain, they benefited from Ambrose's most wayward bowling of the series. Denied an early breakthrough, Lara turned to Ramnarine and Hooper and, with five men around the bat, waited for a mistake. It finally came at 4.01 p.m., with two hours and 33 overs remaining. Thorpe pushed Ramnarine towards mid-wicket, and Hussain hesitated over the single and was run out for a defiant 106, his sixth Test century. His patience rewarded, Lara called up Walsh to deliver the coup de grâce - four of the remaining six wickets - amid heady scenes of local celebration. Once again, the weather was cruel to England: dark clouds, any one of which could have ended play, threatened at intervals through the afternoon, but this time rain never fell.

It was fitting that Walsh, who had lost the captaincy to Lara in January, should have the final say. He had risen above the disappointment to bowl with total commitment throughout the series, the embodiment of the Caribbean's renewed cricketing unity. England were left to ponder whether their own succession would prove as fruitful.

Man of the Match: D. Ramnarine.

Close of play: First day, England 35-2 (A. J. Stewart 18*, D. W. Headley 0*); Second day, West Indies 126-0 (C. B. Lambert 46*, P. A. Wallace 67*); Third day, West Indies 451-5 (C. L. Hooper 85*); Fourth day, England 173-3 (N. Hussain 54*, G. P. Thorpe 18*).

© John Wisden & Co