At Birmingham, June 15, 16, 17. West Indies won by an innings and 93 runs. Toss: West Indies.
West Indies, having failed to win a Test outside the Caribbean since February 1997 - since when they had suffered ten consecutive overseas defeats - won this opening match by an innings inside three days, just as they had on their previous visit here in 1995. It was the 1,500th Test to be played.
The major factors in England's defeat were the undiminished powers of Walsh and Ambrose, despite a combined age of 74, and the virtue - rarely associated with West Indian batsmen, for all their brilliance - of discipline. Conditions throughout the three days did not favour batting, with the ball moving both off the seam and through the air, but the difference between the two attacks was glaring. While Walsh and Ambrose regularly honed in on a spot the size of a dinner-plate, England's spread was more of tablecloth dimensions, and the disparity in pressure on the respective batting line-ups was vast.
Put in under overcast skies, England were as much to blame for their disappointing first-innings total as Walsh's five for 36, his best return against them. It was the 20th time he had taken five or more in a Test innings, and included his 450th Test wicket, a landmark no other bowler had reached. England's batting problems were typified by their captain, Hussain, who began the match with 95 first-class runs to his name. The days of a thousand runs before the end of May belonged to a different century and more friendly weather patterns. Hussain, despite spending more than two and a half hours at the crease, emerged from this game with only 23 more.
Five years earlier, Ambrose's first ball in the Edgbaston Test had reared from just short of a length and shot over Atherton's head to the boundary. Batsmen's lives were not in such peril this time, though Atherton could manage no more than three runs from Ambrose's first seven overs, confirming he had lost none of his legendary accuracy. All great fast bowlers have a mean streak, but Walsh and Ambrose are mean in the skinflint sense as well; when Atherton looked up at the scoreboard after a battling, grafting first hour, he had just those three to his name. The most misleading statistic from the whole game, given how well he bowled, was Ambrose taking only one wicket.
That came when he induced Stewart to defend down the wrong line, the ball ricocheting off an inside edge on to leg stump, leaving England a troubled 57 for four. Knight then scrabbled uncomfortably for 26, the highest point of a sombre card. When he and Flintoff both fell at 112, there remained only the tail, but it wagged unaccustomedly to realise 67.
England were probably grateful to pick up Lara's wicket for only 50, but Gough's wonderful battle with him was the only uplifting part of their bowling. Two rather more prosaic left-handers provided the cement for the visitors' imposing total. Despite the widespread belief that all West Indian batsmen are brought up playing on beaches, joyously launching tennis balls into the surf, Adams and Chanderpaul give the impression they learned their craft inside a telephone box. Their self-restraint in waiting for the right delivery was an object lesson to some of the home batsmen. They came together at 136 for four, when England briefly saw a way back into the match. Adams's range of strokes did not stretch much further than from A to B, but he reaffirmed his reputation as a doughty opponent who gives nothing away, as did Chanderpaul, who on the second afternoon was especially harsh on Caddick. The off-spin of Croft, specifically identified by the selectors as likely to trouble a predominantly left-handed batting line-up, proved hopelessly inadequate. He did pick up two wickets, though both came in what had been misdiagnosed as a sickly West Indian lower order. Adams eked 105 from the last three partnerships before he was caught two runs short of his century, leaving Walsh not out for the 56th time in Tests, which beat Bob Willis's record. It made certain that England would not recover. Their first-innings 179 was around 80 runs below par for the conditions, and West Indies' lead of 218 was psychologically crushing.
The experiment of Ramprakash opening failed again - he continued to look too anxious and diffident at Test level - while Hick had a reminder of his unhappy debut series against West Indies in 1991, bagging his first pair in first-class cricket. He was unlucky to be given out caught behind in his second innings, when he seemed to have withdrawn his bat, and both he and Ramprakash ended the game with their places under threat from Vaughan, making his county comeback after breaking a finger. Knight resisted for three hours to top-score again and, for the second time in the game, England's final three wickets contributed more than their first four.