Toss: West Indies. Test debut: M. E. Trescothick.
A sporadically exhilarating match ended the time-honoured Mancunian way when the last day vanished into the drizzle, leaving behind the memory of two sensational centuries and a contest of exceptional fluctuations. On the second day, Stewart led England to the commanding heights. But this produced the one thing his team most dreaded: it awoke Lara, the sleeping dragon. And by the time the match dribbled away, it was West Indies who were striving for victory.
Lara's hundred was not his greatest, though it made England fearful of what might lie ahead. Stewart's innings was simply sprinkled with stardust. Like Atherton, he was playing his 100th Test match. But while Atherton had an indifferent game, Stewart unleashed a parade of dazzling and nonchalant-looking strokes: the sort of batting that used to be regarded as specifically West Indian.
England's batsmen provided few reminders of the team who had not managed a fifty between them in the two previous Tests. Indeed, three of the Lord's top six were changed. When the 13-man squad was announced (unusually, ten days in advance), Ramprakash and Knight had already been swept away. Then Hick was sent home, allowing the return of Hussain and Thorpe and a first cap for Marcus Trescothick of Somerset, who had won golden opinions in the one-day series. The Lord's debutant, Hoggard, was omitted from the final eleven, leaving room for off-spinner Croft. West Indies brought in Sarwan for the injured Chanderpaul.
Adams unexpectedly chose to bat in overcast conditions and quickly lost the initiative, despite a truncated first day. Thorpe began his return with a marvellous low slip catch to dismiss Campbell, and later caught Lara for an out-of-sorts 13. Poor Hinds appeared to get an unfortunate decision (from umpire Cowie) for the third successive Test innings. But there was little ill luck about most of the dismissals, and next day West Indies were whipped out for 157. Cork took four for 23, but the bonus for England was the bowling of the fourth seamer, White, who surprised the batsmen (and most spectators) with 90mph pace and aggression from an unpretentious run-up.
England's start was extraordinary. Atherton was caught at third slip for one, and the out-of-form Hussain at gully for ten, a score mainly built on a hook caught on the boundary by Walsh, who then saw to his horror that he had stepped back on to the rope: six rather than out. Walsh made amends himself, and then immediately produced a perfect slower ball for Thorpe, who lost sight of it and ducked instinctively. Next thing he knew, he was plumb lbw - 17 for three.
This, however, was the day Britain was celebrating the Queen Mother's 100th birthday. In came a revered cricketing survivor, Stewart, to reach his own regal century and so emulate Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad and Gordon Greenidge by scoring a hundred in his 100th Test. Continuing his top form of the one-day series, he struck the ball square of the wickets with monumental assurance; anything off line (and there was plenty from King and Rose) was clattered away with utter assurance. The innings of a man without a smidgin of doubt about his cricket or his life, it lasted three hours, spanned 153 balls, included 13 fours - and took the breath away.
Stewart was helped by the stiff wind blowing from the Stretford End. Neither Walsh nor Ambrose seemed anxious to bowl into it, and thus hardly bowled in tandem on the second afternoon. With West Indies' support bowling so weak, this took the pressure off. But his main help came from Trescothick, who confirmed the impression that he was a player with enough robustness in both his technique and his temperament to become England's regular opener.
However, next day (the only sunny one of the five), England fell away. Stewart was out second ball; Trescothick added only one to his overnight 65, and England had tosettle for a lead of 146, still handy, but well short of their hopes. By the time the West Indian openers had put on 96, those hopes were starting to become fears. With the pitch now taking slow turn, here at last was an opportunity for Croft. He had some bad luck and showed some imagination, but the more he bowled, the less likely he looked to dismiss competent batsmen.
And West Indies were now looking competent again - even before Lara, who used the second innings of the Old Trafford Test, just as he had in 1995, to make his intentions belatedly clear. His strokeplay was not as clear-cut as it once was, but it still made the fielders quail. Meanwhile, his determination was stronger than ever: he spent Sunday lunchtime (when he was 49 not out) having a net. He was finally run out - his damaged hamstring inhibiting a quick turn - for 112. His runs came at a similar pace to Stewart's; in all, he faced 158 balls, striking 13 fours and a six, and batted three and a quarter hours. On the final morning, England's last hopes of bowling out West Indies and getting a chaseable target disappeared. Adams was able to declare and set England a theoretical 293 in 71 overs before everything disappeared into the damp. The England players were relieved; the fifth-day crowd felt cheated.
This Monday turnout was surprisingly large. On Friday and Saturday, the ground was almost full, but on Thursday and Sunday more than half-empty, all of which left officials a little baffled. Five of the Saturday crowd (and another on Friday) chose an early exit by running on to the field in varying degrees of nakedness. This led to calls for stronger punishments. The streakers faced only expulsion from the ground, and maybe some regrets when they sobered up.