Fourth Test Match

England v West Indies

Fazeer Mohammed

At The Oval, August 19, 20, 21. England won by ten wickets. Toss: England. Test debut: I. R. Bell.

Four years after reclaiming the Wisden Trophy on the same ground, England administered a three-day whipping of West Indies that sealed a clean sweep of the series and emphasised the staggeringly swift decline of the Caribbean side from supremely professional invincibles to a temperamental, undisciplined rabble.

If the few hundred West Indian fans at The Oval took solace from avoiding defeat by an innings - just - they were clutching at straws, an act that had become Lara's preoccupation in his second term as captain. Yet there seemed little chance of any heroics saving West Indies. Vaughan's men were in no mood to let slip the opportunity to claim their own piece of history: a perfect record through the seven-Test summer. Seven consecutive wins equalled England's best-ever runs, from March 1885 to February 1888 and June 1928 to February 1929. It also extended their overall run to ten wins in 11 Tests, and consolidated a rise to second in the official rankings behind you-know-who. Everything about this brief duel emphasised the gap in professional ethos between the teams. England's all-round strength, and strength in depth, allowed them to surge ahead on the few occasions when West Indies threatened parity; the tourists could offer only sparks of individual brilliance, which magnified the already glaring shortcomings in captaincy and team management.

Making the most of the first pitch of the series that offered reasonable bounce, Harmison took nine wickets. That included a devastating first-innings six for 46 which forced West Indies to follow on, 318 behind, late on the second day. Harmison had already played his part with the bat, helping England to reach 470 by smashing three sixes in a riotous career-best 36 not out.

Feeding off the confidence in the England camp, the 22-year-old Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell marked his Test debut (standing in for the injured Thorpe) with 70 runs, withstanding an early assault from Edwards. He added 146 with Vaughan, after England were listing at 64 for three early on the first afternoon. Lawson (who had replaced Collins), Edwards and the increasingly impressive Bravo had picked up one each. But with Collymore, whose ten overs in the morning cost just ten runs, not used in the second session, newcomer and captain were able to navigate to relatively calm waters before Lawson returned to end Bell's quest for a hundred, via a catch to the keeper.

Vaughan's confident 66 was terminated by a catch from Lara at first slip off Bravo, but Flintoff passed fifty for the eighth time in eight Tests and joined in another productive partnership with Jones. The ground was close to capacity before the start of the second day, with thousands looking forward to more spectacular strokeplay from the talismanic Flintoff. They were disappointed; in the first four overs, Jones edged to third slip to give Collymore a deserved wicket, and Flintoff 's miscued pull off Edwards was caught by Lawson, tumbling as he ran back at mid-on.

With the danger man gone for 72 and England 321 for seven, West Indies proceeded to ignore the lessons of that early period of disciplined cricket. They put down three chances - all off Lawson - and reverted to the depressingly familiar role of a ragtag bunch masquerading as Test cricketers. Giles blazed his way to 52 while Hoggard produced another wholehearted effort to reach his best Test score, and Harmison rubbed salt in the wounds, adding 60 for the last wicket with Anderson. The innings finished as only the tenth in Test history in which all 11 batsmen got into double figures.

Teamwork like that could only be dreamed of by Lara. His cavalier 79, while all fell around him, betrayed his desperation more than it affirmed his faith. Crashing 14 fours in 93 balls, Lara gave glimpses of his masterful best, but such was his internal turmoil that he seemed unaware there was still one batsman to come when he was eighth out, to a top-edged hook off Harmison. His confusion probably owed something to the absence of Dwayne Smith, recalled to strengthen the batting but visiting a nearby hospital with a side injury. The capitulation Lara had witnessed at the other end was bewildering enough anyway. The entire innings lasted less than 37 overs.

All eight wickets that fell to bowlers went via catches behind square, the best being Key's to snare Chanderpaul's hook off Hoggard. A farcical run-out ended the innings, and Vaughan enforced the follow-on in the hope of completing the demolition quickly on the third day. Victory and the whitewash were indeed celebrated on a sunny Saturday, but not without some hard work. Having hammered all six deliveries of Hoggard's second over for fours - a unique occurrence in Tests - Gayle sped past fifty for the fourth time in the series before Joseph became Harmison's 100th Test victim and Sarwan the 101st, slashing to gully where Bell held a brilliant diving catch.

Any chance of West Indies at least gaining a measure of respect hinged on Gayle and Lara on the third morning. But Lara's demise for 15, caught by Trescothick at first slip off Anderson, signalled the beginning of the end. His prolonged acknowledgment of the crowd's ovation indicated that he believed this was his last Test in England, although his future as captain was also very much in doubt. This was his 23rd defeat in 40 Tests in charge, beating Allan Border's record of 22 losses; but Border led in 93 matches.

Gayle collected his sixth Test century, consecutive boundaries off Flintoff taking him to three figures from just 80 balls with 17 fours and a stunning six off Anderson over long-on. After one more four, however, the Lancashire pair had the last laugh: Anderson found the edge of Gayle's bat for Flintoff to take a sharp but nonchalant-looking catch at second slip. That meant West Indies were 155 for four, still 163 behind, and a swift end was expected. But Bravo survived a fearful blow on the helmet from Harmison to compile a half-century, while Chanderpaul was as resolute as ever.

Both were victims of dubious decisions that further dampened the mood of West Indian loyalists. They found their voices, briefly, when a four by Lawson meant England had to bat again. In the next over, Anderson yorked Edwards to finish with four wickets; Trescothick formalised another emphatic victory, only the fourth three-day finish at The Oval in 54 Tests since five-day cricket became the norm in 1950. The celebrations got going in earnest, while West Indies were left to pick up the pieces from another catastrophic campaign.

Man of the Match: S. J. Harmison.

© John Wisden & Co