First Test Match

West Indies v England

Rob Smyth

At Kingston, March 11, 12, 13, 14, 2004. England won by ten wickets. Toss: West Indies.

The denouement came like a bolt from the clear blue Kingston skies. For three days this was a gritty arm-wrestle of a match; then, on the fourth morning, West Indies collapsed for 47, their lowest total ever. Steve Harmison, bowling with cold-eyed purpose, finally came of age, taking the cheapest seven-wicket haul in Test history in a performance described by his captain Vaughan as "one of the greatest spells by an England bowler."

This was an exaggeration: only one batsman, Jacobs, got a real snorter. And Harmison himself felt he was to bowl better in Port-of-Spain five days later. No one played any truly appalling shots either, but the chips fell exactly where England wanted. The exception was the last-wicket partnership that inched West Indies past the symbolic mark of 46 - England's total when they were terrorised by Curtly Ambrose in Trinidad ten years earlier. Harmison's success, though spectacular, was a reward for getting the fundamentals right rather than sudden inspiration. After getting carried away and underpitching in the first innings, he simply increased his length, cut his pace a fraction, and concentrated on the basics. It worked, probably beyond his wildest dreams. Only two bowlers in Test history have taken more wickets in an innings more cheaply: George Lohmann and Johnny Briggs, with eight for seven and eight for 11, both for England in South Africa in the 19th century. The previous best seven-fors cost 17, a record shared by Briggs, Monty Noble and Wilfred Rhodes. The most recent of these feats came in 1902.

England made three changes from the side pulverised in their last Test in Sri Lanka. Simon Jones, after 16 tortuous months, and Harmison returned from injury to play a Test together for the first time, while Hoggard's greater sobriety earned him the final place ahead of Anderson. With the possible qualification that Caddick was missing, this was the first time England had been able to select their best eleven since the successful tour of the subcontinent in 2000-01. West Indies' team selection centred around the Smiths: Devon returned in place of Ganga, while Dwayne dislocated a finger in the nets and was replaced by Ryan Hinds. Dillon and Drakes, their underachievement tolerated no longer, made way for another underachiever, Sanford, and the in-your-face Best.

The first day, as is customary for a series between these sides in the Caribbean, had a pack of virile young fast bowlers pummelling a bouncy castle of a pitch. But even this went against expectations: the bowlers were white and the pitch, by common consent, was the fastest and bounciest seen in the Caribbean for some time. When an emotional Jones snared Lara with his 13th ball back in Test cricket, England were on top. But Devon Smith and Hinds, a study in contrasts, took on the bullies in a fifth-wicket partnership of 122 in 25 overs. Smith, short and spiky, scythed at anything full and wide in the course of a mature maiden Test century; Hinds, tall, domineering and oozing machismo, simply planted his front foot and gave it some humpty. Giles eventually accounted for both - his only wickets of the series - and West Indies' final total of 311 felt like par.

Then England were introduced to the sheer, paint-stripping pace of Edwards: the openers were swept aside, and Butcher and Hussain could both have been out first ball. Butcher was then dropped on four by Sarwan at short leg, but slowly, surely, he and Hussain used their experience to weather a furious storm in a compelling passage of play. Life became easier after the Kookaburra ball lost its zing, and this odd couple became the most productive non-opening partnership in England's history, overtaking Graham Gooch and David Gower's 2,271 during a stand of 119. Butcher eventually fell in a manic mini-session after tea - three overs squeezed out between lengthy rainbreaks - but a more decisive blow came two balls earlier: he was dropped at first slip by Lara, who dislocated his finger in the process.

Lara was off the field on the third morning, when his deputy Sarwan allowed the game to drift. Despite that, run-scoring was never easy on another day severely interrupted by rain - except for Flintoff, who breezed emphatically to 46 off 50 balls until he was exasperatingly suckered by the leg-spin of Sarwan, inventively introduced by Lara on his return. With Edwards off the field nursing a side injury, Best bounded hyperactively into the role of attack leader, but useful contributions from the tail meant a lead of 28. Wayward bowling aided the cause: England's total was the highest in Test history in which Extras top-scored.

On the Sunday, that insignificant lead soon became mountainous. By the time West Indies restored parity, they had lost five wickets in seven overs and the game was up. Thorpe in the slips held a hot one from Gayle, a borderline lbw gave Sarwan a pair, Chanderpaul nutmegged himself, an uncomfortable Lara lasted only five balls and Hoggard clutched a scorching return catch from Smith that threatened to rearrange his face. By contrast, West Indies could not save their collective face: the second wave of five went down for six runs, and England danced giddily to victory inside three overs. Soon after the game had finished, though, some of the West Indies players were the ones dancing giddily in the stands, partying with their supporters as though ten-wicket defeats by England were all in a day's work.

Towards the end of the match, with eight in the cordon and Hussain at short leg, there was not one fielder in front of the bat. It felt quite absurd but, after totals of 54 and 61 in England in 2000 and now this, bowling out West Indies in double figures was in danger of becoming passé.

© John Wisden & Co