Third Test Match

West Indies v England

Matthew Engel

At Bridgetown, April 1, 2, 3, 2004. England won by eight wickets. Toss: England.

England stormed West Indies' once-impregnable fortress of Kensington Oval, just as they did almost precisely ten years earlier. On that occasion an overmatched team staged an improbable one-off smash-and-grab raid. But now the walls of the citadel have been demolished and pigeons haunt the empty halls. Against a well-marshalled invading force like Michael Vaughan's England there was no defence. For much of this brief but compelling Test match, the two teams looked evenly matched. But England had the inner strength to come through their crises. Their bowling was effective, disciplined and - at moments - touched by magic. The West Indian batting, by contrast, was prone to regular outbreaks of wretchedness.

This was a total reversal of the old world order, and West Indies capitulated inside three days. England not merely clinched the series but made sure of their most successful Caribbean tour ever, with the whitewash still a possibility. As the moon rose over Kensington Oval on Saturday night, English supporters stood for hours yelling their support for each of the players in turn, even the reserves. That was an outcrop of one of England's subsidiary advantages: it felt like a home Test. The West Indies board's differential pricing system failed to prevent the ground being entirely dominated by English holidaymakers. Most of them were too enervated by the heat and tension to do more than applaud politely at regular intervals. A minority maintained a cacophony of weird patriotic chants throughout.

Yet the game did not start well for England. Vaughan surprisingly opted to bowl first on a pitch with some bounce that most observers thought would play easily most of the game. They put down three slip catches on the opening day and, although Flintoff did get Lara (who this time accepted his responsibilities and came out at No. 3) caught in the gully for 36, Sarwan and Chanderpaul put together a fourth-wicket stand that took West Indies past tea in some comfort.

However, their batting line-up had become so fragile that it was now prone to crumple at the slightest touch. Once Harmison found his length in the evening session and had Sarwan caught at second slip, it was Flintoff 's turn to collect the pickings - his first five in a Test innings, as the last seven wickets fell for 57. If England fancied this set them up for a big lead, they were soon disillusioned. The return of Edwards to lead the West Indies attack gave their bowling an old-fashioned feel: a four-man pace attack, all Barbadian, with three of the four coming from the same small village, Boscobel, and two of them, Edwards and Collins, being half-brothers. And on a pitch that refused to calm down as expected, Edwards's skiddy 90mph pace took out the England top three with only 33 on the board. Steadily, the rest of their batting succumbed too. With one remarkable exception.

Thorpe, so often the linchpin of the England middle order, produced an innings of outstanding determination and quality. He held firm in defence and, when the bowlers dropped short, unleashed a series of high-class shots square of the wicket, receiving just enough help from the tail to reach his own century moments after the new ball was taken at 189 for nine. The last man Harmison stayed with him to add 39, which inched England into a psychologically vital two-run lead. Thorpe also had help from a most unexpected quarter: the opposing captain. For 11 overs after lunch, Lara insisted on bowling Gayle's innocuous off-spin, even though he had four fast bowlers champing at the bit. It gave England important breathing space, though occasionally the batsmen must have been distracted by wondering what on earth Lara was playing at.

In theory, the game was now evenly poised. But the theory was quickly overwhelmed by the dynamic of the series. The third day was cloudy, with showers lurking. In English conditions, roared on by the English crowd, the most English bowler on display, Matthew Hoggard, emerged from his relative obscurity and sealed the game. Sarwan flicked wide outside off stump and handed a catch to gully. Next ball Hoggard produced a perfect inswinger to trap Chanderpaul lbw on off stump, then moved one away to get Hinds caught at second slip. Hoggard became the tenth England bowler to take a Test hat-trick, the third to achieve the feat against West Indies after Peter Loader and Dominic Cork. It was not quite his first: he had taken one as a 14-year-old in the Dales Council third division.

Once the crowd had calmed down, which took a while, the rest was straightforward. West Indies were all out for 94, the fourth time in seven Tests England had bowled them out in two figures. The opening pair, Trescothick and Vaughan, put right one of England's few irritations of the series by finding a hint of form and scoring most of the runs between them. Vaughan paid tribute to West Indies' talent but summed up: "Every time they've got on top of us, we've dug ourselves out. But when the situation has been reversed, we have nailed the advantage down." This is the precise opposite of much of England's recent cricketing history.

© John Wisden & Co