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The essential weakness of any statistical record is that it can reflect neither circumstance nor injustice. A potted summary of England's Test series in the Caribbean, early in 1990, indicates merely that they lost 2-1, with one match drawn and the other abandoned. In years to come, that stark scoreline may be read to mean that England did slightly better than anticipated. The truth of the matter is that at worst they merited a shared series, and at best an unimaginable upset of the world champions of Test Cricket.
When the tour began, in late January, England were given no chance. They had been beaten 4-0 by Australia in England in their previous series. The response of the selectors to that had been to dismiss David Gower, as both captain and player, and replace him with Graham Gooch, who, though stoical to his plodding feet, had never been thought to be inspirational leadership material. A touring party had been chosen with express aims in mind. Gower and Botham were banished as redolent of a defeatist era, and in their place came men of less talent and charisma but, the selectors believed, equipped to combat the West Indians in their own aggressive, unrelenting style. Fighting fire with fire was the comment of Ted Dexter, chairman of the England Committee, when the squad was announced. Much scoffing and snorting ensued. Yet, fanciful though the theory seemed, given England's slender resources for pace bowling, it was justified in the final analysis.
England's nine-wicket victory in the First Test, at Kingston, unarguably qualified to be one of the most outlandish results in Test-cricket history. West Indies were thoroughly outplayed. Georgetown, venue for the Second Test, was struck by atrocious weather which prevented a ball being bowled, but those who maintained that the Jamaica Test result had been an unrepeatable freak were silenced in Trinidad. England, with the benefit of winning an important toss, set up a second victory, which was cruelly denied them by a persistent downpour on the final afternoon. This, if you like, was a real freak.
The tour was never the same after that. With their strongest side, England might have withstood the travesty and risen again. But for the two remaining Tests they were without Gooch, whose captaincy had become even more crucial than his batting, and Angus Fraser, the most dependable member of a startlingly influential four-man seam attack. It was too much to bear. In Barbados England battled ferociously, losing a dramatic and controversial match with half an hour's daylight remaining on the final evening. In Antigua, for the finale, they had nothing left to offer and were beaten, by an innings, before tea on the fourth day.
When it was over, England's dressing-room was a casualty ward, virtually half the party having suffered injuries in the battle. Two, Robin Smith and Nasser Hussain, batted in Antigua with broken bones. The character of the players was beyond question. As Micky Stewart, the team manager, said; You have to feel so sorry for them, having nothing to show for it.
Stewart was one of those who gained most from the tour. When it began, his future as manager was being debated, both in the media and among the public. His time in charge had been attended by little other than defeat and controversy, some of it thoroughly unsavoury, and under Gower's captaincy his authority had been seen to diminish. By the end of the 1989 season, it was justifiable for anyone to ask precisely what he had achieved, or was likely to. Perhaps the best thing that could have happened for Stewart was the defection of Mike Gatting to South Africa. This dismissed any possibility of his being brought back as captain, and a pairing being reunited which, latterly, had been distinguished by little more than its blinkered condoning of indefensible on-field conduct.
Gooch acceded to the captaincy in an unfortunate manner, for he was nobody's first choice. But he confounded all preconceived notions about his limitations and emerged as the most influential figure of the tour. He was obsessive about his own physical fitness and his own mental preparation. He believed intensive training vital to the extension of his career, and from his self-motivation came the spur for other, younger and less gifted players to approach their game the same way. Gooch rapidly commanded an unfailing respect among his players, and earned it by his quiet, individual counselling, his caring touch and his thoughtful tactics. In his own way, he was the most impressive England captain since Brearley.
Allan Lamb, his vice-captain, was ideal for the position, but less suited to taking command, which he was obliged to do once Gooch had suffered a broken hand in Trinidad. Gregarious and positive, Lamb had few grey areas in his outlook, which was just what was required as support for the more complex ways of Gooch. His batting, too, once again rose to the peaks against the West Indian fast bowlers, his Test centuries in Jamaica and Barbados being his first overseas.
There were heroes in the ranks, as well. Devon Malcolm was thought to be a wild-card selection during the Australian series of the preceding summer, a bowler of genuine pace but without reliable direction. He had not even played a full season for Derbyshire, and yet when the tour was over he could be held up as the vindication of the management's policies. They made him the weapon they required, and to his credit he was a willing pupil. There were times when he was at least as quick as any of the West Indians. Gladstone Small saw the series through, a pleasant surprise given his injury record, and bowled with dedicated skill and control. Fraser, until his untimely rib injury, was the third seamer to answer a captain's prayers, his probing line unflagging. David Capel, as fourth bowler and seventh batsman, also had his moments, and no-one exuded more commitment.
Robin Smith set out to discard finally the image of a compulsive strokemaker and to occupy the crease against the fast men. He did so to enormous effect, batting for more than fifteen hours in the series. Wayne Larkins, who underwent a similar identity change, and the brave Jack Russell were just as adhesive, but the disappointment was the failure of any of the newer batsmen to establish themselves. Despite everything, there was an enduring suspicion that this would have been a better side with Gower involved from the outset, rather than his being somewhat frivolously shuffled in and out of the squad from his temporary role in the press box whenever an emergency demanded. A third specialist opener was also required, as had always been probable, and it was unsatisfactory to have Alec Stewart doing the job, out of position.
There was no place for spin in the Test series. England remained faithful to their stated policies, and West Indies resisted loud local calls to include the Jamaican leg-break bowler, Robert Haynes, who twice caused England problems in representative matches. If this was predictable, so too was the problem of poor over-rates. The nominal minimum of 90 overs a day was not supported by sanctions of any sort. Consequently, the quota was never completed before dusk. In Trinidad, on the final day, the West Indian's time-wasting tactics were deplorably unscrupulous, particularly the orchestration of Desmond Haynes, deputising as captain for the stricken Viv Richards. England wasted no time in trying to match their hosts for cynicism, Lamb's delaying devices in Barbados being only slightly less overt. Until stern penalties are introduced, which ICC in the past has seemed unable to agree upon, such insulting passages of play will never be prevented.
Considering the preponderance of fast bowling, it is pleasant to recount that intimidation became an aggravated issue only during the final Test in Antigua, when England's Smith was systematically worked over with the short ball, one of which broke a finger. No warnings were issued, yet a plainer case of deliberate intimidation was difficult to imagine. When West Indies batted, Capel, at no more than medium pace, received a caution for two consecutive short balls at a tailender. This was a nonsensical inconsistency.
Umpiring was also at the centre of an explosive situation during the Barbados Test. Rob Bailey, who suffered a wretched tour, was given out on the fourth evening, caught behind down the leg side off Curtly Ambrose. The ball had appeared to make contact only with his hip, but a debatable decision became a major incident owing to interpretations of Richards's startling, finger-flapping rush at the umpire, Lloyd Barker, in the moments before and during the raising of his finger. Some construed this as intimidating the official, and a remark to that effect by the BBC cricket correspondent, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, broadcast on the World Service, prompted a quite hysterical counter-reaction. The implied suggestion was that all such comments were basically racist.
For West Indies, this was a series which looked to have slipped sensationally away from them, only to be recovered by suddenly restored self-belief. Ambrose and Ian Bishop, supported by Courtney Walsh, were an awesome handful in the latter part of the series, and the spell with which Ambrose won the Barbados Test was unforgettable. Malcolm Marshall, however, achieved little in the series and missed two matches through injury, prompting speculation about his future. Richards, still troubled by illness, had a generally unhappy time. He offended Caribbean Asians with comments about his African team, and subsequent to the scene involving umpire Barker, he responded so irrationally to criticism by an English journalist that he chose to confront the writer in the Antigua press box instead of leading his players on to the field. His apologies to his Board were accepted only with a strict warning about any future misdemeanours. He emerged with another series won, but it was not one which advanced his reputation as either captain or batsman.