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Match reports

England v West Indies

Hugh Chevallier
At Birmingham, July 29, 30, 31, August 1. England won by 256 runs. Toss: England.
Crushing defeat inside four days was further proof of West Indian cricket's descent into a vortex of despondency and failure. An abiding memory of this Test - a vignette that could stand for the series - was Lara, the captain, standing at mid-on and rolling his eyes in weary resignation as another wayward ball vanished to the rope. His face in his hands, mulling on the horror of it all, he steeled himself for the pain of it happening all over again. No consolation for the bowler, no word of advice; just lonely, anguished suffering.
In contrast, England went about their business with a joie de vivre that bubbled over into everything they did. Typifying this effervescence was Flintoff. Pounding in with the speedo in the high eighties, sweeping up sharp slip catches and swatting the ball to every corner, he did it all with a cheeky grin. And how Edgbaston loved it. In one act of glorious bravado, he lofted Lawson high into the top tier of the Ryder stand. A powerfully built middle-aged man stood up to take the catch. From a crowd of 20,000, Flintoff had somehow picked out his father, who muffed it: the only false move from a Flintoff in the entire Test. By the Sunday, only ten days after the series began, England had retained the Wisden Trophy.
With only two days' rest, West Indies had had little chance to regroup after Lord's, but they reshuffled their pace attack: Best had hurt his back and would fly home, while Edwards was thought too erratic. In came Lawson for his second Test since remodelling his action, and Collymore, talked up by Lara as providing the necessary discipline. England preferred Anderson's conventional swing to Simon Jones's reverse variety.
Only once, when Fred Trueman ran through Frank Worrell's 1963 tourists, had West Indies lost at Birmingham. Even in 2000, despite the rot seeping into Caribbean cricket, they flattened England by an innings. And Lara, part of that side, had made Edgbaston his home in 1994, his annus mirabilis, when he ransacked Durham for an unbeaten 501; Birmingham had happy memories.
He would have been unhappy to lose this toss, though. In the blink of an eye, the England openers had rocketed to 77 on a golden pitch shimmering with runs. Collymore failed to provide the promised control, although Lawson did rein in the scoring, whipping out Strauss in the process. Together with Bravo's ugly-but-effective line way outside off, they prevented England, 313 for five at the close, from disappearing out of sight. Even so, Trescothick had already made his way to an efficient century, the first against the West Indians in an Edgbaston Test since the famous Peter May-Colin Cowdrey stand in 1957.
Next morning, however, Flintoff and Jones broke gloriously, wantonly, loose. It was heady stuff, and it shattered the bowlers' spirits. Jones cut sharply and on-drove crisply, but Flintoff was on fire. It was payback time for all those occasions when Caribbean batsmen had toyed with the England attack as if they were small boys lobbing tennis balls. His innings reached its apogee shortly before its end. Now poor Banks was the one holding the tennis ball: the first delivery zoomed over long-on for six to bring up Flintoff 's 150; the second whizzed over the rope at mid-wicket for six more; the third and fourth were dots; the fifth zipped to mid-wicket for another six that took him past his highest first-class score. And he nabbed a single off the last ball to retain the strike. Flintoff lost his wicket moments later but his 167 - an innings of pace, strength, variety and ebullience - was unforgettable: it came from 191 balls and included 17 fours and seven sixes. By then, Jones had long gone, but their 170-run stand for the sixth wicket had wrenched the game England's way. Before the declaration at 566 for nine, Harmison had time for a cameo unbeaten 31, including a deft reverse sweep off Banks and a Flintoffesque 4, 4, 6 off Lawson.
In a flash, Hoggard yanked out the West Indies openers, leaving Sarwan and Lara to pick up the pieces. Spontaneous applause erupted when Lara passed 15, followed by congratulation from Vaughan. The batsman looked perplexed. Word had leaked out he needed 15 to become the fourth player to 10,000 Test runs; as Lara well knew, it was 115. Minutes later, he did become the first to 1,000 Test runs in 2004 - it had taken him ten matches - but no one took it in. On the third morning he and Sarwan, batting resolutely and attractively, guided their stand to 209. England had bowled tidily, yet yearned for a wicket. Cue Flintoff. Lara, eager to stamp his authority, envisaged a rasping square drive. Instead, he slashed to second slip.
Chanderpaul had unbeaten scores of 101, 128 and 97 in his last three Test innings, so when Vaughan dropped a dolly from him, on 21, it might have been pricey. It was not. Sarwan's wicket, the fourth to fall, at 297, hoisted the white flag. Giles, on his home ground and revelling in new-found self-belief, scooped up Chanderpaul and three others as seven wickets cascaded for 39 - six for just 13. The West Indies tailspin ended at 336.
England had found enough turn and indifferent bounce for them to forgo the follow-on. Their second innings, with one exception, was unconvincing, but to be fair, the convincing had come in their first. Trescothick was the bright spot; he reached his fifty before anyone else made double figures, and his thwacks to leg and occasional rocket through the covers maintained England's domination. He was eventually run out, having crafted his second canny hundred of the game. (Such feats seldom happened to England batsmen; now they happened twice in a week.) To be fair to West Indies, too, Lawson and Gayle bowled 27 sensible overs on the fourth morning.
Set 479 - a single more than at Lord's - with five sessions remaining, West Indies had nowhere to hide. Gayle briefly looked as if he would earn cricketing immortality by snatching five wickets, hitting a century and carrying his bat - not just in the same Test, but on the same day - before he was the fifth victim of the resurgent Giles, who took nine wickets for the second match running, for a combative 82. Other than that, there was little fight left, and the vultures were already wheeling: Lara spent much of the post-match interviews fending off questions about resignation. Resigned? Yes. Resigning? Not yet.
Man of the Match: A. Flintoff.