Pluses, minuses and the odd record

The series snoozed to a close in Antigua today - an unremarkable ending to a remarkable rubber

Michael Vaughan: back to form with a century at St John's, to ensure England took the Wisden Trophy 3-0 © Getty Images
The series snoozed to a close in Antigua today - an unremarkable ending to a remarkable rubber. A series previously notable for two cataclysmic collapses by West Indies will now also be remembered for the first quadruple-century in Test cricket, while the England bowlers, praised to the skies after the first three matches, had an unrewarding time in Antigua.
There were two main reasons for that. Andy Roberts, in charge of pitch-preparation at St John's, couldn't bear the prospect of a Windies whitewash, so came up with just about the most benign pitch spotted outside the drier parts of India. And then there was Brian Lara, who displayed amazing stamina, style and sheer stickability in shimmying to 400.
There was another underlying reason: England's bowling wasn't actually quite as fantastic as some spotty West Indian batting made it look in the first three Tests. Stephen Harmison is tall, dark and handy, while Matthew Hoggard swings it nicely at a brisk pace, and should be more of a handful at St John's Wood than St John's. But Simon Jones was exposed in Antigua as short of variations when pace isn't enough, and none of the faster bowlers ever extracted much in the way of reverse-swing. Andy Flintoff, the man the management don't want to overbowl, was overbowled, because he was the best bet to keep the runs down (admittedly, Michael Vaughan wasn't helped here by Hoggard's gippy tummy and Harmison's removal from the attack).
And England's spin bowling was equally unthreatening. Gareth Batty toiled eagerly, and even turned the ball a little, but rarely threatened. It's hard to imagine that Ashley Giles would have been much more incisive. So a note for Duncan Fletcher's little black book: before becoming the Best Side in the World by 2007, as advertised, England need (a) a controlling bowler capable of reverse-swing, and (b) a quality spinner.
England's batting is less problematic, and it will be interesting to watch Geraint Jones's efforts in what we're promised is a decent run in the side. Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick came good in the end, and even Nasser Hussain, who had found survival simpler than scoring earlier in the series, got moving again as the West Indian fast bowlers lost heart in the second innings.
Ah yes, the Windies. For all Lara's heroics, which saved his captaincy and possibly his career too, the batting remains a worry. Antigua apart, few of the batsmen were ever far from the self-destruct button - and even in Antigua their only other century came from Ridley Jacobs, who is well into his 37th year (Lara himself is 35 next month). Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga and a smattering of Smiths underachieved, as did Ramnaresh Sarwan until the final game. A couple of matches against Bangladesh may help, although they won't be much of a pointer towards what might happen in England in July and August.
The West Indian bowling had its moments, particularly in the first innings in Antigua, when England were suffering from a Lara-induced hangover and the dizzy prospect of needing 552 just to avoid the follow-on. Fidel Edwards is fast and slingy, Tino Best fast if even more low-slung. But the best of them at the moment is Pedro Collins, who wasn't even in the side at the start of the series: he has learnt to swing the ball - even, England please note, managing a modicum of reverse - and this, allied to his unusual left-arm approach and nippy pace, made him the toughest proposition.
West Indies' spin cupboard is almost as bare as England's, although Sarwan isn't the world's worst legspinner. If anything is going to lift West Indies out of the doldruns, it will be a combination of Best's bluster and Collins's class ... and Lara's left-handed legerdemain.
England were worthy winners of the Wisden Trophy, and should hang on to it when - in a non-masterpiece of scheduling - West Indies tour later this year. Before then, though, New Zealand will pose some strikingly different problems. Vaughan, back in form just in time, has an interesting summer ahead.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.