Windies overpowered
---England break 31-year series victory drought

by Tony Cozier at the Oval
Stabroek News
September 5, 2000

THROUGHOUT the crisp, sunny morning, they flocked in their thousands to the Oval for the last day of the last Test of the summer.

They quickly packed the stands to beyond their 18,500 capacity in the confident expectation that their England team would finally end 31 years of seemingly never-ending humiliation.

They filled the western terraces that used to be populated by joyful West Indians from the surrounding districts of Brixton and Stockwell celebrating one series triumph after another, from one generation to the next, as Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson held the Wisden Trophy aloft from the pavilion balcony as a matter of course.

They were sure that this time, the captain clutching the prize - and the bonus sponsor's cheque of 215,000 pounds to go with it - would be England's, even if not born in England.

They knew that this West Indies team was a hardly visible shadow of their great predecessors that had inflicted the "blackwashes" of the 1980s and had not bowed in a series to England since 1969, in the same month that Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon and before many of them were born.

They did not need reminding of their opponents' recent abysmal overseas record to appreciate that they would be hard pressed to avoid the third defeat in the series, far less achieving the implausible 374 they had been set for the victory that was the only way of keeping the Wisden Trophy.

The West Indies had collapsed for 54 and 61 all out in earlier Tests and tumbled to 51 for six in the first innings here before the tailenders saved them from another double-figure shaming. On a wearing, last day pitch, it would surely only be a matter of time.

The time was quarter past four when Dominic Cork won a clearcut lbw decision, Courtney Walsh was out for another duck in his last Test innings in England, the West Indies were dismissed for 215 and England had won the match by 158 runs and the series by 3-1.

In a jiffy, the Oval outfield was a sea of humanity, as it was in 1963 when Basil Butcher stroked the winning runs off Brian Statham to complete a similar 3-1 verdict for Worrell's West Indies, except the sea then was of a different complexion.

Soon, Walsh was receiving the West Indies Man of the Series award for his astounding 34 wickets, Darren Gough the England counterpart and Mike Atherton his Man of the Match cheque for his decisive 83 and 103.

Each was greeted by rousing cheers but when Nasser Hussain, born in Madras, India, accepted the Trophy and raised it above his head, the roar could be heard in the Houses of Parliament across the River Thames.

A year earlier, Hussain had been roundly booed on the same spot after England had gone under to New Zealand in both Test and series. What a difference a year makes. Indeed, what a difference 31 years make.

It has been an eternity and there has been little for English cricket to celebrate, against anyone, in that time. The crowd inside, obliging the authorities to open vacant hospitality boxes to hold them all, and outside on roofs, in flat windows and even in trees was testament to what the moment meant to fans who have endured so much heartache for so long.

The West Indies have not been in the doldrums for quite so long but the decline has been dramatic. The worry is that there seems no immediate way out.

The sprinkling of West Indians among the sea of pink faces and waving Union Jacks bravely supported their boys to the end, unfurling their own national flags and blowing their horns at every boundary. It was clear to all that any far-fetched hopes of victory or more realistic ones of putting up a decent fight rested with Brian Lara.

When he strode out onto the sunlit ground after 13 minutes at No.3 it was clear he meant business. It is a position he has abdicated for some time but now urgent measures were required.

He replaced Sherwin Campbell, who resumed with his opening partner, Adrian Griffith, at 33 without loss and whose approach was a signal that the West Indies intended going for glory.

He blazed two fours in the first over, another in the second and twice to second slip off successive balls in the fifth. Graeme Hick dropped the first offering and held the second, a distinct bizarre setback to West Indian plans. Lara spent a difficult hour or so getting his bearings, needing 56 balls to arrive at double-figures. Then, just before lunch, he began to play like the genuine article, pulling, cutting and driving with the style and the authority that had heightened West Indian excitement.

The problem was that he was quickly running out of partners.

Griffith followed Campbell at the same score and in the next over, edging Andy Caddick low to the keeper. Wavell Hinds lasted 25 nervous minutes and 15 balls, surviving a low chance to Hick at second slip before he was lbw to Caddick's inswinging yorker with his bat well behind pad.

By lunch, captain Jimmy Adams had helped Lara steady things. The two have shared some telling partnerships in their time but Adams lasted only until five minutes after lunch when he failed to keep down his flick off Caddick and Craig White seized a tumbling catch to his left at square-leg.

Lara was partnered by a kindred spirit and, for the next 40 minutes, he and Ramnaresh Sarwan treated the Oval to the most exquisite batting of the match. The master and his exciting young partner matched each other stroke for stroke, pulls, cuts, drives past cover and past the bowler, adding 46 from 52 balls with nine fours between them.

In the end, a run out spoiled the party. Lara, backing up, had already just got his bat down in time to beat Cork's deflection off Sarwan's drive but it was the nimble little right-hander who would be the run out victim at the non-striker's end.

Sent back by Lara on a push into the covers off Gough, he applied brakes but was a foot short when Thorpe's underarm flick broke the stumps. Injury was added to insult as Thorpe's foot caught his neck as he dived for home and he needed the attention of trainer Ronald Rogers before he could walk disconsolately back.

Lara was not far behind.

Ridley Jacobs edged Caddick to second slip in the next over and Hick held on. Seven balls later, Lara went back to Gough and umpire David Shepherd ruled him lbw, a marginal decision as the ball appeared, on the television graphic, to have pitched inches outside leg-stump.

Lara was into his stride after two and three quarter hours, 104 balls ands seven fours and his departure robbed the spectators of some afternoon entertainment, if not of the satisfaction of an England victory.

Lara's dismissal was a relief to England who, for a time, relaxed, gifting overthrows, dropping a catch and allowing Mahendra Nagamootoo, Nixon McLean and Curtly Ambrose easy runs.

Nagamootoo was lbw to Gough more clearly than Lara, bringing in Ambrose who, like Walsh after him, was accorded the same standing ovation of the previous day, the England players adding a nice touch by forming a guard of honour for both as they walked to the wicket.

Whether the gesture would have been similarly magnanimous had victory been within sight was a moot point. But, by then, England had earned their prize and only needed to formalise it which they did with a slip catch to remove Ambrose and Walsh's duck in Cork's 15th over.

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