Windies snatch innings win - England slump to 3-1 series loss

by Tony Cozier in ST JOHN'S
Stabroek News
March 25, 1998

The good times rolled again under the lengthening shadows of the sunlit Antigua Recreation Ground yesterday afternoon. On the field, England wickets tumbled likes leaves in a hurricane. In the stands, West Indian flags and arms and bodies waved to the joyful strains of Chickie's Disco and the rhythmical beat of the iron band that were apt accompaniments to the mayhem being created on the field by their energised team.

It was the wonder years of the Eighties revisited. A team which has passed through turbulent times of late miraculously snatched a victory by an innings and 52 runs in the final Test that, even under the invincible reign of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, would have seemed utterly out of their reach into the final session. As England toppled from the apparent safety of 295 for four with 33 overs remaining to 321 all out with still 6.4 overs to go, two bowlers at the opposite end of the age and pace scale carried the West Indies standard. Dinanath Ramnarine, the 22-year-old leg-spinner in only his second Test, immediately capitalised on the muddled run out that separated England's defiant fourth wicket pair, Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe, and triggered the collapse.

Courtney Walsh, the indestructible, 35-year-old fast bowler in his 102nd Test, then picked up the merest sniff of victory, as he has done so many times in his 13 years of international cricket. It transformed him from the meek, seemingly exhausted trundler of only a couple of hours earlier into the rampaging destroyer who has been the bane of so many opposing teams throughout his career. Called in by Brian Lara, the man who contentiously ousted him from the captaincy at the start of the series, for another spell as soon as Hussain left, he quickly claimed his Gloucestershire county teammate, Jack Russell, lbw.

Acting on the instincts that make him such an unconventional strategist, Lara then switched Walsh to the opposite end, with the Viv Richards Pavilion and the thumping of Chiki's Disco at his back. Walsh, and the West Indies, were now unstoppable. Mustering energy, and speed, from some hidden source, he despatched England's last three wickets from eight balls. The only runs off him were an inadvertant deflection to the fine-leg boundary from Angus Fraser's hesitant bat. As he formalised yet another famous victory by bouncing out last man Phil Tufnell and settling a remarkable series 3-1 to the West Indies, Walsh sprinted, arms spread like a bird, into the embraces of his ecstatic teammates. Significantly, Lara was one of the first to greet him. The spectre of the 3-0 humiliation in Pakistan late last year, that cost Walsh his captaincy, had been conclusively expunged. West Indies cricket could smile again.

For England, and more precisely their captain, Mike Atherton, the effect was precisely the opposite. They had arrived in January with the confident expectation of winning their first series in the Caribbean since 1968, their optimism based as much on the apparent disarray of their opponents as their own strength. Now they left with their hopes in tatters and Atherton dejectedly bowing to pressure and reality with the announcement to the media of his immediate resignation from the captaincy after 52 cosnecutive Tests at the helm. The final, exhilarating couple of hours proved to be the storm after the calm. The West Indies had an entire day to dismiss the remaining seven wickets at the start but they lost the entire period before lunch - 19 overs - to the fickle mid-Caribbean weather and were then stalled for a further two and a quarter hours by the solid, overnight pair, Hussain and Thorpe. As they carried the two Englishmen partnership to 168, time seemed to have run out for Lara and his team.

The captain predictably turned to the second new ball after four overs but, on a relaid pitch that has proved to be a clone of its heavy-scoring original, Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Franklyn Rose could make no impression. All three were too consistently short, neither Hussain nor the left-handed Thorpe was bothered and it was a surprise that Lara, who had depended so heavily on the combined spin of Ramnarine and Carl Hooper the previous afternoon, kept them going for as long as 16 overs. Hussain duly passed his sixth Test hundred 20 minutes before tea when he and Thorpe were well entrenched. Once Hooper joined Ramnarine from the southern, Factory Road, end on resumption, batting became less straightforward. Each had palpable lbw decisions, one against each batsman, turned down and Thorpe was a milimetre from gloving a catch to Lara at slip off an off-break from Hooper that bounced.

Yet it took a run out 25 minutes after tea to break the stand of 168 and set in train the incredible events that followed. Thorpe nudged Ramnarine towards midwicket and set off for a run, only to find Hussain stopping and starting. They ended up next to each other in mid-pitch as Hooper flicked his underarm return back to wicket-keeper Junior Murray to complete the key dismissal. Hussain, whose defiance had lasted six and a quarter hours and 318 balls, trudged despondently back to the pavilion. He might have suspected that his job was not complete. In his next over, Ramnarine passed Mark Ramprakash's uncertain bat with a straight ball that hit the off-stump and the West Indies were through to England's fragile tail. The resistance was then at an end and, had umpire Steve Bucknor given Thorpe caught round the corner by Murray off a bat-pad catch off Ramnarine, as TV replays indicated he should have, the end would have come earlier. As it was, Thorpe remained at the non-striker's end as one after another his inept partners toppled, his vigil of six and a quarter hours and 322 balls all in vain. Russell, half-forward, was lbw, Dean Headley pushed at a big leg-break from Ramnarine and edged it into Murray's gloves and Walsh rounded this off with his last three, swift wickets. Caddick, prodding tentaively outside off-stump, snicked to Murray, Fraser prodded to third slip a ball that had no right to lift as sharply as it did from such a lifeless pitch and, finally, Tufnell was given out, by Bucknor, caught at short-leg off his forearm.

It was time to celebrate in earnest and the ground was jumping well into the night, after Lara had received the Wisden Trophy as Rohan Kanhai, Lloyd and Richards have all done successively before him since 1973 and after the triumphant team had done its happy lap of honour.