Cricket: England need overdrive again: West Indies battered and bewildered before the fifth and final Test, which starts today

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TWO DAYS after the conclusion of a Test match that drained both their bodies and emotions, England must gather themselves once again this morning for five more days of the fierce toe-to-toe combat that epitomises modern international cricket.

When Bob Wyatt captained England to victory in Barbados in 1935, he celebrated with a fully flannelled dip in the Caribbean, but when Mike Atherton repeated the achievement 59 years on, he was too knackered even to crawl under a shower. 'Jump in the ocean?' he said yesterday. 'I went straight to bed.'

However, on the back of a historic and remarkable victory in Bridgetown, England go into this fifth and final Test in better shape than the opposition. If the Antiguan capital, St John's, has medical connotations, this time it is the West Indies more in need of the ambulance tent.

Their captain, Richie Richardson, is definitely out with a pulled hamstring, and as Desmond Haynes - with a right index finger that resembles something on offer from one of the Recreation Ground's hot dog stalls - is unfit to toss a coin much less hold a bat, the vice-captain has also withdrawn. Phil Simmons and Stuart Williams are in the 13 , with Courtney Walsh as captain.

Furthermore, the fact that Curtly Ambrose has been fined pounds 1,000 for whacking a stump out of the ground will not improve West Indian morale. Behind the placid exterior lies a moody character, and Ambrose - who actually finished the Barbados Test about pounds 500 in the red after forking out another pounds 1,500 in over-rate fines - might decide to turn up and bowl off-spin by way of protest.

However, at least the International Cricket Council's refereeing system has not turned out equivalent to a policeman minus a truncheon. When Viv Richards popped into the press box and threatened to duff up a journalist in England's last Test in Antigua, it did not cost him a local dollar.

Ambrose might, of course, decide to take his frustration out on England, and by no means the least interesting aspect of this Test match is whether England's well deserved victory in Barbados was a glimpse of better times ahead, or an unkind mirage caused by the West Indies putting their feet up in the immediate aftermath of clinching the series.

The temporary blip theory remains the more likely, but the way they responded to the trauma of Trinidad suggests that England might have found some of the 'spunk and bottle' Atherton identified before leaving home as vital ingredients in modern Test cricket.

England's selectors last night found themselves in the rare predicament of wondering whether to tinker with a winning team, but once Angus Fraser (exhausted after his earlier experience in Guyana and Trinidad of bowling in two back-to- back Tests in 90 degree heat) had declared himself fit, the only serious conversation revolved around whether to play Devon Malcolm instead of Chris Lewis. Lewis did not do a great deal of bowling in Barbados, and spent much of the time wincing in pain when he did.

As for the batting, the selectors have been vindicated for their policy of sticking by Graham Thorpe - albeit by realising he was miscast at No 3 - and are pursuing a similar policy with Mark Ramprakash. For all his talent, he has made one half-century in 13 Tests but Atherton has not lost his belief that Ramprakash can play at this level.

The toss will be interesting this morning, given that the pitch here traditionally starts moist, and loses bounce after the opening day. In 1990 England opted to bat first, and were blown away by an innings.

England have not won two Tests in a Caribbean series since Len Hutton's 1954-55 side came back from 0-2 down to draw it, and if they were to fly home next week with a 3-2 scoreline, they would almost - under the circumstances - qualify for a ticker-tape reception.

With England's travelling support competing against the noisiest crowd in the Caribbean - the amplifiers for the steel bands are not so much carried to the ground here as arrive by fork lift truck - it is already guaranteed to be even more atmospheric than Barbados.

SQUADS FOR FIFTH TEST: England: M A Atherton (capt), A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, R A Smith, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Russell (wkt), C C Lewis or D E Malcolm, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell.

West Indies: C A Walsh (capt), P V Simmons, S C Williams, B C Lara, K L T Arthurton, J C Adams, S Chanderpaul, J R Murray (wkt), W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, K C G Benjamin, R I C Holder and A C Cummins.

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