Cricket: A series when wasted chances put paid to the highest of hopes

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A WET morning gave one the chance to reflect on a series which began at Sabina Park two months ago amid such high hopes for England. It has been a story of bad pitches, wasted opportunities, indifferent umpiring, and the loss of two most important tosses which dictated the likely outcome of the fourth and sixth Tests.

In the final analysis, England were not good enough to beat the West Indies. They had winning chances in three Tests but could only convert one into victory. Too often, when it mattered, England played untidy and ill-disciplined cricket and, significantly, they did not have a Curtly Ambrose or a Courtney Walsh.

There was not enough attention to detail. The inconsistency of Dean Headley and Andrew Caddick with the new ball was frightening; there were times when the side was not focused sharply enough on what they had to do and too many important catches were dropped.

They should have won the second Test in spite of some poor umpiring, but they bowled and fielded so badly just when it seemed they must win. If England had left Port of Spain 2-0 up it would have been the West Indies who would have been left to play catch-up cricket.

They could not have done anything about losing the toss in Georgetown. The rain on the last day in Bridgetown was beyond their control, too, but by then the inability to bowl properly at Philo Wallis and Clayton Lambert cost them dear and gave the West Indies an outside chance.

The toss was again crucial in Antigua where the groundsman had made a bad mistake by watering the newly relaid pitch the day before the match. He was afraid it would not hold together, but by doing this he gave the side which bowled first a decisive advantage.

But for England there was one glorious gain from the tour and that was the establishment of Mark Ramprakash as an England player. That splendid back-foot drive off Nixon McLean which took him to his century in Bridgetown, enabled him to get over the

last psychological hurdle he had to jump and is my abiding memory of this series.

That hundred could hardly have come at a better time for England. Mike Atherton's position must now be in jeopardy and Ramprakash has emerged at precisely the right moment and has become a serious candidate for the job of the next long-term England captain.

No gut reaction thoughts about this series would be complete without a rousing cheer for the wholehearted and magnificent efforts of Angus Fraser. His 20 wickets in the two Port of Spain Tests deserved to give England a 2-0 lead. Without Fraser, England would never have had a sniff of one, let alone three victories.