Cricket: England top bill of 20th century flops: Atherton calls collapse his 'worst hour' as overmatched tourists surrender series after completing lowest score since 1887

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West Indies 252 and 269; England 328 and 46

West Indies win by 147 runs

The last rites were administered after 20 minutes and 26 balls, and the Cable and Wireless sponsor inadvertently said it all when he came to the microphone. Congratulations to Curtly Ambrose and the West Indies, but let's not forget England, he warbled, without whom this victory would not have been possible.

The West Indian captain, Richie Richardson, then came in with a slightly less ambiguous comment on England's prowess. 'Tell me Richie,' inquired a curly-headed left- hander who might have been better employed out here holding a bat rather than a microphone, 'did you really expect to be 3-0 up after three Test matches?' Richardson gave this some serious thought, before coming up with a serious answer. 'Yes.'

There is not much you can say after being bowled out for 46, but Michael Atherton tried his best. The boyish smile is still in place, but it now bears more resemblance to the sheepish grin of someone who has just trodden in something nasty, and the eyes have taken on more of a glaze than a sparkle.

'Devastated' was how the England captain summed up the current mood in the dressing room, and if his subsequent observations about now having to dig into England's resources of spirit and character had a familiar ring, it was because he made the same speech after the previous Test in Guyana.

Forty-six? England's total added up to the number of Keith Fletcher's birthdays, and in the unlikely event of their scoring 400 in the next Test in Barbados, it will be a more accurate reflection of how old the team manager actually feels at the moment. Seven overseas Tests, seven defeats.

If England have all the resilience of a straw hat in a hurricane when the pressure is on, neither do they have any sense of history. By scratching out another six runs from their last two wickets yesterday morning, they beat - by one - their previous lowest score in 118 years of Test cricket, 45 against Australia in Sydney in 1887.

It remains, however, England's lowest total in the 20th century (comfortably below their 52 against Australia at the un-Fostered Oval in 1948) and was the 14th lowest score in Test history. Since England left this ground with an unlucky draw in 1990, they have played five Caribbean Tests and lost by 164 runs, an innings and 32 runs, eight wickets, an innings and 44 runs, and now this one by 147 runs.

Atherton's observation that there were more plus points to come from this match than the previous two defeats was fair enough up to a point, but whether some members of his team have a good enough mental attitude is open to question. When England lost their fourth wicket on Tuesday afternoon with the score at 21, Andrew Caddick was sitting (as is his curious custom) in the press box, and by the time he had got himself back to the other side of the ground, the scoreboard was registering 27 for 6.

The wicket which prompted Caddick's hasty retreat was that of Graeme Hick, who looked so indescribably awful in this innings (not to mention dropping two routine slip catches at crucial stages of the game) that his place in the next Test match ought to come under heavy scrutiny.

There is then, of course, the question of who to play instead of him. England's batsmen spend so much time with their feet apparently nailed to the crease that this kind of embarrassment on an uneven pitch - even allowing for the brilliance of Ambrose - was not even a surprise. Graham Thorpe has now parted company with his off stump in five out of six Test innings here, and although Robin Smith is at least one batsman attempting to play forward, it is not much use if he then misses the ball.

In many ways, having to bowl with a safety net of 194 as opposed to, say, 250, worked in the West Indies' favour. It concentrated them, as it normally does, into a frenzy of aggression, and when two wickets went down in the first over of England's second innings, the match effectively ended there and then.

Atherton went first ball to a delivery that would probably have seen him off if he had been 100 not out, but Mark Ramprakash's run-out, to the fifth ball of the innings, was the kind of thing you would not expect to see in a school playground never mind a Test match. Ramprakash not only turned blind for a second run to long leg, but he then had so many rethinks in mid-pitch that he was still several yards out after the wicketkeeper had run almost as far (and back again) to collect Courtney Walsh's wild throw.

As England resumed on 40 for 8 yesterday morning (with extras third top scorer on seven) Ambrose began his day by collecting a sponsor's cheque for pounds 50,000 for taking 10 wickets in the match (11 for 84) and then waiting for Caddick to ask for the sightscreen to be moved to block out an ambulance (possibly there for its pyschological effect) parked in front of the pavilion.

However, it was Chris Lewis who came closer to getting a ride in it, when a good length ball from Ambrose exploded through the crumbling fifth- day surface, and scored a glancing hit not unadjacent to his throat. Having watched this, Caddick was backing rapidly towards short leg when he edged Walsh straight to first slip.

At that point England still required two runs to hobble past their previous lowest, and no sooner had they achieved this than Lewis hooked Walsh straight to Winston Benjamin at backward square leg. End of match, end of series.

The contest for the man of the match award was equally lopsided after Ambrose's remarkable 6 for 22 from 7.5 overs on Tuesday evening, and Atherton, who watched one ball of it from the crease and the rest from the dressing room, described it as 'the worst hour's cricket I have ever experienced'.

'I'm a strong character,' he added, 'and I think I can cope with it. I still believe I was right to bring a young side out here, and the hope is that this kind of thing will not break them, but make them stronger.' The bookmakers are not quite so hopeful, and having installed England as 4-11 favourites for this Test on the fourth morning, they are now quoting even money the 5-0 whitewash.

(Photographs omitted)