IT HAS taken 24 years and several near misses to do so, but England have finally managed to beat the West Indies at Queen's Park Oval. Yet if the manner, chasing the highest score in this agonisingly tense match, was scrappy, the result was crucial, and England can now go to Guyana with the series level knowing that their opponents can be beaten.
Considering this match has twisted and turned more often than an alleycat on a hot tin roof, the end was something of an anti-climax. With Mark Butcher, unbeaten on 24 and Dean Headley, seven not out, at the crease, it was Curtly Ambrose who levelled the scores with a no-ball in the second over after lunch, before David Williams conceded the bye that finally brought England victory.
In truth, it was no more than England deserved, and with both sides well matched and each having several opportunities to win both these low-scoring Tests, either team could just have easily left Trinidad two-up as two- down. With Brian Lara acknowledging as much, the West Indies captain then reckoned that the series would go to the side that could most "improve its batting".
For England and their captain, Michael Atherton, his fifth win from 23 Tests abroad, the importance of the result cannot be overstated. After losing the previous Test here, which they were expected to win, morale would have been tested to the hilt. To win this one, needing the highest score of the match, spoke of a rare determination that has not often been associated with England teams.
Speaking afterwards a relieved England captain thought it was probably the tensest match he had ever been involved in. "The importance of this game was massive for us. If we'd left here 2-0 down, it would have been difficult for us to come back into the series."
Looking drawn, at the end of another draining Test match - the second in under a week, he added: "We entered this game with no thoughts about the last match, and I can't speak more highly of this team in the way that they have played here. It was a fantastic effort to win this match."
Brian Lara, who is now saddled with the ignominy of suffering his first defeat as captain in his back yard, was also praiseworthy of England's performance.
"The 225 runs they needed was definitely defendable, especially on a Trinidadian pitch," Lara said. "But we came up against a team that wanted to win badly, and I'd like to congratulate the England batters for a job well done."
Both captains also gave special mention to their bowlers, and with 20 and 16 wickets apiece from the last two matches, Fraser and Ambrose are certainly enjoying some of the best form of their careers. Considering they are both in their thirties, their efforts over the last 10 days have been monumental.
Like the other Test here a week ago, the highest score in the match was made in the last innings. But while both captains felt the pitches were different in character - this one was slower and more even in bounce - both the strips seemed to have defied the ageing process and got less and not more grumpy as the game wore on.
But if the batsmen prospered from that quirk, it was not evident yesterday as England scurried and scrambled the 38 runs - the only boundary came from four leg-byes - needed to smash the jinx this ground appears to have had over them in recent tours.
With play delayed by 40 minutes, due to rain, memories of the match here in 1990, when England were thwarted on the last day by a combination of rain and a cynically slow over rate, would have come flooding back to Fraser, Alec Stewart and Jack Russell, who all played in that match.
This time, with Stewart having already made his telling contribution and Fraser not needed, only Russell, had the power to exorcise the demons that have taunted England here at this ground. Unfortunately, as one of three wickets to fall yesterday, he did not manage to drive the stake home himself.
Privately, there is little doubt that when England went to bed on Monday night they would have felt certain of victory. And yet the faltering manner of their win still illustrated how alien winning is to this side and they have not yet acquired clinical Australian ways. Nevertheless the nature of the tense victory will mean a lot for those involved in the rest of this series, as well as those involved in the near future.
The fact that England crawled rather than charged, was entirely due to the stupendous efforts of Walsh and Ambrose, who bowled unchanged as they tried once more to defy the improbable. Indeed they did not bowl a bad ball all morning and it was significant that the only half-volley Walsh allowed came immediately after lunch, when England were almost there.
With the new ball only three overs old, life was distinctly uncomfortable for England's batsmen and there might have been a very different result had Ambrose's first ball of the day, a beauty that climbed and beat Graham Thorpe, found the edge instead.
Bowled for three by Ambrose in the catastrophe here four years ago, Thorpe dug in. Fortunately for his team, he found a cool and competent ally in Butcher, and scrambling quick singles wherever possible, the pair saw England to within 24 runs of their target before Ambrose hurried Thorpe into groping outside off-stump, and he edged a catch behind.
But if that wicket produced only a slight chink in the curtains, there was a discernible gap when Russell, fencing at a wide one, edged to Carl Hooper at second slip. Suddenly, the West Indies scented possibilities and when Andy Caddick, was dismissed next ball, by the best delivery of the morning, daylight suddenly began to pour in.
For the players watching, the action on the pitch would have been agonising, and Phil Tufnell apparently got through three packets of cigarettes just waiting for his turn to bat. In the middle, the mood was quite different, and as Walsh and Ambrose probed hard, Butcher maintained an impressively calm presence.
With no proper cricket on the tour - except for his one ball in the abandoned Test - Butcher also produced an equally important contribition in the first innings, and he now has the look of a far more assured player than the one who started last summer against Australia.
As a late replacement for Adam Hollioake, his batting, as well as a brilliant catch to dismiss Hooper, contributed hugely to his team's winning performance, and he is certain to find a place in the Test team for Guyana, possibly at John Crawley's expense.
This time, with England instead of the West Indies winning, there was no sign of the famous Calypsonian, Lord Kitchener, whose victory serenades to the winning side have become something of an institution. Instead, with the rain clouds drifting away, the vultures began to circle looking for easy pickings. For once, despite England being involved, there were none to be had.
QUEEN'S PARK OVAL Scoreboard
Fourth day; England won toss
WEST INDIES - First innings 159 (A R C Fraser 5-40, A R Caddick 5-67).
ENGLAND - First innings 145 (C E L Ambrose 5-25).
WEST INDIES - Second innings 210 (J C Adams 53).
ENGLAND - Second innings
G P Thorpe c D Williams b Ambrose 19
(123 mins, 55 balls, 1 four)
M A Butcher not out 24
(160 mins, 103 balls, 1 four)
R C Russell c Hooper b Ambrose 4
(37 mins, 25 balls)
A R Caddick c D Williams b Ambrose 0
(1 min, 1 ball)
D W Headley not out 7
(25 mins, 11 balls)
Extras (b2, lb15, nb12) 29
Total (for 7, 490 mins, 108 overs) 225
Fall (cont): 5-201 (Thorpe), 6-213 (Russell), 7-213 (Caddick).
Bowling: Walsh 38-11-69-2 (nb1) (5-2-12-0 3-2-5-0 3-0-8-0 4-0-15-0 1- 0-2-0 1-0-1-1 1-0-1-0 7-1-10-1 13-6-15-0); Ambrose 33-6-62-3 (nb7) (7- 3-16-0 4-0-7-0 3-2-1-0 1-1-0-0 1-0-2-0 1-0-4-0 4-0-5-0 12-0-27-3); Benjamin 11-3-24-0 (nb2) (3-0-5-0 5-3-7-0 3-0-12 -0); McLean 4-0-17-0 (nb1) (2- 0-4-0 2-0-13-0); Adams 6-3-5-0 (nb1) (3-2-1-0 2-1-2-0 1-0-2-0); Hooper 16-3-31-1 (2-0-6-0 9-2-14-0 5-1-11-1).
Progress: Fifth day: rain delayed start until 10.45pm. 200 in 422 mins, 95.2 overs. Lunch 218-7 (Butcher 23, Headley 3) 106 overs. England won at 12.55pm.
Stewart 50: 183 mins, 142 balls, 6 fours.
England won by 3 wickets
Umpires: D B Hair and E Nicholls.
TV Replay Umpire: C E Cumberbatch.
Match Referee: B N Jarman.
Man of the match: A R C Fraser.
Adjudicator: A G Ganteaume.
Remaining macth in series:
First Test: Match abandoned as a draw.
Second Test: West Indies won by three wickets.
Fourth Test: Guyana, 27 February-3 March.
Fifth Test: Barbados, 12-16 March.
Sixth Test: Antigua, 20-24 March.Reuse content