Cricket: Return to happy hunting ground

Andrew Caddick finds fond memories of four years ago are driving the tourists on
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WHEN England last toured the West Indies in 1994 they won a Test in Barbados for the first time in 59 years. Next week, to keep this series alive we must reduce the span between victories by 55 years. There are grounds for optimism that we can go to Antigua all square.

Last time the team arrived here from Trinidad having been bowled out for 46 in perhaps the most devastating defeat in England's modern Test history. We began the match at Bridgetown seemingly without a prayer but, refusing to be cowed by precedent or apparent form, we won by 208 runs.

Eight of that team have a chance of playing on Thursday. We can only be encouraged. That last match will be forever recalled for Alec Stewart's centuries in both innings and Angus Fraser's eight first-innings wickets. I took five in the second innings. This is, of course, no guarantee that any of us will flourish again but let us say I'll feel better than if I had taken none for 193.

That match and others subsequently showed that we can come back against West Indies. When they came to England three years back England twice came from behind to draw the series 2-2. All this has lifted us over the past few days. We know not only that they can be beaten but also that we can beat them. And there is also the fact that England like playing in Barbados. There are, it is said, likely to be 14,000 people over here from England and if they are not all in the ground at once it will be as near to playing at home as playing 6,000 miles away ever gets.

The pitch may be better than the ones that have preceded it in this series. We have no complaints. Test cricketers cannot expect to go round the world playing on shirt fronts but the batsmen really have been up against it here this year. All the surfaces have tended to lean towards the bowler from early in the match. Bridgetown, we hear, may be different - the groundsman sounds confident. Having said which, the most recent Test here was in April last year, and West Indies were dismissed for 140 in their second innings, leaving India needing 120 to win. They mustered 81. Still, we are reasonably confident of a truer surface for batting.

Our batsmen have probably not yet performed quite well enough as a unit, something they had become accustomed to doing. It has been difficult - but we know there is room for improvement.

The mood after Guyana has been one of anticipation, determination and expectation. It was always likely to be hard to retain a foothold in the match after losing the toss. We shelled catches at the wrong times (not that there are any right times but who knows what might have happened if we had managed to get their third wicket before they had reached 50 in the first innings) and then after their 10th-wicket partnership there was no getting back.

Curtly and Courtney, Walsh and Ambrose, bowled with real venom. Curtly bowled as well as he has in the series and was particularly outstanding in the second innings. It was bitterly disappointing but not terminal. We know we can match them. I want to be back. It is not much easier watching a Test than playing in it, it's just that when you're not playing your ability to influence events is limited.

Not playing gave me the chance to finish Tom Clancy's thriller Politika. There were several riveting strands but the thrust of the piece was that the Russian terrorists who blew up Times Square in New York had to be caught before they could inflict further damage and split the super powers. Almost as nerve-tingling as this series.