Cricket: Tour of frustration for the better team

Andrew Caddick argues that England's cricket merited victory in the Test series
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The Independent Online
THIS has been a hard tour. I came here as the strike bowler, but I have not acquitted myself as I imagined or perhaps as I ought to have done. Sure, there is a thin dividing line, no more than a cigarette paper, or the width of a stitch in the seam of the ball. But it could have gone better.

Things conspire against you sometimes. I have used before the phrase about hitting your straps. Well, there are days when you strike them full on. And then you don't. It's not so much straps as being something else - rhyming - entirely.

What to do? I know very well that in the First/Second Test in Trinidad I could, should have, bowled with more precision. England lost the match. But I came back in the next Test, was on a hat-trick, took five wickets in an innings. England won the match.

Whatever the outcome of this series I believe we have played the better cricket. This may seem a large claim since we went into this final Test 2-1 down but the team ethos should not be ignored. The West Indies rely so much on three players: Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Brian Lara. Not exactly a three-man team, but certainly a dependent team.

England have come together as a unit. We have improved. We fancied our chances in Barbados last week until rain stopped proceedings on the final day. We had come back into the match from the parlous position of 53 for 4. There is no doubting that we batted tremendously to do so, but maybe the opposition should have done better. It was a desperately disappointing end to our chances of winning the series. Out of our hands: it didn't make it easier.

There have been occasions in this series when we haven't done as well as we should have done (funny isn't it that batsmen so often get forgiven while bowlers seem to get dropped) but this remains a strong unit. We have never ceased believing in ourselves, we have always felt we had the beating of the West Indies. Some better pitches would have been welcome from the point of view of Test cricket at large, but you have to put up with what you get.

It was pretty crucial to win the toss here in Antigua if we were to have a strong chance of levelling the series. We lost it. It was bad enough having been deprived by Barbados rain of the opportunity of winning the Wisden Trophy for the first time since 1969 (not least because the 1998 version of the great, old yellow book is out in a few days) but then to have another tricky, dicky pitch was not what we had in mind.

Before the showers so severely interrupted the beginning of this Test the squad for the limited-over series was picked and I wasn't in it. Angus Fraser was. Maybe I hadn't bowled well enough. But I do so much want to play in the World Cup next year (how many World Cups does a player get in his lifetime?) and I believe the team needs proper front-line bowlers. A team of all-rounders might be fine but on English pitches in May sides can be bowled out. Bearing that in mind, I hope the selectors have got it right for the series just about to start in the Caribbean. The World Cup is only 14 months away.

There is a Test match still to be won here, a series to be drawn. Oh, it was disappointing to lose the toss. We knew what the pitch was likely to have in store and so it proved. Not a pitch you would want to bat on by choice. But whatever the outcome I feel we have more to be happy about than the West Indies. We have always felt we could bowl them out and while the two great bowlers have done well, their potential replacements are not yet matching them. Franklin Rose swings the ball, Nixon McLean is very fast, but a bit wayward which tends to negate him. The West Indies are not the side they were and we, England, know we should be winning this series.

There are other players leaving this tour next week. Spare a thought especially for Ashley Cowan and Chris Silverwood. They have had very little playing to do but they have always had to keep themselves fit, sharp and ready to step in the side at any time if injury arose. It's not good for the soul being 12th man day in, day out (as I found out on the tour to New Zealand last year) but I hope the boys have learned a little about the touring life.

This England team is a good one. I haven't always been on top of my game here, but I like to think I have done what the management have wanted me to do. Nobody, but nobody, can be harder on me than myself. We can match West Indies. And anybody else.