WITHIN minutes of Courtney Walsh wrapping up England's tail, Michael Atherton had resigned the England captaincy. The collapse that brought defeat and surrendered the series 3-1 had no bearing on his decision, but the last thing he wanted was to sign off in such sloppy style.
The manner of England's demise after determined batting by Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe had seen them add 168 for the fourth wicket was one that seems to be endemic whenever they play abroad. Given that showers washed out the morning session, too, and that the pitch was dead, the collapse was careless and unwarranted.
With Hussain and Thorpe apparently booked in until the close, the wretched mistake that cost Hussain his wicket came just after tea. It was his sixth Test century and his first against the West Indies. After three frustrating tours here - he broke his hand in the one here nine years ago, and did not get picked for the Test matches last time - it was clearly an emotional moment, and there were feelings of anger as well as joy when he threaded Carl Hooper backward of cover for the all-important run.
Although a rearguard action, the partnership had echoes of the one between these two at Edgbaston last year. Then Hussain scored a double hundred and Thorpe a single when Australia were put to the sword and beaten. No less worthy of merit for being an exercise in damage limitation, the partnership ended in ridiculous circumstances when Thorpe, calling Hussain through for a risky single to midwicket, hesitated before running his partner out.
It was a wasteful end to a stoic partnership that looked watertight ever since it had begunthe previous afternoon. Having virtually given up, the home side were perked up, a condition that intensified when Dinanath Ramnarine skidded one through Mark Ramprakash's defences as he played back. If it was an error of judgement, it was joined by one from Steve Bucknor.
Weariness does not only affect the players and the umpire's decision to give Thorpe not out to Junior Murray's brilliantly anticipated catch, when he clearly touched the ball on to his pad, was a mistake. One, however, that umpire Cyril Mitchley made up for when he gave Jack Russell out leg before to a ball from Walsh whose angles were all wrong.
Thorpe, the run-out never far from his mind, soldiered on, clearly fretful as wickets tumbled at the other end. Dean Headley, his nerves jangling, edged Ramnarine to Murray behind the stumps. Andy Caddick, following a brief period of resistance, became another victim of Walsh, as the fast bowler, who was five shy of equalling Malcolm Marshall's West Indies record of 376 wickets when the innings began, took his second wicket. A third soon followed as Fraser gloved a throat ball meekly to Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the gully. Then Walsh got within a single wicket of Marshall, the last man, Tufnell, fending yet another short ball to Clayton Lambert at short leg as the Antigua Recreation Ground erupted in joy.
Once the morning rain had been mopped up, the day began immediately after lunch. With the new ball due one over after the start Lara, somewhat surprisingly, kept faith with his two spinners. A curious tactic, given that both Walsh and Ambrose had spent the morning with their feet up, it was not entirely out of character for Lara. He did not persist with his folly for long, however, and four overs later the gangling figure of Ambrose had a shiny red new ball in his hand.
Following a loosener, which Hussain cut gleefully for four, Ambrose, partnered at the other end by Franklyn Rose, soon warmed to his task to have both batsmen playing and missing. This was the first wave Hussain and Thorpe had to withstand if England were to have a chance of saving the game. They almost did not hold firm - an outside edge from Thorpe narrowly failed to carry to Lara at slip. But it was not all grim survival and there were runs, too, as Hussain cut Rose and Ambrose, the latter over the slips, to the fence.
Later, Ambrose had the pair ducking as well as he switched tactics. With no grass or damp to exploit, it was back to the intimidatory tactics of old as a variety of rib ticklers and throat balls kept the batsmen on their toes.
With an attacking field, and a pitch close to comatose, it also proved costly and the boundary count increased dramatically compared to the period when the spinners had bowled the previous evening. In the end it was a combination of slow and fast that brought England to their knees.
St John's scoreboard
Final day; West Indies won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 127 (D Ramnarine 4-29).
WEST INDIES - First Innings 500 for 7 dec (C L Hooper 108no, C B Lambert 104, P A Wallace 92, B C Lara 89).
ENGLAND - Second Innings
(Overnight: 173 for 3)
*M A Atherton lbw b Ambrose 13
60 min, 40 balls, 1 four
A J Stewart c Wallace b Hooper 79
173 min, 132 balls, 9 fours
M A Butcher c Murray b Ambrose 0
8 min, 6 balls
N Hussain run out (Hooper-Murray) 106
381 min, 318 balls, 14 fours
G P Thorpe not out 84
378 min, 322 balls, 5 fours
M R Ramprakash b Ramnarine 0
13 min, 10 balls
R C Russell lbw b Walsh 9
37 min, 39 balls, 1 four
D W Headley c Murray b Ramnarine 1
5 min, 9 balls
A R Caddick c Murray b Walsh 0
28 min, 20 balls
A R C Fraser c Chanderpaul b Walsh 4
4 min, 3 balls, 1 four
P C R Tufnell c Lambert b Walsh 0
8 min, 4 balls
Extras (b6 lb4 w1 nb14) 25
Total (552 min, 147.2 overs) 321
Fall: 1-45 (Atherton) 2-49 (Butcher) 3-127 (Stewart) 4-295 (Hussain) 5-300 (Ramprakash) 6-312 (Russell) 7-313 (Headley) 8-316 (Caddick) 9-320 (Fraser) 10-321 (Tufnell).
Bowling: Walsh 31.2-7-80-4 (nb4) (4-0-12-0, 1-0-3-0, 3-1-5-0, 5-1-17- 0, 5-3-4-0, 7-1-30-0, 4-1-5-1, 2.2-1-4-3); Ambrose 20-5-66-2 (nb7 w1) (6-2-20-0, 4-1-11-2, 1-0-8-0, 8-2-26-0, 1-0-1-0); Rose 11-2-39-0 (nb4) (2-0-6-0, 3-1-5-0, 2-1-10-0, 4-0-18-0); Ramnarine 46-19-70 -2 (nb4) (1- 0-2-0, 1-0-1-0, 18-5-36-0, 4-3-1-0, 22-11-30-2); Hooper 39-18-56-1 (15- 5-25-1, 8-7-4-0, 14-4-27-0, 2-2-0-0).
Progress: Fifth day: Rain delayed start until 12.45pm. New ball taken after 83 overs at 174-3. 200: 323 min, 88.3 overs. 250: 394 min, 102.4 overs. Tea: 275-3 (Hussain 102, Thorpe 61) 114 overs. Rain delayed restart until 3.41pm. 300: 464 min, 125.1 overs. Innings closed 5.42pm.
Stewart's 50: 118 min, 89 balls, 4 fours. Hussain's 50: 165 min, 157 balls, 6 fours. 100: 341 min, 289 balls, 14 fours. Thorpe's 50: 234 min, 185 balls, 3 fours.
Man of the match: D Ramnarine.
Adjudicator: E Lewis.
Umpires: S A Bucknor and C J Mitchley.
TV Replay Umpire: P Whyte.
Match Referee: B N Jarman.