Collymore shows tourists how to avoid whitewash

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The Independent Online

As diligently as they tried, the West Indies could not compensate for the hole their habitually ineffective batting dug for them on the previous afternoon.

As diligently as they tried, the West Indies could not compensate for the hole their habitually ineffective batting dug for them on the previous afternoon.

They were appreciably keener and more committed throughout than at Lord's and Edgbaston. But it was unrealistic to expect an attack as inexperienced as the one at Brian Lara's disposal - which had twice conceded totals of over 500 in the series - to dismiss cocksure opponents for under 231.

Had the batsmen given them 100 more the day before, as they should have, England would have had more to think about.

As it was, England had convincing rehearsals for such a challenge twice before this summer. Set over 280 to get in the last innings by New Zealand they were 35 for at Lord's and romped home for the loss of only one more wicket. At Trent Bridge they were 16 for 2 and still won by four wickets.

They would have approached yesterday's lesser challenge with understandable optimism that they could claim their sixth consecutive Test victory.

They now go to The Oval on Thursday on the verge of avenging the whitewashes their predecessors sustained against the powerful teams of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Unless the West Indies bat more consistently, they will complete it.

The West Indies began yesterday consumed by the disappointment of, yet again, spurning a favourable position.

To press England, they required all the luck that was going, every catch to stick, flawless out-cricket and Dave Mohammed, the first specialist spinner they have used in the series, to reproduce the threat posed by England's Ashley Giles on a worn pitch the day before. They were denied on all counts.

In the best exhibition of West Indies bowling in the series, Corey Collymore could have had more than one wicket as his reward. He breached Marcus Trescothick's defences with an ideal delivery and tormented Robert Key with out-swingers around off-stump, even when the unflappable Key was entrenched. Michael Vaughan won't endure an over more testing than Collymore's midway through the day.

When Key's outside edge was finally clipped and the catch flew to second slip, Sylvester Joseph parried it away. Key was on 58, England were then 71 away from their goal. It was the West Indies' last chance.

Collymore has made an impressive return after coming in as a replacement for the injured teenager, Ravi Rampaul. He was dropped after the home series against England in the spring for his lack of success but the selectors did not take into account the misfortune that followed him there as well.

His was not the only hard luck story. Vaughan's miscued hook off the pacy Fidel Edwards would have left England on 42 for 3 had the diving wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh been able to make the catch, but the ball fell a foot away from him.

When on 42, Key's tentative edge off Chris Gayle touched down a foot or so short of Lara at slip. There were a couple of close lbw decisions and there was more playing and missing by England than at Lord's and Edgbaston put together.

The proliferation of no balls - 14 in all - also hurt a team seeking to defend a modest target.

Perhaps the hardest part for the West Indies was believing they could do it. Their last victory overseas over opponents other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, the only two teams ranked below them by the International Cricket Council, was four years ago over England at Edgbaston.

It has generated a lack of conviction, evident once more in Lara's reversion to typically defensive mode as soon as Key and Vaughan got stuck in.

With England still more than 100 adrift, fields were spread far and wide. Key, Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff comfortably worked the ball into the spaces for singles and twos. It signalled a resignation to the outcome even before the game was up.

It will take all of the motivational skills of Lara, the coach, Gus Logie, and senior players to lift spirits sufficiently to avoid England's clean sweep. The portents are not encouraging.