Heavy mob fire the shots to seal England's sixth successive win

<preform>Third Test, final day<br>West Indies 395-9 dec &amp; 165<br>England 330 & 231-3<BR>England win by seven wickets</preform>
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The Independent Online

Robert Key and Andrew Flintoff both received heavy criticism about their weight and attitude when they first broke into the England team. Each enjoyed a pint, a pie and a good night out but this approach to international cricket failed to impress the England coach. Both were sent away and told to sharpen up their act.

Robert Key and Andrew Flintoff both received heavy criticism about their weight and attitude when they first broke into the England team. Each enjoyed a pint, a pie and a good night out but this approach to international cricket failed to impress the England coach. Both were sent away and told to sharpen up their act.

But Duncan Fletcher may well have been found partaking in these three vices with this pair in Manchester last night following England's seven-wicket victory over the West Indies. England still required 120 runs to win the third Test when the close friends came together. The England captain, Michael Vaughan, had just edged Chris Gayle's first ball to slip, and England were in danger of losing this match - so bringing an end to their remarkable run of success.

England knew that Graham Thorpe's fractured finger would limit his input and this put Flintoff and Key under extra pressure. But both players rose to the challenge, showing maturity and responsibility as they guided their side home.

Flintoff finished the match off in brutal fashion by smashing Ramnaresh Sarwan for two huge sixes but by then the game was won and it was the performance of Key which should be given the greatest credit.

The technique of the Kent opener has received a fair amount of criticism since he scored 221 against the West Indies at Lord's. In his next four innings he accumulated only 54 runs but this innings of 93 proved he has what it takes to make it at this level. Key held England's batting together after the home side had lost two early wickets only to be deprived of his second Test century by Flintoff's big hitting.

"I told Freddie [Flintoff] to get it over with," said Key, when asked whether they had discussed letting him reach three figures. "To win the game and to be there with Freddie at the end was a great feeling. This was a better innings than Lord's by a long way. The double hundred was a great feeling but the pitch there was flat and the bowlers were struggling to get the ball above head height. Here it was hard work and this was a better knock."

Key needed this innings for several reasons. Had he failed here he would have been under enormous pressure in the next Test, at the Oval on Thursday. England are fortunate to have six or seven quality batsmen competing for five places but this knock should have secured his selection for England's winter tour of South Africa.

Flintoff also deprived his mate of the honour of scoring the winning runs when he cut Gayle to third man for four. This stroke sealed England's third consecutive Test series win; it was also a fitting way to continue the side's remarkable run of success.

Through winning this match England have now equalled the record of Peter May's side, who won six consecutive Test matches against New Zealand and the West Indies between July 1957 and July 1958. This was not the only record England kept going. Through defeating Brian Lara's side here they also matched the run of Mike Brearley's England side, who won nine out of 10 games in 1978 and 1979.

And should Vaughan's side win Thursday's fourth Test at the Oval they will equal the best ever run by an England team, which took place between June 1928 and February 1929, when Percy Chapman guided his side to seven consecutive victories.

Though England's batting was almost exemplary - Andrew Strauss was out to a poor shot - they also benefited from a fair bit of good fortune. How Old Trafford avoided the storms which circled the ground for most of the afternoon was a mystery to the 14,000 spectators who attended. For three hours the distant skyline of Manchester disappeared - so heavy was the rain falling - and those people working in the offices there must have wondered how cricket was being played four miles away.

But this highlighted how cruel cricket can be. When things are going well for you everything seems to go your way and when they are not, as the West Indies are finding out, every mistake you make proves costly.

Brian Lara's side could rue the weather but they also made several mistakes themselves. The bowlers worked hard and made life difficult for England yesterday but their cricket has been too unpredictable throughout this series. On Sunday they were well-placed before Chris Gayle instigated a collapse by slogging one from Ashley Giles to be caught by Matthew Hoggard at long-off for 42. Their bowling has also lacked discipline on far too many occasions and they have also dropped too many catches.

In this Test, Ramnaresh Sarwan grassed Thorpe when he was on 58 in England's first innings and the 56 further runs he scored proved crucial. And the West Indies were at it again yesterday when Sylvester Joseph dropped Key at second slip when he was on 57 and England were on 152-3. This proved to be the final chance offered by England as they cantered to victory with 27.2 overs still remaining.

England wasted little time finishing off the West Indian second innings in the morning. Fidel Edwards swiped and missed at a couple of deliveries from Giles but there was nothing he could do with a Stephen Harmison bouncer which struck him on the glove and lobbed easily to Flintoff at second slip.

Requiring 231 to win, England made a dreadful start. In the sixth over, and with the score on 15, Marcus Trescothick appeared to play the perfect forward defensive shot but somehow the ball squeezed between bat and pad and knocked out his off stump.

Corey Collymore deserved this wicket in an excellent opening spell which saw him take one wicket in six overs for the cost of just four runs. Edwards bowled with pace but he was quickly taken out of the attack when Strauss hit him for two boundaries.

This bowling change brought immediate reward when Strauss weakly pulled a Pedro Collins short ball to Shivnarine Chanderpaul at mid-on. England were on 27-2 at the time, a score from which they would not have recovered in previous years.

And it could have been worse for England had a top-edged pull by Vaughan not evaded the outstretched arm of a diving Carlton Baugh. The England captain was on one at the time and had the West Indian wicket-keeper reached the catch the result of this Test match could well have gone the other way.