On the Front Foot: England’s ship still afloat but Rec record is hard to fathom

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The Independent Online

After the great Test at the Rec, also known as the Antigua Recreation Ground, England no doubt felt miffed and robbed. They will hardly be consoled – especially as the match was never meant to be played – that they have extended the venue’s record as England’s least successful ever. There have now been seven Test matches between West Indies and England at the dilapidated but enduringly charming arena, of which the touring team have won none. At no other ground have they been quite so unrewarded. Wherever they have played a minimum of five matches, England have won at least one. It took until their seventh Test to win at the National Stadium, Karachi, a feat they came so close to equalling at the ARG. It was only the fourth match in which England have been denied victory for want of a single wicket, following those against India at Old Trafford in 1946 and at Lord’s in 2007, and against Australia at Old Trafford in 2005. For West Indies, who have lost three of their 22 Tests at the Rec, it was their second successive draw there with only one wicket in hand. Fidel Edwards, a last-wicket hero against India in 2006 when he batted for 57 minutes and faced 36 balls, was undefeated this time after 26 balls in 34 minutes. He is the only player in history to have three times been part of a last-wicket stand to save a Test match, his first being at Harare in 2003 when he batted for 32 minutes and successfully negotiated 33 balls. When he walked out at the Rec he must have thought the draw was in the bag.

Boycs startles Shepherd

That great stalwart of Kent, John Shepherd, was in Antigua and will be in Barbados for the Test match. Still living in the county he represented so nobly as an overseas all-rounder for 15 years in 303 first-class and 250 one-day matches, he played only five Tests for West Indies. The selectors, rather more spoiled for choice then, were still misguided. Shepherd remains a popular figure wherever he goes and bumped into Geoff Boycott at the Antigua Test. The pair shook hands and Shepherd said how good it was to meet Boycott again. Without so much as a hello, Boycott merely responded: “That lbw at Old Trafford wasn’t out. It were going down the leg side. I don’t know what that silly old fool Charlie Elliott was thinking.” Shepherd was somewhat taken aback. The innings to which Boycott referred was played for England against West Indies in the First Test, Shepherd’s debut, 40 years ago. He had 128 at the time.

Close call with Sir Allen

Phew, what a narrow escape. When the Second Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was abandoned, immediate efforts were made to salvage the situation by starting a new match elsewhere in Antigua. Mike Haysman, the director of cricket operations for Sir Allen Stanford, offered the use of the Stanford Cricket Ground which stands next to the airport. It was politely declined, partly because it would have taken five days to prepare a pitch at the ground. Stanford was accused of the $8bn fraud on the third day of the match.