Seven years ago, West Indies last won a Test match against England. From the manner in which they conducted their business yesterday it is likely to be another seven before they repeat the achievement. Or 70, or 170. Who cares? They seemed barely to give a fig.
True, the tourists celebrated with gusto their minor triumphs on the third day of the Third Test. True, they were given a joyous uplift in the late afternoon when the debutant Darren Sammy took three wickets in five balls, narrowly missed a hat-trick and finished with 7 for 66, the second-best return by a West Indian in his first match. But by then England were over the hill and far away, whence they had been led by Alastair Cook's sixth Test hundred in only his 17th match.
It is always a pleasure to witness sportsmen enjoying their work but the tourists' celebrations at Sammy's success - involving a considerable amount of cavorting around the field by several team members - seemed somehow ill-fitting because between times West Indies were lamentable. They turned misfielding into a new art form, running through the card of possible errors while doing so.
Diving over the ball? No problem. Letting it through your legs? Absolutely. Failing to get your body behind it? Yes indeed. Reacting slowly to prevent boundaries? Naturally. Then there were the dropped catches, three in all in different positions.
Their bowling lacked venom, it was necessarily defensive but it was also for too long bereft of spirit. No side could have offered a more complete exhibition in helping to define the meaning of going through the motions. It was always probable that England would win this series in some comfort as they did in 2000 and twice home and away in 2004, but they might have expected a less feeble contest.
Without imposing themselves, England did what they had to do. They chugged along comfortably at more than three runs an over, presumably reckoning that there was no need to do more. To win the match and level the series, the West Indies must beat by some distance their own fourth-innings record of 418 for 7. But that was achieved at Antigua, and the Old Trafford pitch, for all its merits, is not the St John's Recreation Ground. At the close, they needed another 433 with nine wickets left, their captain Daren Ganga again falling cheaply to one of Stephen Harmison's straighter offerings, one that nipped back and caught him on the crease.
It is unfortunately impossible, if unfair, to avoid comparing this West Indies team with their illustrious predecessors. The mind could not help wandering back yesterday to another Saturday in Manchester 31 years ago. Late in the day the home side's opening batsmen, Brian Close and John Edrich (combined age 84) had to withstand a fearsome late onslaught from Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. So withering was it that a spectator meandered on to the field with a specially carved large, wide bat.
No need for such accoutrements yesterday. West Indies were decidedly gentle by any standards - let alone those of 1976 - and allowed their supporting cast to do much of the work. For the morning and most of the afternoon the proceedings were desultory.
It was something of a surprise when Michael Vaughan became the day's first victim, Sammy holding a smart, low return catch to his right. The second was still more unexpected when Kevin Pietersen, apparently powering his way to another Test hundred, tried to evade a short ball from Dwayne Bravo. He succeeded only in ducking into it and his helmet, dislodged when its chinstrap snapped, landed on his stumps.
There was an inevitability about Cook's hundred. This was a fairly ragged affair, lacking the fluency of his first-innings 60, but his composure did not desert him. It never does. He clipped with his usual aplomb off his legs and though he was dropped at long-leg on 42 he was never disconcerted by the packed offside field, designed to lure him into mistakes in his weaker areas.
Cook is 22 and only three players have scored more hundreds before they were 23. It is not improbable that he can overtake them all - Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar and Javed Miandad - before his birthday on 25 December. He has seven Test matches before then.
His was one of the flurry of wickets to fall in the evening, though not to Sammy who reaped the rewards for some accuracy on or just outside off stump. He had Bell caught behind, lured into the shot as he too often is for such a smart player, similarly persuaded Matthew Prior to feather one behind and three balls later had Liam Plunkett caught off bat and leg at gully.
By now Sammy was irresistible and soon after becoming the ninth West Indian to take a five-wicket haul ondebut he overtook them all but one. Only the left-arm spinner Alf Valentine has done better. He took 8 for 104 in 1950 in a match his side lost, but went on to win the series. That was also at Manchester and that unfortunately invited another comparison. Ah, Ramadhin and Valentine, those two little pals of mine. Until West Indies start winning again, they will never shake off the past and they do not look like doing so any day soon.
NPOWER TEST SCOREBOARD
England won toss
England - First Innings 370
West Indies - First Innings 229
England - Second Innings (Overnight 34-1)
A N Cook lbw b Gayle 106
(Given out reaching far forward across the line; 305 min, 215 balls, 10 fours)
*M P Vaughan c & b Sammy 40
(Reaction catch to firm back-foot drive; 105 min, 78 balls, 5 fours)
K P Pietersen hit wicket b Bravo 68
(Helmet dislodged on to stumps by bouncer; 150 min, 106 balls, 7 fours)
P D Collingwood c Ganga b Sammy 42
(Chipped off legs straight to mid-wicket; 106 min, 76 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)
I R Bell c Ramdin b Sammy 2
(Nicked a rising ball outside off on back foot; 8 min, 9 balls)
ÝM J Prior c Ramdin b Sammy 0
(Caught behind fishing outside off stump; 1 min, 1 ball)
L E Plunkett c Bravo b Sammy 0
(Fine catch by slip running forward to take thick inside edge; 3 min, 3 balls)
S J Harmison c Morton b Sammy 16
(Diving catch at gully off thick looping outside edge; 37 min, 22 balls, 2 fours)
R J Sidebottom not out 8
(11 min, 7 balls, 2 fours)
M S Panesar c Gayle b Sammy 0
(Edged ball going across him to second slip; 2 min, 2 balls)
Extras (b2 lb6 w6 nb12 pen5) 31
Total (369 min, 85.3 overs) 313
Fall (contd): 2-99 (Vaughan), 3-221 (Pietersen), 4-265 (Cook), 5-272 (Bell), 6-272 (Prior), 7-272 (Plunkett), 8-300 (Harmison), 9-313 (Collingwood), 10-313 (Panesar).
Cook: 50 in 161 min, 96 balls, 5 fours; 100 in 283 min, 198 balls, 10 fours. Pietersen: 50 in 118 min, 79 balls, 7 fours.
Bowling: Edwards 12-0-54-1 (nb9) (6-0-30-1, 4-0-16-0, 2-0-8-0), Taylor 10-0-42-0 (2-0-12-0, 8-0-30-0), Collymore 7-2-24-0 (nb1,w6) (one spell), Sammy 21.3-2-66-7 (nb2) (11-2-35-1, 10.3-0-31-6), Chanderpaul 11-1-43-0 (3-0-12-0, 7-1-21-0, 1-0-10-0), Bravo 8-2-14-1 (one spell), Gayle 16-0-57-1 (14-0-46-1, 2-0-11-0).
West Indies - Second Innings (target 455 runs)
C H Gayle not out 11
(33 min, 29 balls, 2 fours)
*D Ganga lbw b Harmison 0
(Pinned in front by ball moving in; 6 min, 3 balls)
D S Smith not out 10
(26 min, 16 balls, 2 fours)
Extras (w1) 1
Total (1 wkt, 33 min, 8 overs) 22
Fall: 1-4 (Ganga).
To bat: S Chanderpaul, R S Morton, D J Bravo, D J G Sammy, ÝD Ramdin, C D Collymore, J E Taylor, F H Edwards.
Bowling: Sidebottom 2-0-8-0, Harmison 4-1-7-1 (w1), Panesar 2-0-7-0 (one spell each).
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).
TV Umpire: P J Hartley. Match referee: A G Hurst (Aus).
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