It is just another one-day match in another one-day series but if they can somehow prise out a victory the tourists will leave with more than the usual spring in their step. They will feel good about themselves and their prospects for the long summer ahead – starting in four weeks – and they might just help to ensure that the captain-coach combination featuring the two Andrews, Strauss and Flower, will be permitted to continue.
There was a relaxed mood in the camp at the final training session. If this was provoked largely by the knowledge that they will soon be homeward bound there was also a discernably additional element. They were practising with the air of men who had not come this far to lose.
The one-day series stands at 2-2 and history is against England. In six previous attempts they have never won a limited-overs series in the Caribbean. To do so now by coming from behind in bizarre circumstances would be rightly considered as a famous victory. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff have both been pronounced fit to play. Pietersen's mystery back spasm has cleared up entirely and while Flintoff's thumb is still bruised and swollen he will not miss this encounter for a small thing like not being able to grip the bat properly.
England's two victories have been slightly bizarre. The first was achieved when the opposition coach, John Dyson, mucked up his Duckworth Lewis calculation and told his players to come off for bad light even though they were behind. The second came when England's overs were reduced to 20 and the target along with it.
They could do with something more conventional and at least can rest easy knowing that the match will definitely take place. Until yesterday there had been the vague threat that the West Indies players would strike because of their pay and contracts dispute with their cricket board.
Negotiations were still continuing yesterday but common sense prevailed. The players recognised that with tickets sold out months ago they would be letting down fans who have suffered enough in the cause of West Indies cricket these past 10 years.
But relations between players and board are far from cordial and West Indies' tour of England which is due to start at the end of this month is not certain to take place with a full strength team. Their captain, Chris Gayle was largely non-committal on the subject yesterday but like so many trade unionists of old he was ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out.
West Indies' players have a good case – it is normal for workers to be paid by their employers – but convincing their bosses of it may be another matter. Although Gayle maintained that they would be able fully concentrate on the matter in hand, there is just the chance that they might be aggrieved enough for the performances to be affected.
For England it is entirely natural that home beckons. "We have put in a huge amount off the work in the last 10 weeks," said Strauss. "It's been very impressive but you want to see rewards and at the end of the day we will be judged not on how much hard work we have put in to our training sessions but how well we have done on the pitch and that's why the match is so important to us."
Strauss has fulfilled most of the expectations that most observers had for his captaincy – except, so far, winning matches. He has approached the job with enthusiasm, maturity and vision. It should not be forgotten that England arrived in the Caribbean in disarray after their coach, Peter Moores and captain, Kevin Pietersen had been sacked. "There was potential for us to go off the rails," said Strauss. "We haven't done that. Losing the Test series was bitterly disappointing. I think the guys have stuck together very well. It bodes well for the future it's important we keep doing the hard work we have done. By and large I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm excited about a busy summer ahead."
Whether he is in tandem with Flower will be known in a fortnight. All the candidates on what is described as a very short shortlist for the post of team director will be interviewed next week. Gary Kirsten, the successful coach of India, confirmed yesterday that he is not a candidate. Hugh Morris, the England managing director, who is overseeing the appointment, has done a sterling job in keeping the names concealed. Any that have been paraded in public are the result of pure speculation – except that of Flower. He should get the job and today he can go a little way to clinching it.
All to play for... Story of a series
Match one, Providence
England win by a run after West Indies coach miscalculates under the Duckworth/Lewis system and urges players off for bad light. England win by 1 run (D/L)
Match two, Providence
Big stand by hometown boys Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan leaves England floundering and Strauss' hundred is not enough. West Indies win by 21 runs
Match three, Bridgetown
Memorably dismal batting display by England followed by electrifying exhibition by Chris Gayle gives West Indies series lead. West Indies win by 8 wickets (D/L)
Match four, Bridgetown
Rain-affected match leaves tourists only 20 overs and Strauss (79no) bats beautifully to ensure chance of series victory. England win by 9 wickets (D/L)
Sixes hit by West Indies during a five-wicket ODI win over England in St Lucia in April 2004 – Dwayne Smith hit four.
- More about:
- Caribbean Islands (west Indies)
- Freddie Flintoff
- Kevin Pietersen
- Trade Unions