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White hot as England head into history

Fifth Test: Support bowlers enjoy a field day to torment the tourists as series win beckons for Hussain's men

England are on the very brink of defeating the West Indies in a Test series for the first time in 31 years. Throughout most of that period this is a position which it seemed would never again be reached. Yet when it arrived in mid-morning yesterday it was not only expected but routine.

England are on the very brink of defeating the West Indies in a Test series for the first time in 31 years. Throughout most of that period this is a position which it seemed would never again be reached. Yet when it arrived in mid-morning yesterday it was not only expected but routine.

The tourists' batting collapsed in a heap again, the only wonder being that they saved the follow-on. The one man who might have salvaged their miserable effort, Brian Lara, suffered the indignity of the only first-ball duck of his Test career.

It was difficult to discern who was the more forlorn, the Trinidadian or Nasser Hussain, whose failure to score brought him his only pair in 270 first-class matches. This was the culmination of a wretched Test summer for England's captain. He has made 61 runs in seven innings in this series, 92 in 10 this summer, 148 in his last 13 Test innings. If the next Test was any time before Lahore in November he would have trouble justifying his selection - except as the unquestioned leader of a winning team.

It is not quite all over yet. West Indies have played wretchedly - all too reminiscent to close followers of England - but there is the chance that England, having waited so long, will peer in to the eyes of victory and run away from it, thinking it to be a stranger. Not much chance, surely, but the job has to be finished before a full house at The Oval today.

If England see it through, as they should after establishing a first-innings lead of 156 with a bridgehead erected by their second phase bowlers, it will be important neither to diminish nor to exaggerate their triumph. On the one hand, most of their predecessors could probably have seen off these West Indies with all their frailties, on the other they were often pretty ropey themselves.

It would be wrong, too, to suggest that the Wisden Trophy is coming home. England have won it only twice previously in the 17 series since it was inaugurated in 1963 to mark the centenary edition of the Wisden Almanack. Observers of the English scene had begun to think that the second centenary would come round before the trophy.

Nobody ought to have been willing to call the outcome before play started. Both sides have proved themselves capable of mediocrity and while England had nosed ahead in the series West Indies, even this team, have dug themselves out of some big holes.

When Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick failed to make early incursion with their first spells the prospects were that they might challenge England's 281. Sherwin Campbell was handsome and if Adrian Griffith's batting could never come into that category its ungainliness was briefly matched by its steadiness.

Survival against the initial new-ball spells (the first on Friday night, the second yesterday morning) was to their credit. The garlands had been heaped on Caddick and Gough these past few weeks and they arrived here as the first pair of England opening bowlers to go through a summer in 40 years. As the most recent were Brian Statham and Fred Trueman against South Africa in 1960 it says something for these latest successors, for selectorial continuity and for welcome lack of injuries.

When they were relieved, the West Indies might have been tempted to relax. Batsmen once did that at their enormous peril against the West Indies' bowlers. As soon as one duo departed another just as lethal arrived. So, too, now.

From the Vauxhall End, in roared Craig White, from the pavilion end, whipping up a storm, came Dominic Cork. There was no answer to them. Cork removed Campbell as the batsman pushed down the wrong line, deceived by swing or the absence of it, and saw his inside edge go into his stumps.

In the next over, from White, Griffith flayed to Graeme Hick at second slip. It was Lara or nothing now for West Indies. The stage, so they said, was set for him, but he had only a walk-on part.

Round the wicket came the reborn Yorkshireman. The ball swung, slanted across Lara's body and he was almost falling over in the shot as it the ball seared round his legs and took the leg stump. Three wickets had fallen in nine balls and the West Indies followed form by allowing it to become four in 14 when Wavell Hinds was lbw to Cork, and obviously so.

As soon as it became 39 for 5 at the fall of Ramnaresh Sarwan, beautifully held at fourth slip by Marcus Trescothick, the prospects of West Indies saving the follow-on, for which they needed 82, let alone achieving a three-figure score were not rosy.

Somehow, they managed it. White was replaced briefly after a spell of 3 for 8 in five overs but a rampant Cork induced Jimmy Adams to push at one away from his body after giving him a series of balls moving in. Hick held another catch. Cork has taken 18 wickets in this series at 10.8. Another triumph for the selectors.

There was a brief rally, engineered by Ridley Jacobs and Mehendra Nagamootoo, who decided that he might as well express himself. Trescothick's second smart catch accounted for Nagamootoo, Caddick claimed a wicket by having Curtly Ambrose lbw on the back leg, the follow-on was on again, so to speak and so was another three-day finish.

Jacobs piled in with a few blows, Nixon McLean with a few more. They put on what amounted to a monumental 44 for the ninth wicket. It was not riches but it spared their side fearful embarrassment. The pitch had not been the type that we became used to seeing at The Oval for most of the past two decades but it was good enough for batting. What they lacked was batsmanship both in technique and spirit.

The lead was a difficult one to judge for England. They needed to extend it but in pursuit of victory they did not dare give the West Indies a sniff of victory. Not now, not after 31 years, not even on behalf of brighter cricket. Atherton and his bright new partner started well again. The veteran opener, as if determined to question reports of the past few days about his retirement next year, pushed forward with a good stride, left more extravagantly than usual.

Trescothick, too, played it late but then he was out, caught at slip as Ambrose came round the wicket. So, Hussain entered. Nobody wished him ill. His part in the semi-renaissance of English cricket is not to be overplayed. But he needed runs and he needed them now.

They did not give him an opportunity to notch, of course. Several times he set off, only to be hare back to his crease. He was at that point when a single, any single would have doneand he might have been off and running.

He fell leg before to McLean delivering from wide of the crease. The ball pitched outside off stump, came in, struck Hussain on the pads and probably, almost certainly, would not have straightened enough to hit the stumps.

Those are the decisions you get. They immediately trooped off for bad light and re-emerged only briefly. England led by 187 and their captain would not have traded it for anything. Well, maybe one measly run.

Cornhill Test scoreboard

West Indies won toss

England - First Innings 281 (M A Atherton 83, M E Trescothick 78)

West Indies First Innings

S L Campbell b Cork 20 (Inside edge from forcing back-foot shot; 91 min, 74 balls, 3 fours) A F G Griffith c Hick b White 6 (Sharp slip catch from flashing drive; 97 min, 64 balls) W W Hinds lbw b Cork 2 (Hit on front pad by ball swing back into him; 13 min, 7 balls) B C Lara b White 0 (Bowled round legs by swinging ball; 1 min, 1 ball) *J C Adams c Hick b Cork 5 (Edge off push at wide ball; 37 min, 17 balls) R R Sarwan c Trescothick b White 5 (High catch at fourth slip from push at wide ball; 7 min, 8 balls) ÿR D Jacobs not out 26 (118 min, 61 balls, 2 fours) M V Nagamootoo c Trescothick b Gough 18 (Sharp catch from firm shot to gully; 24 min, 22 balls, 3 fours) C E L Ambrose lbw b Caddick 0 (Missed huge swing at straight ball; 5 min, 1 ball) N A M McLean b White 29 (Inside edge on to stumps from defensive shot; 53 min, 46 balls, 5 fours) C A Walsh b White 5 (Neck and crop through the gate; 9 min, 10 balls, 1 four) Extras (lb3 nb6) 9 Total (232 min, 50.5 overs) 125

Fall: 1-32 (Campbell), 2-32 (Griffith), 3-32 (Lara), 4-34 (Hinds), 5-39 (Sarwan), 6-51 (Adams), 7-74 (Nagamootoo), 8-75 (Ambrose), 9-119 (McLean), 10-125 (Walsh).

Bowling: Bowling: Gough 13-3-25-1 (nb4) (10-2-16-0 3-1-9-1), Caddick 18-7-42-1 (nb2) (10-6-13-0 1-0-4-0 7-1-25-1), White 11.5-1-32-5 (5-1-11-3 6.5-0-21-2), Cork 8-3-23-3 (6-2-21-3 2-1-2-0).

Progress: Third day: 50 in 135 min, 29.2 overs. Lunch 86-8 (Jacobs 15, McLean 8) 38 overs. 100 in 192 min, 41.3 overs. Innings closed 2.34pm .

England - Second innings

M A Atherton not out 20 (96 min, 72 balls) M E Trescothick c Lara b Ambrose 7 (Edge to first slip off fine seaming ball; 52 min, 36 balls, 1 four) N Hussain lbw b McLean 0 (Trapped on crease by nip-backer; 25 min, 15 balls) G P Thorpe not out 2 (17 min, 11 balls) Extras (lb2) 2 Total (for 2, 96 min, 22.2 overs) 31

Fall: 1-21 (Trescothick), 2-29 (Hussain).

Bowling: Ambrose 9-3-11-1, Walsh 11-5-13-0, McLean 2.2-0-5-1 (one spell each).

Progress: Rain stopped play 3.21-3.43pm 17-0 (Atherton 11, Trescothick 5) 8.3 overs - early tea. RSP 4.28-4.52pm 29-2 (Atherton 20, Thorpe 0) 18.3 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.08pm.

Umpires: D J Harper and D R Shepherd

TV Replay Umpire: B Leadbeater Match Referee: R S Madugalle