England capitalise on Cork hat-trick

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The Independent Online

reports from Old Trafford

West Indies 216 and 314 England 437 and 94-4 England win by six wickets

Modern Test cricket might have the likes of Fred Trueman taking an apoplectic chunk out of the stem of his pipe, but for sheer theatre, it outdoes the fossilised variety nearly every time. There is scarcely a dull game nowadays, and England's series-levelling fourth-Test victory target of 94 here yesterday was not achieved without several changes of underwear.

From 39 for 0, the complexion of the game altered as swiftly as Robin Smith's own complexion when he was struck under the left eye by Ian Bishop and was forced to retire hurt in the middle of a collapse to 47 for 4. With Smith's injury serious enough to necessitate an immediate trip to hospital - where it was revealed that he had fractured a cheekbone - England were effectively 47 for 5, bringing back unpleasant memories of that 46 all out in Trinidad

However, England were then rescued by a remarkable innings of 31 not out from Jack Russell, for most of his career a fidgety and near unwatchable nudger and nurdler, now transformed into an uncomplicated biffer. Russell had every right to be riddled with nervous tics, but he knocked off the runs with a near-contemptuous flourish.

Test matches might finish earlier these days, but the absence of draws is a distinctly more uplifting trend than (given the level of streakers) the absence of drawers. Apart from the buttock-clenching nature of England's dabble with disaster, yesterday's six-wicket victory was rounded off by one of Test cricket's rarer feats - a hat-trick from Dominic Cork - and a sublime century, the first one of the series, from Brian Lara.

There was an early indication that this was not going to be the West Indies' match when Michael Holding got lost on the way to the ground on Thursday morning, latched on to a car with an England cricketer's name emblazoned down the door panel, and was half-way to Worcester before he realised Graeme Hick was behind the wheel.

Smith's injury apart, everything went right for England. They hatched a plan to win the toss and spin the West Indies out on a dustbowl, only to lose the toss and seam their way to victory via Cork and Angus Fraser. They now have the respectable record of five wins in their last 14 Tests against the West Indies, whereas their miserable performances against Australia are mirrored by two victories in 24.

Yesterday, when the West Indies resumed 62 behind with seven second- innings wickets in hand, the major worry was in Lara finding a marriage partner at the other end, rather than, as was the case in the first innings, a series of brief flirtations.

However, the last three balls of the first over of the day resulted in three divorces, and just as well for England it was too. Ninety-four to win looked modest enough, but on a pitch of increasingly uncertain bounce, and high velocity bowlers revved up for one big effort, England did not so much cross the winning line on roller skates as on a pair of crutches.

Another thing which invokes unfavourable comparisons with the past is the loss of some of the old-fashioned courtesies. Number 11 batsmen are as likely to be greeted by a throat ball as a No 1, and, as we saw yesterday, batsmen are no longer inclined to take a fielder's word for it when he claims a catch.

With England having slipped from 39 for 0 to 41 for 2, John Crawley edged Kenneth Benjamin low to the substitute fielder, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, at second slip, and the resultant celebrations were an invitation to Crawley to leave the field. However, Crawley decided instead to refer the matter to arbitration, and received, as he was entitled, the benefit of the doubt.

There is no room for social niceties any more, and shame though that is, England have finally learned that Test cricket has moved on from the all shake hands and pass the cucumber sandwiches era. And in that respect, no one has a fiercer competitive edge than Cork.

Thanks to a no-ball, his first-over hat-trick was achieved with his fifth, sixth and seventh deliveries, and was the first by an Englishman since Peter Loader in 1957. It was only the 22nd hat-trick in Test history, and if Cork - as he professes - does not care for comparisons with Ian Botham, he merely has to point out that this is a feat Botham never managed.

First to go was Richie Richardson, attempting to play no stroke when the ball deflected into the stumps via pad and bat. Junior Murray then came in and batted for about five minutes, four and a half of which were consumed by his pallbearer's retreat to the pavilion after missing a straight ball.

Cork's final victim was Carl Hooper, and when the South African umpire Cyril Mitchley raised his finger, Cork's arm-pumping celebrations were so frenzied it is a wonder he is not out of the next Test with two dislocated shoulders. By remarkable coincidence, Cork's only other hat-trick (against Kent at Derby last summer) was also completed with an lbw against Hooper.

Cork's figures of 4 for 111 were not all that flattering for a bloke taking a hat-trick, but the combination of bowling at Lara and his own aggressive instincts were not conducive to economy. Where he differs from Botham is his inability to get people out with hopeless deliveries. Cork bowled 15 of them in the second innings, and every one was thrown back by a spectator.

Lara scarcely needs any encouragement to go for his shots, but the arrival of Ian Bishop after only one over of the day's play induced an urgency that was impressive even by his standards. Starting at 59 not out, he had reached 145 half an hour into the afternoon session when he pulled Fraser to deep square leg, and Nick Knight took a well judged catch running in.

Later, though, Knight edged to slip soon after Michael Atherton had been narrowly run out on TV adjudication, and when Graham Thorpe hooked to long leg, and Smith deflected Bishop into his face off the shoulder of the bat, the sweat on the dressing-room floor was not entirely down to the heatwave.