English pride equal to the pressure

Graham Thorpe tells the inside story of a summer packed with highs and lows
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Headingley England 199 and 208. West Indies 282 and 129-1. West Indies won by 9 wickets

THEY won the toss and put us in, which didn't worry us. We'd always felt our best chance was to try to bat first anyway, and that by getting runs on the board we could put their batsmen under pressure. It didn't work out.

We were told to play positively, which we did, though the execution of the shots didn't quite come off. Actually we weren't in a bad position overnight (148-4), but they really ran in on that second morning and cleaned us up. The Headingley pitch had a lot of carry, which made their bowlers dangerous, particularly Ian Bishop. His seven wickets made all the difference.

At the time, a lot was made of Stewie [Alec Stewart] being made to keep wicket. It wasn't the keeping wicket that bothered him, just the mental adjustments he felt he had to make batting in the middle order.

When they batted, Brian Lara and Sherwin Campbell smashed it, even though we got Carl Hooper out first ball. They decided to take Devon on and hit him out of the attack. To make a game of it, we really needed them to chase over 200, but we never got any partnerships going. In the end they only needed 126, which they blazed in no time.

We were all very down afterwards, especially as the rugby boys had just beaten the Aussies. That really rubbed it in.

Lord's England 283 and 336. West Indies 324 and 223. England won by 72 runs.

IT WAS important for us to bounce straight back, and both Athers and the chairman stressed the importance of selling our wickets dearly. We showed a lot more fight and I thought the Judge [Robin Smith] was magnificent the way he held it all together with knocks of 61 and 90.

I really enjoyed our partnerships (111 and 85). The Judge, who is usually light-hearted at the crease, kept stressing the importance of not letting their bowlers in. Once they break through they quite often take two or three quick wickets. You can never relax against four fast bowlers.

In the second innings, I got hit on the head by a beamer. I never saw it and I think that's why I wasn't particularly nervous when I returned the next day. I just had a bit of a headache.

With Lara still batting, the last day was full of tension. But we've always thought that if we can get him out cheaply and stop the ball flying about the park the game reverts to normality. Once Stewie had caught him off Goughie, Corky's aggression and outswing did for the rest and we were back in the series.

Edgbaston

England 147 and 89. West Indies 300. West Indies won by innings and 64 runs.

THE theory was to bat first because the pitch normally gets more uneven as the game progresses. It was the strangest Test pitch I've ever seen, being very grassy in the middle and bare at both ends. I didn't think I'd be on the front foot too much, a hunch confirmed the instant I watched Ambrose's first ball. It seemed to disappear through the top of the dressing- room telly.

We ought to have got more in our first knock, but in the second we just fell apart - blown away by Walsh and Bishop. That was some of the fastest bowling I've ever seen. The Judge was brilliant again and he took a lot of nasty blows. I remember Athers saying that his two 40s were worth hundreds elsewhere. It was utter humiliation.

Old Trafford

West Indies 216 and 314. England 437 and 94-4. England won by 6 wickets.

THEY batted poorly on a good pitch. Being 2-1 up in the series they tried to hit us hard early, thinking we'd roll over and they'd go 3-1 up. The ploy backfired badly.

We batsmen had to put the freakish result at Edgbaston out of our minds and get back to wearing them down, which I thought we did brilliantly, with a 219-run lead in the first innings.

I was really pleased to get 94. I've been through the mill against them in the Caribbean, so I was determined to make them earn my wicket. As expected they fought back, and Lara suddenly looked ominously good, giving fewer chances than before. Corky's hat-trick sorted them out. There were shades of Trinidad when we chased the 94 needed and it got really tense at times. I was disappointed with my casual dismissal, though Jack [Russell] saw us through. There was a downside, though: the Judgewas to miss the rest of the series with a fractured cheekbone.

Trent Bridge

England 440 and 269. West Indies 417 and 42-2. Match drawn.

BY NOW there was a lot more belief in the team. We had come back and beaten them twice and we knew we could compete.

Hicky played well under a lot of pressure and although we took a long time to put our score on the board, we definitely felt in pole position. That was until Lara started wanding it about. He scored so quickly that we were forced on to the defensive much sooner than we'd have liked. It wasn't the kind of pitch any normal person could smack it around on, but he makes setting a field so difficult, you're frightened to look at the scoreboard.

Even so, nobody seemed to want to make a move. In our second dig, they bowled really well and turned what might have been a promising situation for us on its head. But for some heroics by Illy [Richard Illingworth], our No 11 with a broken finger, and a dropped catch by Sherwin Campbell, we might have lost.

The Oval

England 454 and

223-4.

West Indies 692.

Match drawn.

ALL THE talk was of how dead the pitch was, but I thought their bowlers got plenty out of it. The reason it suited us less was that the bounce was true and you could play on the up. So even though we got runs on it, they got theirs twice as fast.

Ambrose bowled quickly, and Hicky and Jack's [Russell's] 90s were made under pressure. I felt very comfortable at the crease and was disappointed to to be 24 short of a hundred. It was another good first-innings total made mediocre by Lara. As a left- hander, I watch him closely, but I never try and copy anything he does. Their record score put us up against it again, but the skipper's heroic effort saw us safely to a draw. Athers - who was the only other England player to appear in all this summer's Tests - never throws his wicket away.

We travel to South Africa next month, a tour that no one doubts will be tough. But after this series, no one will be able to doubt that we are up to the task, either.

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