West Indies on the mend

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The Independent Online
This was the one that got away from the West Indies. The luck deserted them just when it mattered most, with a few upsetting umpiring decisions and a catch that the most adhesive hands in the team, Sherwin Campbell's, somehow let slip, the first he has dropped all series.

That would have ended England's innings and left the West Indies a feasible 215 to win at just around five runs an over. Brian Lara, for one, would have relished the challenge.

Once they get over their understandable disappointment, they will be buoyed by several gains from the match. This was a pitch, dreadfully slow and lifeless, that they would least choose to play on. They had to do without Curtly Ambrose and chose a specialist spinner for the first time in the series who had no effect. Yet that they could come this close to bringing off a famous victory is a boost for their self-confidence before the decider at the Oval, where conditions should be more suitable for their brand of cricket.

They would also be encouraged by the performances of three of their bit players. Kenny Benjamin out-bowled even Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop - and even those two were close to their best - while Courtney Browne had an outstanding first match both behind and in front of the stumps and Stuart Williams made good use of the opportunity that Carl Hooper's absence provided him to reclaim his opening position.

These are players essential to the future of West Indies cricket and to have made such important contributions should have given their confidence a necessary lift.

Now the West Indies must spend an anxious 10 days waiting for their long- serving physiotherapist, Dennis Waight, to try as best he can to mend the injuries that plague their vital fast bowlers. Ambrose is bothered by back seizures and a wonky shoulder, Bishop carries a strained left ankle, a legacy of dropping into one of the footholes in this match, and Benjamin has to have the support of a corset whenever bowling. And, of course, the oldest of them all, Walsh, just keeps on going with niggles here, there and everywhere.

But this was as vital a Test as any the West Indies have recently had. The defeat by Australia in the home series that preceded this tour was traumatic enough. To lose again here would be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and considerable repercussions.