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Best of the Tests: England in the West Indies

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West_Indies_England_Test_CricketThe latest installment of the coveted Wisden Trophy is underway, with the first of three Tests being played at the iconic Kensington Oval in Bridgetown. England are the current holders of the trophy by virtue of a 2-1 win at home in 2017, but they have won only one series in the Caribbean since 1967-68: a 3-0 triumph in a four-Test series in 2003-04. Their most recent visit in 2014-15 yielded a 1-1 draw, while in 2008-09, they were beaten 1-0 in a five-Test series.

Since their first tour in 1929-30, England have played 68 Tests in the West Indies, winning 14 and losing 25. Especially since 1963, when the Wisden Trophy was initiated, the Anglo-Caribbean rivalry has produced many classics, as well as indelible moments such as Vivian Richards’ 56-ball ton in 1985-86 and Brian Lara’s 400* in 2003-04. As we hope for a riveting series, here is a look back at six notable Tests played between the two teams in the Caribbean.    

The West Indies’ maiden win – Third Test, Georgetown, 1929-30

Coming into this Test, the West Indies found themselves 1-0 down in the four-Test series, their first on home soil. Trinidadian opener Clifford Roach became the first West Indian to hit a Test double hundred on the way to a knock of 209 that formed the base of a total of 471. Roach put on 144 for the first wicket with Errol Hunte, and a further 192 for the second wicket with the brilliant George Headley (114). England did well to capture the last eight wickets for 71.

The West Indian new-ball pair of George Francis (4/40) and Learie Constantine (4/35) then combined to roll England over for 145. Headley (112) became the first West Indian to score two hundreds in a Test, and his effort, aided by Cyril Browne’s 70*, helped his team set an imposing target of 517. Despite Patsy Hendren’s 123, England went down by 189 runs to give the West Indies their first ever Test win. Constantine shined with the ball again, returning figures of 5/87.

The declaration that backfired – Fourth Test, Port of Spain, 1967-68

This was the only result in a closely-fought five-Test series, and an audacious declaration by the home captain Garfield Sobers had a major role in achieving it. The West Indies batted for more than two days to amass 526/7, with Seymour Nurse (136) and Rohan Kanhai (153) sharing in a third-wicket partnership of 273. Sobers’ opposite number Colin Cowdrey (148) guided England to 373/5 in reply, before the part-time leg-spin of Basil Butcher (5/34) restricted the total to 404.

The West Indies were 92/2 in the first session of the final day when Sobers suddenly declared, leaving England with a target of 215 in 165 minutes. Geoffrey Boycott and Cowdrey showed that there were no demons in the pitch, and added 118 for the second wicket at a fast clip. Cowdrey fell for 71, but Boycott stayed unbeaten on 80, taking England to a seven-wicket win with just three minutes and eight balls left. Needless to say, Sobers faced a lot of flak for his generous call.

A nervy series finale – Fifth Test, Port of Spain, 1973-74

England needed a win in this final Test if they were to force a 1-1 draw. Boycott scored a typically stodgy 99 to anchor the top order after Mike Denness chose to bat, but his dismissal led to the loss of six wickets for 63, thus ending the innings at 267. The West Indies responded with an opening stand of 110 between Roy Fredericks and Lawrence Rowe. An in-form Rowe (123) later put on 102 with Clive Lloyd for the third wicket to solidify his team’s position.

At 224/2, the hosts seemed to be in control. However, Tony Greig struck with his off-spin, taking four wickets in 20 balls en route to figures of 8/86 that helped limit England’s deficit to 38. Boycott (112) starred in the second dig as well, and was pivotal in ensuring a challenging target of 226 for the West Indies. Greig (5/70) was the wrecker-in-chief again as the score slid to 138/7. Keith Boyce attempted a lower-order revival, but England held their nerve to notch a 26-run win.     

England prevail against the odds – First Test, Kingston, 1989-90

Prior to this Test, England had endured a run of 29 winless matches against the West Indies dating back to 1973-74, and they were not expected to break the agonising streak anytime soon. However, much to the pleasant surprise of their supporters, they bowled the West Indies out for 164 on the opening day. The last five wickets fell for just 20, all of them to seamer Angus Fraser (5/28). England were placed at 116/3 in reply when Robin Smith walked out to join Allan Lamb.

With a fourth-wicket stand of 172, Lamb (132) and Smith (57) steered England to a dominant position, helping them to a lead of 200 even as Courtney Walsh took 5/68. Gladstone Small (4/58) and Devon Malcolm (4/77) – both Caribbean-born fast bowlers – ensured that the West Indies failed to claw back, and even though rain washed out the entire fourth day, England had ample time to reach their target of 41 and thereby secure an astonishing nine-wicket victory.

Hooper’s heroics make the difference – Second Test, Port of Spain, 1997-98

After being dismissed for 214 (Nasser Hussain top-scoring with 61*), England eked out a lead of 23 thanks to a fine bowling display from Fraser. Playing his first international game in two years, Fraser again showed a liking for the Caribbean with a career-best haul of 8/53, bettering his 8/75 taken at Bridgetown in 1993-94. Alec Stewart followed his first-innings 50 with 73, but England nosedived from 228/4 to 258 all out in the face of an incisive spell from Curtly Ambrose (5/52).

Stuart Williams (62) carried the West Indies to 120/2 in their chase of 282, before three wickets for four runs put England on top. But Carl Hooper was still out there, and he rose to the occasion in style. The southpaw turned the tide through a sixth-wicket stand of 129 with wicketkeeper David Williams (65), much to England’s frustration. The target was still 23 away when the seventh wicket fell, but a calm Hooper (94*) saw to it that the West Indies won by three wickets.

A narrow escape for the Windies – Third Test, St. John’s, 2008-09

The West Indies preserved a lead of 1-0 by the skin of their teeth, as they got away with a gripping draw at the Antigua Recreation Ground. Having been put in to bat, England ran up a total of 566/9, with captain Andrew Strauss (169) and Paul Collingwood (113) scoring centuries. Except for Ramnaresh Sarwan (94), none of the West Indian batsmen could make a substantial contribution, as off-spinner Graeme Swann collected 5/57 to give England a hefty 281-run lead.

England declared their second innings at 221/8, leaving the hosts with four and a half sessions to deal with a target of 503. The final day began at 143/3, and though Sarwan (106) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (55) added 148 for the fourth wicket, England took regular wickets to stay on track. Fidel Edwards joined Daren Powell at the fall of the ninth wicket, at which point ten overs still remained. The pair hung in for 36 minutes amid great tension, as the Windies finished at 370/9. 



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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