Thanks to TV we can’t remember what happened eight minutes ago so being asked to write about the first Test series this correspondent can remember is something of a challenge. While we have vague memories of India’s 1990 tour of England (mum coming outside to interrupt a game of football with the news that Gooch was finally out for 333 and, oddly, Michael Atherton picking up a caught and bowled with his half-hearted leg spin), it was the following year’s visit of the West Indies that lit a fire for Test cricket that burns to this day. The West Indies back then were a fantastic side, with the likes of Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Desmond Haynes and a pace attack that reads like a batsman’s worst nightmare: Ambrose, Walsh, Marshall and Patterson.
As an eleven year old who saw anything pitched on the cut strip as a potentially life-threatening delivery, seeing that pace attack in action was simply awe-inspiring. Over after over of relentlessly hostile bowling, with the ball whizzing past the nose punctuated with occasional use of the bat and a scamper down to the non-striker’s end for a breather. And in reply England had the likes of Steve Watkin and Derek Pringle.
Before we talk about the matches it would be wrong not to mention that most of these matches took place during school time. Luckily this correspondent’s history teacher of the time, Mr Braunton, was a cricket fanatic who would regularly put the coverage on during lessons, often forsaking Cromwell for discussion of why Allan Lamb shouldn’t be in the side. An impossibly old man, very reminiscent of William Hartnell (the very first Doctor Who), Mr Braunton is now presumably long gone. Thanks for helping this correspondent fail GCSE History.
The first match in the series is best known for an absolutely astonishing innings from Graeme Gooch. His 154* in the second innings is widely considered to be one of the very best innings in over a hundred years of Test cricket. Here are some very long highlights, well worth 43 minutes of your time, especially if, like us, you’re basically just sitting around waiting for the Jobcentre Plus to open anyway:
Of course there was more to this game than that one innings. England’s top order were blown away twice, with Atherton, Hick and Lamb contributing almost nothing between them. The image of a very fresh-faced Mark Ramprakash batting alongside Gooch (and marking his debut with an elegant pair of 27s) is one of those that sticks out, along with a superb catch he took in the covers.
England made just 198 in their first innings in damp, difficult conditions. Robin Smith was the only man to pass 50, batting at number six. However, in reply the West Indies found things just as difficult, making only 178, built around 73 from Viv Richards.
The star of the show with the ball was Phil DeFreitas (4/34), perhaps something of a forgotten man in terms of the great English seamers. Alongside Messrs Pringle and Watkin, he gave England a small but potentially crucial lead of 26. Then came that second innings and Gooch’s magnum opus innings (assisted in no small part by vigils from Ramprakash and Pringle) in near darkness, leaving the West Indies to chase 278.
That chase (or more specifically that evening’s highlights from the BBC) are forever burned into the memory, as England’s no-name seamers worked their way through a great West Indies batting lineup, bowling them out for just 162. The final wicket, that of Courtney Walsh, came via a huge skier that seemed to hang in the sky forever. Mark Ramprakash was underneath the ball, face gripped with fear, when suddenly Michael Atherton appeared from nowhere, diving full length to pluck the ball from the air. England had won by 115 runs and this correspondent was utterly, hopelessly hooked.
It never ceases to amaze how much Test cricket has changed over the years. Back in 1991, the West Indies score at the close of the first day at Lord’s was 317/3, a score that was reported as being something of a mauling. Of course, by modern standards it would merely be par for the course. Despite that one-sided first day England fought back on the second, restricting the tourists to 419, thanks to figures of 5/100 from Derek Pringle (another number that has forever stuck in the mind, for no good reason). Coincidentally enough, around this time your correspondent had discovered the joys of scoring cricket matches, working in a small scorebook purchased from Worcesteshire’s club shop (and that Graeme Hick would later refuse to sign, but that’s a story for another day). Said scorebook only went up to 419, leaving a constant fear of what would happen should the score reach 420. And yet 419 was to remain the highest total of the series (with England matching it in the final Test).
In reply England got off to a familiar start – 16/3 with Atherton, Hick and Lamb presumably in a queue for the shower. Ramprakash made another pleasant score, 24 this time, before he and Gooch departed, leaving England in all sorts of trouble at 84/5. Enter Robin Smith.
Robin Smith was a throwback to an earlier age. With a moustache that simply commanded respect, he looked like the sort of man who wrestled tigers in the Boer War. He also thrived on fast, short-pitched bowling (indeed he was notoriously cack against spin) and this was a situation made for him. He didn’t disappoint.
In partnership with the eccentric (i.e. mad) Jack Russell (46), Derek Pringle (35) and Phil DeFreitas (29), Smith took England to the relative safety of 354, making 148*. It was a truly remarkable innings, lasting nearly seven hours and containing 20 boundaries.
Although England hadn’t quite achieved parity, they now had a chance in the game if they could bowl the West Indies out cheaply. Sadly the weather had other ideas – the fourth day was washed out completely and the final day saw only a handful of overs, disappointing a (conveniently absent from school) young Nichael Bluth.
A couple of other things to note: interestingly, the Wisden report of this game includes both the attendance (106,232) and the gate receipts (£1,805,213). Without wanting to turn this into a Scorers’ Notes piece, a quick bit of maths give the average ticket price as just under £17. It’s not just on the field that things have changed over the last 20 years. Also, with Patrick Patterson injured, the West Indies chose to call up Ian Allen, a name that means as much to us now as it did then.
For the third game in the series, England rejigged their bowling attack. Devon Malcolm paid the price for his radar malfunctions in the first two games, being replaced by David Lawrence, a man sadly best remembered for the horrific end to his Test career in New Zealand a year later. Steve Watkin also dropped out, with Worcestershire’s left-arm spinner (and fine moustache wearer) Richard Illingworth brought in for his debut.
As debuts go, it was a certainly a memorable one: Illingworth picked up a wicket with his first ball in Tests, bowling Phil Simmons via a loose defensive shot rolling back onto the stumps. He later picked up the wicket of Viv Richards, also bowled. Sadly that was about as good as it got for England. Their first innings of exactly 300 was a reasonable effort (especially given they were 228/8) but no more. The runs again came from Gooch (68) and Smith (64*), although the rest of the top order finally contributed: Atherton made 32 and Hick 43, an innings in which he was twice hit on the helmet. Curtly Ambrose was the chief destroyer, taking 5/74.
In reply, the West Indies looked in trouble at 45/3 but 80 from Viv Richards, 78 from Gus Logie and 67 from Malcolm Marshall saw them to 397 and a substantial first innings lead. This time there was no weather to save England and they collapsed in time-honoured fashion. When the top scorers in the innings are Phil DeFreitas (55) and David Lawrence (34) you know you have problems. Nevertheless, the efforts of the tail at least lifted England past 200, and set the West Indies a potentially awkward target of 115.
It’s easy to forget these days that the West Indies teams back in the day weren’t just good sides – they were great sides. Beating England (and indeed all comers) was what they did. They knocked off the 115 for the loss of just one wicket, strolling to a fully deserved win. The normal order was restored.
Despite the series being level, the momentum was clearly with the West Indies. As if to emphasise that point, the fit-again Patrick Patterson returned to add that extra level of terror to the bowling attack. For England, things went from bad to worse: Robin Smith was unfit, so the now managing director of England cricket, Hugh Morris, came into the side. David Lawrence was dropped and the now inmate of High Down Category B prison in Sutton, Chris Lewis, took his place. It’s fair to say that neither of the new boys would have been able to predict where they’d be by 2012.
Viv Richards won the toss and chose to bowl, never a good sign for the opposition, with somewhat inevitable consequences. England folded for just 188, with Gooch (45) the only player to make it past 30 and the fast-bowling quartet all sharing the wickets. It could have been much worse – Gooch edged the very first ball of the match to slip, where Carl Hooper put it down, another of the images that still sticks in the head 21 years later.
In reply, the West Indies also found it hard going but Richie Richardson’s 104 took them to 292 and a comfortable first innings lead. Chris Lewis picked up 6/111, his best Test figures at the time (and indeed, they would remain his best for the remainder of his career).
If England were to stand any chance they needed to provide much sterner resistance the second time around. Morris, Atherton and Hick all made just a single run, leaving England at 5/3. Though they fought back, with Lamb and Ramprakash both making 25 and Gooch 40, they were still six down before they levelled the scores. Surely nothing could stop this great West Indies side from racking up another victory.
Enter Derek Pringle and Chris Lewis. Pringle made an excruciating 45 from 237 balls (at a strike rate of under 19) while Lewis made a swashbuckling 65 from 94 balls, with ten fours. Together with some good old-fashioned blocking from Richard Illingworth, they took England to 255, again leaving the West Indies a potentially awkward victory target of 152. A five wicket haul for Patrick Patterson merely underlined the depth of the tourists’ attack.
Phil DeFreitas began like a house on fire, picking up Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson and Phil Simmons in quick succession and leaving the tourists at 24/3. A miraculous victory looked like it might be on the cards. And then Carl Hooper and Viv Richards proceeded to smash the bowling to all parts, as the West Indies romped home by seven wickets. Miracles just don’t come along all that often.
As a youngster, with a very limited knowledge of the history of cricket, it was hard to appreciate the achievement that had just been completed (and celebrated) by Viv Richards and his team. By guaranteeing that the West Indies couldn’t lose the series, he completed an undefeated record as captain from when he took the job in 1984 through to his retirement. An unprecedented achievement, one that is unlikely to ever be matched. At least not until Steve Smith leads Australia through their second golden era from 2016-2023.
Throughout the 90’s, August Test matches at The Oval meant one thing: time for Phil Tufnell to stop smoking for a while and get his England gear on. This tradition began in 1991 as England went for broke. Out went the hapless Hick, Lamb and Illingworth, while Jack Russell also made way. In came the fit-again Robin Smith, along with Tufnell, Alec Stewart and one IT Botham. A number of the cliches about England in the 90’s were clearly born here: as well as the annual recall for Tufnell, there was indecision between choosing a ‘pure’ wicketkeeper and a keeper/batsman, wholesale changes during a series and a desperate search for the new Ian Botham (with the man himself essentially auditioning for the role here).
For the West Indies, Gus Logie was injured so Clayton Lambert debuted in his place. They didn’t tend to dick around with team selection as much.
England won the toss, batted and, for the first time in the series, put on a substantial opening partnership, with Gooch and Morris adding 112 before the latter fell for 44. Atherton followed for a duck with Gooch (60) soon after, leaving England wobbling at 120/3. Unlike the previous matches in the series, this time England held firm. Robin Smith made 109, Mark Ramprakash his traditional 25 and Alec Stewart 31. Beyond those, England’s lower middle order also contributed: Chris Lewis made 47* and Botham an incredibly well known 31. Why so well known? Just press play and all will be revealed:
The end result of all this was that England reached the scorebook-threatening total of 419. Apparently, it was the first time they’d passed 400 against the West Indies for 15 years, an incredible statistic.
In reply, the West Indies also started well before losing a couple of wickets. However, debutant Clayton Lambert settled in and the tourists were comfortable at 158/3. Comfortable, that is, until Phil Tufnell turned the game with an amazing spell of 6/4 (to abruptly finish the innings with 6/25). David Lawrence picked up the other wicket and in the blink of an eye, the West Indies were all out for 176 and were being asked to follow on.
It was somewhat optimistic to hope that England could steamroller such a strong lineup a second time, and so it proved. Every batsman dug in: Richardson made a hundred while Hooper and Richards (in his final Test innings) both made half-centuries. But England plugged away and finally dismissed the tourists for 385. Lawrence was the hero this time, finishing with 5/106. Tufnell had a much more chastening second innings, finishing with Salisbury-esque figures of 1/150.
Chasing 146 to level the series, England utterly failed to get off to a flyer. Morris went for just 2 (also his final Test innings), before Atherton (13), Gooch (29) and Smith (26) all followed. At 80/4 the game remained in the balance – could this great bowling lineup blast a way through?
The answer was no. Alec Stewart made a composed 38* in tandem with Ramprakash (19) to take England to the brink of victory before Ramprakash fell to Lambert’s part time off-spin. Enter the showman Ian Botham – by this time a fundamental part of A Question Of Sport – to seal the victory and level the series.
It’s hard to believe that this remarkable series happened nearly 21 years ago. It’s even harder to remember it, given our current gin-heavy drinking regime. But some of it we do remember. It was an amazing series that came just at this correspondent was getting into cricket and no amount of gin will ever take that away.
Sadly, just looking at the names involved here emphasises the decline of the West Indies as a real force in Test match cricket. Even if we were too young to appreciate it, the likes of Richards, Haynes and, er, Clayton Lambert were all-time great players at the very end of their careers. It may be some time yet before the West Indies can again use that term to describe even one of their players.