On August 4, 2000, West Indian duo of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were given a guard of honour from the England side at The Oval when they walked out to bat. Prakash Govindasreenivasan recounts the day that brought an end to one of the best bowling partnerships to have existed in the game.
It was a day of history making at The Oval. More than 15,000 fans had gathered to witness England clinch their first series victory over the West Indies since 1969.
It was a three-month long tour for the visitors starting June 2. They played a host of tour games and a One-Day International (ODI) tri-series between the five Tests against England.
That however, had little impact on the West Indies, who had a flying start to the tour. A fifer for Courtney Walsh in the first innings of the first Test paved the way for a massive innings victory.
The second Test at Lord’s turned out to be a bowlers’ paradise. Despite taking a 133-run lead in the first essay, the West Indies were pegged back when Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork orchestrated the visitors’ collapse. In just under 27 overs, they were bowled out for 54. The target of 188 did not come easily to England and in the end they just about got past the finish line with a couple of wickets in hand.
After drawing the third Test, England secured an innings victory in the fourth to take a crucial 2-1 lead before heading into the final match at The Oval.
Batting had been the West Indies’ Achilles heel throughout the series. Even as Walsh chipped away at the wickets consistently throughout the series, it was his team’s inept batting that led to the two losses before the final Test.
West Indies skipper Jimmy Adams played to his strength by electing to field after winning the toss. Michael Atherton, who had had a wonderful series with the bat, scored 83 and the hosts batted on till the second session of the second day. The West Indian batsmen fail to apply themselves yet again and ended up giving England a healthy lead of 146 runs in the first innings.
The visitors had their backs to the wall as England were well-poised for another massive victory and, more importantly, a series win. Adams needed his bowlers to pull a rabbit out of the hat and restrict England to a low total, if they were to make a match out of it in the fourth innings. For the West Indies, it was an emotional moment. It was the last time that Walsh and Curtly Ambrose would operate together in Test cricket. It was Ambrose’s final Test, while it was Walsh’s last on English soil. The moment was ruined to an extent by Atherton’s vigilant century that took England to safety. When Walsh dismissed Atherton, England had 217 runs on the board and a lead of 373. The packed crowd at The Oval witnessed two stalwarts in the annals of fast bowling walk away with arms around each other’s shoulders. It was the last the game had seen their lethal combination of quality fast bowling.
The Guard of Honour
On the final day, the stadium was jam-packed with fans awaiting their team’s series win. Before that, however, the England team decided to give Walsh and Ambrose a guard of honour when they walked out to bat. The writing was on the wall for the visitors but that didn’t rid the game of this poignant moment when the entire 15,000-plus crowd were on their feet and applauding Ambrose who walked out at No 10. They repeated the same when Walsh came to bat at the fall of the ninth wicket.
Ambrose, who came in to bat at the fall of debutant Mahendra Nagamootoo’s wicket, delayed the inevitable defeat by adding 48 runs for the ninth wicket with Nixon McLean. But, Cork picked up his first wicket of the innings by getting him caught by Atherton for 28. Walsh, who also got a guard of honour, lasted only two deliveries before being trapped in front of the stumps by Cork. The wicket brought an end to the West Indian innings and gave England a massive 158-run victory that enabled them to clinch the series 3-1.
England 281 (Michael Atherton 83, Marcus Trescothick 78; Courtney Walsh 3 for 68, Nixon McLean 3 for 80) and 217 (Michael Atherton 108; Courtney Walsh 4 for 73, Nixon McLean 3 for 60) beat West Indies 125 (Nixon McLean 29; Craig White 5 for 32, Dominic Cork 3 for 23) and 215 (Brian Lara 47; Andrew Caddick 4 for 54, Darren Gough 3 for 64) by 158 runs.
Man of the Match: Michael Atherton
In Photos: England vs West Indies, The Oval, 2000