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When England breached the Bridgetown fortress against West Indies in 1994

When England breached the Bridgetown fortress against West Indies in 1994
The two heroes of the fourth Test at Bridgetown — Alec Stewart (left) and Angus Fraser © Getty Images

Decades of blows on the Bridgetown fortress came to an end as Michael Atherton’s team finally managed to dent it on April 13, 1994. Michael Jones looks at one of the proudest days in the history of English cricket.

Seldom can a Test team have been at lower ebb than England when they arrived in Barbados in April 1994. They still had a relative novice as captain; Graham Gooch had resigned after losing the previous summer’s Ashes series, and although under Mike Atherton’s captaincy the team had managed a consolation win in the final match of a series they still lost 4-1, their next assignment was the toughest Atherton could possibly have been given for his first full series as captain: five matches against a team which hadn’t lost a Test series for fifteen years, and had held the Wisden Trophy continuously since 1973.

The early stages of the series unfolded much as the form book predicted: West Indies won by eight wickets at Kingston and an innings at Georgetown. England fought back to the extent of taking a first innings lead at Port of Spain, and although a wag of the home team’s tail raised their fourth innings target to 194, England might still have held some hopes of reducing the series deficit. Any such hopes were dented when Curtly Ambrose trapped Atherton lbw first ball, and blown away completely as Ambrose went on to devastate the rest of the batting line-up. England ended the day on 40 for eight, and Courtney Walsh soon cleaned up the last two wickets the next morning as they limped to 46 all out, their lowest total of the twentieth century.

England may have thought that things couldn’t get any worse than that, but they soon did, as they travelled to Grenada for a four day match against a Board XI in between the third and fourth Tests. Atherton, feeling that other batsmen in the squad needed match practice, rested himself, and the team played under Alec Stewart’s captaincy, a move which backfired spectacularly: after near parity on first innings, England lost eight wickets for 25 in the second, with leg-spinner Rawl Lewis — later to write himself into the record books for possessing, albeit temporarily, the worst bowling average in Test history — taking four of them. Stuart Williams scored a century in the chase, sealing an eight wicket victory by hitting Phil Tufnell for five consecutive fours. Roland Holder, the Board XI captain who made 116 in the first innings, predicted a 5-0 ‘blackwash’ to match those of a decade earlier, and few would have ventured to doubt him.

To rub salt into an already gaping wound, the next Test was at Bridgetown’s Kensington Oval — a ground where West Indies had not lost since their infancy as a Test-playing country in 1935, when both teams had declared at low totals in order to force the other to bat on a sticky wicket, and England had squeezed home by four wickets chasing a target of only 73. 59 years later, they had won twelve consecutive Tests at the ground; in stark contrast, England had lost their last seven away Tests, with the disastrous start to the West Indies series preceded by a whitewash in India and loss in the one-off Test in Sri Lanka a year earlier. There was little to suggest that either sequence was about to be broken.

The selections

Atherton made his first move at the selection meeting: Mike Smith, the tour manager, and Keith Fletcher, the coach, both argued for changes to be made after the debacle of Trinidad, but the captain preferred to keep faith in the current team. Having made his Test debut in the summer of 1989 when England used 29 players (just one short of the record for a series) in a 4-0 home defeat, Atherton had seen that rapid player rotation usually only made a bad series turn worse; if they were to stop the rot at all, they were more likely to do it by remaining consistent than chopping and changing. Besides, the reserve batsmen had hardly stated a convincing case for selection: in the Board XI match, Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick, who had played in the previous Test, made fifties in both innings; Nasser Hussain and Matthew Maynard, who hadn’t, failed to reach double figures in four innings between them. In the end it was agreed that the top order would remain as it was, although Atherton did hint at the team meeting that it was a last chance for some players, and another humiliation could spell the end of several international careers.

One change was made to the bowling attack as well: Tufnell, who had taken six for 25 in his only previous Test against West Indies three years earlier, replaced the ineffective Ian Salisbury. Jack Russell admitted his nerves at the team meeting: he had learned by bitter experience that the management’s response to failing to win a Test with six batsmen and four bowlers was usually to select either a seventh batsman or fifth bowler, decide a specialist keeper was surplus to requirements and hand the gloves to Stewart. Russell was relieved to hear his name on the team list for Bridgetown – and playing Stewart as a specialist opener turned out to be a masterstroke. Atherton — who had tonsillitis, but played anyway — told the team to forget about what had gone before, and concentrate on proving the doubters wrong.

When England breached the Bridgetown fortress against West Indies in 1994
Alec Stewart scored 118 in the first innings and 143 in the second innings © Getty Images

Day One: Atherton and Stewart set up base

England were given a helping hand at the toss: Richie Richardson won it on a true pitch, but banked on the visitors being demoralised after the previous thrashing and chose to put them in. Instead of subsiding again, Atherton and Stewart saw off the opening spell from Ambrose and Walsh, and slowly but surely began to cash in. A few ironic cheers rang out when the score passed 47, but when 100 came up without loss, then 150, both the home team and the crowd realised they had a fight on their hands. Atherton hit two successive fours off Kenny Benjamin before, in uncharacteristic style, attempting a third and edging to Brian Lara at slip.

He departed for 85, frustrated to miss out on a century, but with an opening partnership of 171 sending out a clear message that England were not going to be rolled over a second time. Soon afterwards Stewart pulled Ambrose for four, and those fans who had made the trip rose to acclaim a century on his 31st birthday. The total passed 200 for the loss of only Atherton’s wicket, but no position was impregnable against the home team’s pace attack, and they chiselled out four more before the close — including that of Stewart, edging a ball from Winston Benjamin onto his stumps. Bad light ended play with England 299 for five; the game was on.

Day Two: Fraser triggers collapse

Ambrose picked up Hick and Lewis early on the second morning and only a battling 38 from Russell took them to an eventual total of 355. Controversy flared up early in West Indies’ reply, when Desmond Haynes hit Andy Caddick for what looked like an easy four, and ambled back towards the crease thinking the ball was dead. Tufnell — never known as the most alert fielder on any team he played for — hared around the boundary and hurled the ball in, Russell broke the wicket and appealed. Although the third umpire had first appeared in Tests more than a year earlier, their appointment was not yet universal; Lloyd Barker and Darrell Hair had to rule for themselves whether or not the ball was still in play when the wicket was put down. Faced with the choice of four or out, they came to the bizarre compromise of awarding the batsman three. Atherton was less than impressed, although replays showed that the ball had rebounded off the scoreboard before Tufnell returned it.

Haynes batted on until a blow to the finger from Lewis forced him to retire; soon after, Angus Fraser precipitated a collapse of a magnitude England fans were more used to seeing from their own team. Richardson was the first to go, edging to Atherton at slip; Keith Arthurton followed in the same over, caught behind for a duck. Lara — who later expressed his admiration for Fraser, commenting that he “brings the ball down from a considerable height, and pitches it on a line and length that batsmen are not happy with” — weathered his spell, only to fall at the other end. Hussain had been furious to be left out of the starting XI, but was on the field as a substitute, and when Lara drove at Lewis he held onto the catch in the covers.

When England breached the Bridgetown fortress against West Indies in 1994
Angus Fraser (left) picked up eight wickets in the second innings © Getty Images

The fourth wicket pair took the total into three figures before Fraser returned after tea for another spell.Jimmy Adams was next to be caught in the slip cordon; Haynes came out to resume his innings, but fell in similar fashion without adding to his score. Junior Murray made a duck, and when Fraser added Winston Benjamin to his tally, he had taken four for one in 17 balls, West Indies were 134 for seven and the unthinkable prospect of the follow-on loomed. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, aged 19 and playing in only his third Test, found himself marshalling the tail for the first time of many in his career. With Ambrose chancing his arm at the other end, the follow-on was averted; by the close their partnership had passed fifty and the scoreboard was looking a little healthier at 188 for seven.

Day Three: England build on lead

The same pair took the total past 200 the following morning, before Fraser came back and immediately removed Ambrose. At 205 for eight England were still on course for a lead of over 100, but Chanderpaul had other ideas. Making the most of a life given when Atherton spilled a chance off Tufnell, he added 58 with Kenny Benjamin for the ninth wicket before Tufnell eventually claimed him for 77. Benjamin and Walsh swung at a few and added 41 — a total of 170 for the last three wickets — and by the time Fraser finally ended the innings, the deficit had been reduced to 51, and the home team were very much in the game. Fraser finished with eight for 75 – the best innings figures by any visiting bowler in the Caribbean (a record he subsequently bettered himself, with eight for 53 on England’s next tour four years later), and the best for England anywhere since Bob Willis destroyed Australia at Headingley more than a decade earlier.

Atherton hung around for almost an hour in the second innings without finding his touch, and eventually fell to Walsh for 15. Mark Ramprakash followed quickly, and when Robin Smith was trapped in front by Kenny Benjamin, England were 79 for three and another quick wicket could still have sent them on a path to disaster. Instead Stewart and Hick steadied the ship; both reached their half centuries before stumps, and the total had moved to 171 without further loss — a lead of 222 with seven wickets remaining, but with only one specialist batsman to come, the match was not yet safe. There was a rest day scheduled between the third and fourth days, with an official function arranged in the evening for the sponsors; Atherton, less than impressed at such an event being held in the middle of a match, requested that the players be excused it. The management went along instead, and by the end of the evening Alex Davis, the England scorer, was slumped over the dinner table fast asleep.

The day in between

The rest day allowed the players to relax with their families, who had joined the tour before the match — criticised in some quarters as an unnecessary distraction, welcomed in others as overdue relief after two months on the road. Atherton, with no family to join him, spent the day by himself, contemplating his team’s chance to make history, and the obstacles which remained before they could do so: namely the possibility that Ambrose and Walsh might still claim the last seven wickets cheaply the next day, and the presence of Haynes, Richardson, Lara and Chanderpaul in the line-up — any of them capable of a big innings which would make a large target rather less daunting than the team fielding last might have hoped. In the first innings England had been heavily reliant on Fraser, and without him they would have conceded a big lead; the rest of the attack had taken two for 228 between them, a return they needed to improve significantly in the second innings if the visitors were to win.

Day Four: Stewart comes to party

Ambrose and Walsh came out firing on the fourth morning, and the batsmen’s first concern was survival: Hick took almost an hour to add to his overnight score. England enjoyed a little luck, as Walsh had an lbw shout against Hick turned down, and a second appeal refused when he was sure he had Stewart caught behind. Walsh did eventually get the breakthrough – Hick departing for 59 to end a partnership of 115 — but Stewart and Graham Thorpe survived until lunch at 221 for four; Stewart had scored just 13 in the morning session. After lunch, both batsmen played with a freedom they had failed to find before: Stewart brought up his second century of the match — the first England player ever to achieve the feat against West Indies — and by the time he played on to Walsh shortly before tea, the partnership was worth 150. As many as 132 runs were added in the second session of the day — after just 52 had come in the first – and Atherton had the rare luxury for an England captain of having to judge when to declare. Thorpe eventually fell to Walsh for 84, Russell and Lewis went for a few quick runs and when Lewis holed out to the part-time spin of Jimmy Adams, Atherton closed the innings, with the score 394 for seven and the target 446. Overcautious? Not with Lara in the side.

Haynes, still struggling with his first innings injury, was forced to bat down the order, and Adams opened the innings. For the second time in the match, the first West Indian batsman to leave the crease was a retirement — this time Richardson pulling up with an injured hamstring. As in the first innings, a wicket fell soon after, Adams edging Caddick to the keeper. Kenny Benjamin was sent in as nightwatchman but fell to Caddick for a duck, and the home team ended the day on 47 for two, with two of the remaining batsmen injured. The only cloud on the horizon came when Lara was given a life shortly before the close: a ball from Tufnell kept low, beat the batsman but also beat Russell, who missed the stumping. With Lara back in the pavilion the match would have been all but in the bag; as it was there remained a lingering doubt. With 167 at Georgetown earlier in the series, he had already shown England what he could do — but surely scoring 399 to win in a day was beyond even him?

Day Five: England create history

England were made to work for the breakthrough on the final morning and were certainly not helped by giving Lara another let-off when Ramprakash dropped a sitter. Lara had reached 64, and added 85 for the third wicket with Arthurton, when he miscued an attempted pull off Caddick. England fans’ (and probably most of the players’) hearts went to their mouths when they realised the identity of the nearest fielder, but Tufnell ran back from mid-on, took the ball over his shoulder and held on.

Lara’s dismissal had extinguished the already slender hope that West Indies might win the match, but there were still other batsmen remaining who were capable of saving it. One of them was on strike when Atherton, for the last over before lunch, threw the ball to Hick, whose off-spin could most generously be described as part-time; the fact that he’d finished as England’s leading wicket-taker in India a year earlier said more about the ineptitude of the rest of the visitors’ attack in that series than it did about his own skills. One ball later, everyone present was marvelling at Atherton’s inspired bowling change, as Chanderpaul edged to slip where Hussain took his second substitute catch of the match. England went to lunch with the two biggest danger men out of the way, but still six further wickets required for victory.

As the afternoon wore on and the wickets kept falling, the local crowd fell strangely quiet, while the visiting fans had already begun their celebrations; having arrived in Barbados in the glum anticipation of seeing a demoralised team slump to yet another humiliating defeat, they delighted in witnessing history in the making instead. Arthurton misread the turn against Tufnell and ended up dragging the ball onto his stumps. Caddick accounted for both Murray and Richardson (who had resumed his innings at the fall of the fourth wicket). Winston Benjamin tried to slog Tufnell, and holed out to Stewart at deep mid-off. The injured Haynes had come in to bat at number eight, and with Ambrose for company, resisted for a while, before a ball from Tufnell appeared to make contact with both bat and pad before being held by Thorpe at silly point; Barker initially turned down the appeal, but — perhaps wishing to avoid any further controversy after his first innings non-run out — Haynes opted to walk. Walsh didn’t fancy his chances of surviving the remaining two hours for a draw, and decided to go down fighting, hitting Tufnell for three sixes. In the next over Ambrose failed to connect with a swing at Lewis, and saw his middle and leg stumps knocked out; an angry swipe of the bat sent the one remaining stump cartwheeling away towards the square leg umpire, and in the early days of the ICC Code of Conduct, earned Ambrose a $1,500 fine from the match referee. Most of those present hardly noticed, or cared: the England players were rushing off the field just as the fans surged onto it.

What followed?

Although the series was already in the bag, West Indies were left to reflect on the end of their 59 year unbeaten run at the Kensington Oval — along with the shattering of their hopes of a ‘blackwash’, and the aura of seeming invincibility they had built up over the first three matches. Richardson remained dignified in defeat; he refuted the suggestion that the lack of support from the crowd might have been a factor, pointing out that they had beaten South Africa the previous year in an almost empty stadium. Atherton’s approach to the post-match press conference was the same as ever: he grudgingly accepted that attendance at them was part of the captain’s job, but was in no mood to oblige the assembled reporters with the platitudes they wanted to hear — “greatest day of my career”, “delighted with the team effort” and so on. Most of those present had been writing the team off just a week earlier, and he wasn’t one to be impressed by their unconditional adulation now; he said as little as possible before making his escape. A few champagne corks were popped in the dressing room, but there was no time for an extended celebration: the start of the final Test was only three days away, and they had to catch a flight out of Barbados the same evening. With little fanfare, the players headed for Antigua – where history of a very different nature was about to be made.

Brief scores:

England 355 (Alec Stewart 118, Michael Atherton 85; Curtly Ambrose 4 for 86) and 394 for 7 decl (Alec Stewart 143, Graham Thorpe 84, Graeme Hick 59; Courtney Walsh 5 for 94) beat West Indies 304 (Shivnarine Chanderpaul 77; Angus Fraser 8 for 75) and 237 (Brian Lara 64, Keith Arthurton 52; Andy Caddick 5 for 63) by 208 runs.

(Michael Jones’s writing focuses on cricket history and statistics, with occasional forays into the contemporary game)

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