The 2012 English Test summer began with West Indies visiting Lord’s – Andrew Miller reported on a five-wicket England win for the 2013 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
Lord’s is not a happy hunting ground for visiting teams in May. This was the 12th such Test it had hosted since the extension of the international season in 2000, and England had now won eight of them, to go with four draws – plus a sense of ownership that previous generations had been unable to cultivate at their most regular haunt. As with the 1980s West Indians at Bridgetown, or Australia at the Gabba in the 2000s, bearding England in their lair in early-season conditions was becoming one of the toughest challenges in the sport, not least because the opposition tend to be the weaker of the summer’s Test visitors.
Thanks to Strauss, who produced a timely return to form with his 20th Test century – and his fifth at Lord’s – West Indies were never quite close enough to parity to threaten an upset. Nevertheless, with Chanderpaul confirming his world No.1 ranking by scoring 178 runs for once out, they made England sweat.
Despite the margin, the game was as close as any team has come to challenging them at Lord’s, at any stage of the season, since Australia’s victory in 2005. Had a pumped-up Roach been able to bowl more than two fearsome overs in the fourth-evening gloom – when he bounced out Strauss for one, had nightwatchman Anderson caught behind down the leg side, and came within an inch or two of trapping Trott leg-before first ball – the result might have been different. At ten for two overnight chasing 191, then at 57 for four the following morning, England were vulnerable. But Cook closed down the crisis with a sheet-anchor 79, and was perfectly complemented by Bell’s free-wheeling 63 in a match-clinching stand of 132.
In some ways, it had been a curious contest. England’s dominance was at times laughably absolute, not least while Anderson was mocking the West Indian top order with his peerless command of lateral movement. But it was Broad, the less impressive of the two new-ball bowlers, who cashed in on their obvious frailties with a career-best 11 for 165. He joined Gubby Allen, Keith Miller and Ian Botham as the only men to etch their names on to three separate Lord’s honours boards: five wickets in an innings, ten in a match and, thanks to his 169 against Pakistan in 2010, a century.
The public perception of the Test was undoubtedly tainted by the absentees in the West Indian ranks, most notably Chris Gayle, who – despite being more than 4,000 miles from St John’s Wood – snaffled the limelight on the first evening with an incredible 128 not out from 62 balls in the IPL in Delhi. Yet Gayle’s presence hadn’t exactly been conducive to team excellence in the same fixture three years earlier, when he arrived in the country 52 hours before leading West Indies to a three-day defeat. This time, under the dedicated leadership of Sammy, they set out to be greater than the sum of their parts. By and large, they succeeded.
There was a stoicism to West Indies’ performance that could only really be appreciated in hindsight. Perhaps that says more about Chanderpaul’s peculiarly joyless approach to Test batting than anything else but, having spent more than 24 hours at the crease during the 2007 tour, he now loitered for a further ten hours and 25 minutes across 425 balls. With a little more urgency, he could well have become the first visiting batsman since George Headley in 1939 to leave Lord’s with a century in both innings. Instead, he ran out of first-innings partners on 87, and was extracted on the sweep for 91 in the second.
Aesthetics never came into the equation but, on the fourth morning, while he and the rehabilitated Samuels were adding 157 for the fifth wicket to turn an apparently routine defeat into a bid for the spoils, Chanderpaul’s effectiveness was self-evident. Unfortunately, too many of West Indies’ other moments of resistance were undermined by their own failings – most notably a pair of top-order run-outs, one in each innings, and the brace of loose strokes that ended two promising performances from Barath, the young opener from Trinidad.
The most significant innings of the match, and indeed of the series, came from Strauss, who admitted to having removed a “monkey from my back” in recording his first Test hundred since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes, 18 months and 26 innings earlier. After leading his side to four Test defeats out of five in the winter, and turning 35 in March, he recognised the need to silence those who doubted his continued stomach for the role, even if he was still some way from any votes of no-confidence within his team. Strauss’s home ground – the venue of his century on debut against New Zealand in 2004, and of his most recent hundred on home soil, against Australia in 2009 – was the perfect place to staunch such anxieties. Run-scoring was rarely straightforward against an attack featuring not only Roach but the powerful Shannon Gabriel, who picked up four wickets on debut (followed by a back injury). On 95, Strauss was dropped at slip off a no-ball from Fidel Edwards. But a cathartic cut through backward point off Sammy settled the issue.
From 259 for three overnight, England fell away slightly on the third day as West Indies settled into a disciplined off-stump line – although Bairstow’s working-over on Test debut by Roach was immediately noted by video analysts everywhere. But an unruffled 61 from Bell, and Swann’s carefree 30 in 25 balls, massaged the lead past 150, and the loss of three West Indian wickets for no runs in nine deliveries immediately before tea reasserted the imbalance.
Strauss was eventually pipped to the match award by Broad, whose haul was the best by any bowler at Lord’s since Botham claimed 11 for 140 against New Zealand in 1978. It was, by his admission, a less-than-perfect performance: he was guilty of over-pitching in his early overs, before hauling his length back to cramp West Indies on the drive. But by the end of the first innings he was back in his element, scalping six wickets in his last 50 balls – he claimed the sixth with the first delivery of the second morning – for a Test-best seven for 72.
Despite chasing the game throughout, West Indies found the will to dig in after learning that no tickets had been printed for the fifth day of the match; no one had told them this was standard marketing policy. Trott fell early to Roach on the final morning and, when Pietersen bottom-edged a pull off Gabriel, West Indies were briefly dreaming. Cook’s resolve and Bell’s elegance soon woke them up.