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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - When Curtly Ambrose proved too quick for England's resolve

 

April 10, 1990 - "Curtly talk to no man" is what the great West Indian pace bowler said when asked by journalists for an interview. Understandably, he let the ball do the talking. This was one such incident.

It seemed that England under Graham Gooch had finally tuned the corner. On their tour of the Caribbean in 1989-90, they matched the West Indian giants punch for punch and knocked their opponents out in the opening Test.  This was their first victory over West Indies since 1974.

England were then denied victory by rain in the next Test in Trinidad, when on the verge of it. Another washout in Guyana meant that the hosts were left with two Tests in which to preserve an unbeaten series record that had extended for the best part of a decade.

With England still one up going to Barbados for the fourth Test, the visitors had every chance to create history. But, the rigour of the three Tests had taken its toll. Gooch had suffered a broken hand in Trinidad that ruled him out of the final matches, and England's most disciplined seamer Fraser had gone lame as well. 

It was stand-in skipper Allan Lamb who stepped up with another hundred to keep his side afloat in the first innings. West Indies took a first-innings lead of 88 despite Lamb's hundred. England were then set a stiff target of 356 with a day and an hour to get them. In the twilight of the fourth day, England slid to 15 for 3.

England showed grit as they battled to save the match on the final day, with an hour to go and only five wickets down. As Robin Smith and Jack Russell dug in, it seemed they would fight it out.

Fundamental to their resistance was the dogged, idiosyncratic wicketkeeper Russell, pushed up to No. 5 as a nightwatchman and charged with digging in for the long haul. With Robin Smith alongside him, the pair stretched England's rearguard into the 70th over. On 55, and after more than five hours of resistance, Russell had no answer to a wicked shooter that smashed into the base of his off stump, and little more than an hour later it was all over.

Technically 12.2 overs remained, but with the bad light encroaching, England surely would have been safe within minutes. But Rob Bailey's dismissal, erroneously given out caught off the thigh pad, opened the floodgates.

Ambrose uprooted the last five wickets in a little over an hour with the second new ball, five of which were lbws. Robin Smith, who batted almost ten hours in the match for 102 runs, was left unbeaten as the drama unfolded at the other end. Ambrose's 8 for 45 (a match haul of 10) remains his best figures in a Test innings.

The devastating spell of five wickets in 7.4 overs from Ambrose levelled the series and set up the finale in Antigua, where England were crushed by an innings inside four days. What could have been a historic series for England, turned out to be one for Ambrose as he ensured that the West Indies' unbeaten record at home was held intact.

 

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