By Derek Pringle
The romance of the underdog knows no bounds when they inflict the unexpected and trounce the Crufts’ Champion by more than a whisker, as West Indies did with England at Headingley.
Yes you heard that right – at Headingley! Of all the grounds to challenge callowness and naivety, something the West Indies were most guilty of during their three-day defeat in the opening Test at Edgbaston, this has to be the toughest.
The conditions there change constantly, something that tends to reward an experienced head, not youthful defiance. Yet, somehow both were shown by Jason Holder and his young side as they outplayed an England team sporting 580 Test caps (West Indies had 233) for most of the match. This was a true upset.
Resurrections on this scale don’t come easy and a probing James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the Headingley murk were not the only things the West Indies players had to overcome. A large part of picking yourself up after a stinging defeat is to erase the bad thoughts and start afresh, like a computer reboot. But cricketers are not computers and while players of all generations say they never read newspapers or listen to critics, it is almost impossible in this world of social media for the West Indies not to have heard the deafening scribbling noises of everyone writing them off.
Not being rated can sometimes spur sportsmen on. Mostly, though, it reinforces the hard evidence being spouted by the doubters such as the fact they had gone 17 Tests without a win in England, a run stretching back to 2000. I know from playing the great West Indies of the 1980s that few of my team-mates truly believed that we would beat them.
Of the minority who did, suspending that doubt was crucial and a very difficult deception to pull off, especially when results, and all logic, point to the contrary. Yet, somehow, Holder, the captain, and Stuart Law, the coach, along with sports psychologist Steven Sylvester, did just that – how else do you explain Shai Hope, a batsman whose Test average was 18.61 before he created history by scoring two superb hundreds in the match?
This defiance of mass expectation by the Windies has caused many to question Joe Root’s declaration on the fourth evening of the match, when England were eight wickets down in their second innings.
Sure, a hard-nosed captain obsessed with not losing the series would have batted on, but Root was looking to win the game and clinch the series there and then, and in so doing give the home fans something to really cheer about on an action-packed final day. By doing so he also put his bowlers and fielders under duress to deliver, but the pressure exerted by an underdog fighting back is unique and England began to look ragged as muscles tensed and calm minds scrambled. Suddenly, the series was level with all to play for.
Root isn’t the only captain to have fallen foul of a declaration at Headingley this millennium. In 2001, Adam Gilchrist set England 314 in 93 overs. Having basically dominated the Ashes since 1989, and again in that series in which they won the Urn in record time, the Aussies, powered by Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne, expected another facile victory.
Instead, they were handed an unexpected defeat after Mark Butcher, who made an unbeaten 173, defied the odds as well as the expectations of just about everybody – that same old England would crumple at the first sign of Warne flexing his fingers. As it transpired, Warne, who never enjoyed bowling at Headingley, even on a fifth day, took one for 58 off 16 overs.
If that took many by surprise, it wasn’t as great as the 1990 earthquake that shook the cricketing world in Kingston, Jamaica, when Graham Gooch’s team beat Viv Richards’ West Indies by nine wickets.
England had not won a Test against the West Indies in the Caribbean since 1974, and that was after another declaration, this time by Garry Sobers. Since then, not a Test against them had been won home or away until Gooch’s side beat them at Sabina Park.
There are teams who win unexpectedly from impossible positions in the match and there are those who are given little hope from the start. Gooch’s team, as well as the current West Indies side before Headingley, were in this second camp. After all, Test cricket, over five days, affords no hiding place for those possessing just a few who can cope.
Luck, unlike in the shorter formats, does not skew the outcome, unless it comes in huge dollops as it did for the Cambridge University side I captained to victory over Lancashire in 1982.
OK, this was a three-day game and Lancashire were not at full strength, missing Clive Lloyd and Graeme Fowler from their first choice XI. But they were still pretty strong.
The luck we had on those balmy days at Fenner’s was two-fold. The first bit was that they were chock full of left-handers and there was a smallish patch on the pitch that was dusting up enough for the seam to grip it. As it happened, it was on a perfect length for a seamer like me and on the perfect line for their left-handers of which they had five in the top seven. Every time I hit it, which was not that often, one of their left-handers seemed to nick it.
The second break we had was that Frank Hayes, their most influential senior pro, had just discovered Grolsch, a strong beer that came in those laboratory-style bottles with rubber stoppers. Keen to avail his team-mates of its charms, he took them on nightly pub crawls to those establishments which stocked it – of which, judging by the hangovers, there were plenty.
University teams were just not meant to beat counties in the professional era, so the captain, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd was hauled before the Lancashire committee to explain himself. “We didn’t lose any points and nobody died,” was Bumble’s brusque assessment, which may be how Root and his team should best view matters when they meet West Indies for next week’s decider at Lord’s.