The same old story

Some members of the England team celebrate with the trophy.-Pics: AP

The West Indies are not yet worthy opponents. This match may have been entering the last stages when England won by seven wickets, but it had lasted less than three and a half days, writes Ted Corbett.

A stranger in our fair land might have assumed that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was a 17-year-old newcomer to cricket, making his first few runs and showing exceptional promise.

His successive centuries in the third and fourth Tests between England and West Indies were hailed as if the 7,000 runs he had scored in the past 14 years had never happened.

The pundits sprang forward to claim that here was the man to save the lost souls of the Caribbean, the batsman to replace Brian Lara and the sage old man to show the kids in the team how Test cricket can be played. Perhaps it is not surprising that Chanderpaul is such a novelty. He would never have been allowed to bat in that crablike, gawky, unorthodox way if he had been brought up through the county system or discovered at school and encouraged by coaches of the ECB age-related sides.

Those coaches would have told him: "You may be hitting the ball in the middle of the bat, son, you may be scoring a lot of runs, young man, but until you learn to bat side on you will never make it at any professional level." Those same well-drilled eyes still cannot believe what they are seeing. Here is a man who is only in the right position — the position dictated by the manuals, that is — at the moment he actually hits the ball.

You can almost hear the undercurrent of discontent that runs through their commentary or their columns: "Why doesn't someone just bowl him out?"

The reason is that Chanderpaul is practised in the art of guiding the ball, with soft hands and perfect footwork, to where he decides it must go. No doubt there have been West Indies coaches who have also tried to put him right; but he has stubbornly gone about his business in his unique way and to anyone who suggests it is an imperfect method he can ask the question: "Show me your medals."

His concentration is perfect, switching on and off as he wishes, he can ignore the failures of his fellows and he knows only one target: to score as many runs as possible for the benefit of his own average and his side's advantage.

Ryan Sidebottom... a five-wicket haul in the first innings.-

By now the West Indies authority figures have learnt to leave him alone, let him progress in his own way and, batting at No. 5, score his runs how he may.

I wish him and them well since there are few men who have gone so long without being out.

Some have criticised him for being one-paced, unable or unwilling to thrash about when the tail-enders join him, too content to take his runs when he can and never attempting to force the pace. He will say that while he is scoring slow hundreds there is plenty of room for other batsmen to make spectacular scores; sadly, West Indies have no one who is capable of such innings.

It takes two to tango, two to form a partnership whether that is batting or bowling, and if there are two combined effectively the results can be seen in no time. England had two men who are just as unorthodox as Chanderpaul: the mean, moody and magnificent Steve Harmison and the spin artiste Monty Panesar. Harmison wishes he were at home even when he is in the next county; travel abroad is an agony. Panesar cannot field any better than a Girl Guide in a Boy Scouts side and his batting is sheer comedy although it improves.

"Everyone bats, everyone fields," the big time professionals chant to prove the point that although bowling is a luxury allowed only to the few there should be no lax fielders and no one with a batting average below 10.

A couple of weeks ago I subscribed to the view that if these two did not want to play the game according to the time honoured rules they should be sent back to their counties to learn their cricket and, more importantly, to see the error of their ways.

They have both proved me wrong; not just me by the way but all those who also thought that they needed to learn to field, bat and travel; it is part of cricket is it not?

At Chester-le-Street, once the first day abandonment had been forgotten, once the West Indies proved to be fallible again, once he found his rhythm and made the batsmen suffer their blues, Harmison was everything a fast bowler should be.

His speedo reached for the 90 mph mark, his aggression was silent and menacing and his ability to get the ball into a man's Adams apple caused havoc.

Yet, even in a 12-over spell in the West Indies second innings, he did not reap what he sowed; Panesar did that. Shortly after the Test finished it was announced that, by the ICC rankings, Panesar was the finest England spinner for 30 years; not yet, in his early days as an international player ready for the top 10, to rank alongside Laker and Lock and all those guys but one mean master of his art.

He is 25, yet his ability to wheedle batsmen out, to create spin traps that will ensnare them and to get fast, lifting turn from a helpful pitch means that England need no longer worry about a tail increasing the score by some considerable amount.

Harmison and Panesar cause harm and pain in equal amounts while Matthew Hoggard, returning to the fray impressively, and Ryan Sidebottom, apply the subtle items like line and length and putting the ball in what they think of as "the right areas" is a formidable combination. And there is still Andrew Flintoff to make his own re-entry like some errant space shuttle.

In English conditions these five will always be a handful. As Andrew Strauss said at the start of the West Indies series, if England are to be contenders for world leadership, they must be unbeatable at home. They won this series 3-0 and, but for a rainy finish at Lord's, it might have been a whitewash.

Now their batting is strong, their bowling is menacing and their fielding is, well, variable. Panesar and Michael Vaughan let themselves down in this game but the brilliance of Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen and the safe hands of Strauss and Ian Bell were sufficient compensation.

The West Indies are not yet worthy opponents. This match may have been entering the last stages when England won by seven wickets, but it had lasted less than three and a half days.

For all Chanderpaul looked ready to step up into a class of his own, even though Dwayne Bravo shows promise and Fidel Edwards may one day make us all blink there are too many who might fit into a county side and stay there.

Viv Richards swore to me that West Indies would rise again but that day is far away. There need to be changes of attitude from top to bottom, there is a need for an unselfish strong man to take charge of the Caribbean game and they must find the right coach.

That is just a start too. THE SCORES

Fourth Test. Chester-le-Street. June 15-19, 2007. England won by seven wickets.

West Indies — 1st innings: D. Ganga c Cook b Sidebottom 0; C. Gayle lbw b Hoggard 28; D. Smith b Sidebottom 4; R. Morton c Sidebottom b Harmison 6; S. Chanderpaul (not out) 136; D. Bravo b Hoggard 44; M. Samuels b Sidebottom 19; D. Ramdin c Collingwood b Sidebottom 13; D. Powell c Prior b Harmison 1; F. Edwards b Sidebottom 5; C. Collymore lbw b Panesar 13; Extras (b-4, lb-13, nb-1) 18. Total: 287.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-32, 3-34, 4-55, 5-141, 6-199, 7-219, 8-220, 9-229.

England bowling: Sidebottom 29-10-88-5; Hoggard 26-8-58-2; Harmison 25-4-78-2; Panesar 13.1-2-34-1; Collingwood 4-1-12-0.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Ramdin b Edwards 77; A. Cook c Ramdin b Edwards 13; M. Vaughan c Bravo b Edwards 19; M. Hoggard c Gayle b Collymore 0; K. Pietersen c Ramdin b Edwards 0; P. Collingwood b Collymore 128; I. Bell c Morton b Powell 11; M. Prior c Smith b Edwards 62; S. Harmison c Ganga b Powell 9; R. Sidebottom (not out) 26; M. Panesar b Powell 4; Extras (b-5, lb-8, w-15, nb-23) 51. Total: 400.

Fall of wkts: 1-37, 2-110, 3-119, 4-121, 5-133, 6-165, 7-334, 8-369, 9-369.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 23-1-112-5; Powell 32-6-89-3; Collymore 29-5-116-2; Gayle 9-3-25-0; Bravo 2-0-10-0; Samuels 5-0-35-0.

West Indies — 2nd innings: C. Gayle c Prior b Hoggard 52; D. Smith lbw b Hoggard 0; D. Ganga c Prior b Hoggard 6; R. Morton b Panesar 7; S. Chanderpaul b Panesar 70; D. Bravo c Sidebottom b Panesar 43; M. Samuels c Collingwood b Panesar 2; D. Ramdin b Panesar 4; D. Powell c Vaughan b Harmison 4; F. Edwards b Harmison 0; C. Collymore (not out) 16; Extras (b-1, lb-12, w-2, nb-3) 18; Total: 222.

Fall of wkts: 1-7, 2-15, 3-38, 4-94, 5-162, 6-169, 7-175, 8-188, 9-194.

England bowling: Sidebottom 15-4-40-0; Hoggard 11-4-28-3; Harmison 20-2-92-2; Panesar 16-2-46-5; Pietersen 2-0-3-0.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss b Powell 13; A. Cook c Bravo b Powell 7; M. Vaughan (not out) 48; K. Pietersen c Samuels b Gayle 28; P. Collingwood (not out) 5; Extras (b-4, nb-6) 10. Total (for three wkts.) 111.

Fall of wkts: 1-16, 2-29, 3-105.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 7-0-46-0; Powell 7-0-38-2; Samuels 4-0-12-0; Gayle 3.4-0-11-1.