by HAYDN GILL in Jamaica
YOU had to see it to believe it. Some of those who watched it still remained in disbelief, however.
It all happened so quickly. It all happened so spectacularly. It was awesome. It was like magic.
Jerome Taylor, the most promising West Indian fast bowler of this era, brought back fond memories of yesteryear with a magnificent post-lunch spell that transformed a match that was set up for a nice second innings contest into a memorable win for the home team in the first Digicel Test against England.
Sabina Park was like the Wild, Wild West when the impressive Taylor was sweeping through brittle England for 51, their third lowest in 880 Test matches dating back to 1887.
It was a scoreboard of shame for the inventors of the game, but it was West Indies’ finest moment on Caribbean soil for a long, long time and erased memories of the debacle at Sabina Park five years ago when West Indies were rolled away for 47 against the same opponents.
“It’s a brilliant day. I can’t complain about the performance the boys put in,” said captain Chris Gayle after West Indies completed their innings and 23-run victory just before tea on the penultimate day.
“It’s good to win in four days as well. This game actually brings back a lot of memories but it’s a different way around right now.”
Taylor was absolutely devastating in a high-quality spell that was bowled at decent pace in which he moved the ball and most significantly, consistently sent everything at the stumps.
In a performance that won him Jimmy Adams’ vote for the Man Of The Match, Taylor claimed five for “spit”, to turn a match that looked like it would be a enthralling second innings battle at the start of the day into a no-contest that warmed the hearts of every West Indian in the ground or watching on television.
Taylor finished with career-best figures of five for 11 but surprisingly admitted afterwards it was not the best he bowled in a Test match.
Everyone here was convinced it was. You just had to see the ball that despatched England’s best batsman to be convinced it was.
It was a fast, out-swinging yorker that made Kevin Pietersen look like a novice as he was shaping to play to leg. When the off stump was uprooted, Sabina erupted with deafening noise.
By then, England, who started their second innings 40 minutes before lunch with a first innings negative balance of 74, were already wobbling with two pre-lunch scalps, the first of which Taylor accounted for with a ball of fullish length to which Alistair Cook gave a catch to second slip where Devon Smith gobbled it up on the second attempt.
On the stroke of lunch, left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn removed Ian Bell for the first of his four wickets that played a major supporting role to Taylor at the opposite end.
It was after lunch, however, that the real mayhem unfolded. Apart from hitting Pietersen’s stumps, Taylor also bowled Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior.
Collingwood didn’t have a clue that the ball came off the inside edge before dislodging a bail and had run up and down the length of the pitch as the West Indies players were celebrating.
Prior pushed forward believing he had everything covered, but the ball cut back to breach his defence. Michael Holding and Colin Croft, two of the West Indies fast bowlers of the glory days who were watching from the Media Centre, would have been proud of what they were witnessing.
It left England 23 for six and in danger of going under the 46 they capitulated to West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval in 1994.
Andrew Flintoff spent most of the time watching the unthinkable at the opposite end. He smashed a few boundaries off Benn to take England past 50 before a swipe against Fidel Edwards brought about his downfall and put West Indies on the verge of their first Test win against England since 2000. It was the first against a major Test playing nation in the Caribbean since 2005 and first at Sabina Park since 2003.
Edwards was belatedly introduced into the attack after 32 overs when England were 50 for eight.
Andrew Strauss, the England captain in his first Test in charge on a permanent basis, was crestfallen after the defeat.
“It’s pretty clear where it went wrong. Our batting in the second innings was very poor. There are no excuses for that,” he said.
“Taylor bowled a fantastic spell, but the wicket wasn’t misbehaving terribly, so as a batting unit we need to hold our hands up and say it wasn’t good enough.”