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Holding’s hopes of capping his remarkable performance with a hat-trick disappeared with a sloppy delivery down the leg side. Miller, left with the task of getting England closer to the follow-on target, drove Roberts off the back foot and was quickly into position for another boundary. But then he mistimed a pull to Bernard Julien, the substitute fielder, at mid-on to end a promising dеbut innings of 36, leaving England 435 all out.
With a lead of 252, Lloyd – his bowlers depleted by Daniel’s injury and with almost 130 overs in their legs – decided not to enforce the follow-on. The West Indies openers, their gameplan to slog as many runs as quickly as possible, came out to bat with 55 minutes remaining before tea. The West Indies fans greeted them excitedly and were rewarded by seeing Greenidge, having been brushed on either the glove or arm by a Bob Willis lifter, hit three fours in the first over. The first was an effortless hook; then Greenidge thrashed a cover drive and, with extravagant back-lift, hoisted Willis over mid-wicket. Two more short balls disappeared to the boundary in Willis’s next over. To see the supposed saviour of England’s fast bowling being dealt with so callously so soon after Holding’s brilliance brought the home side’s predicament even more sharply into focus. The subsequent comment of former Australian batsman David Hookes that ‘Bob was a fucking off-spinner compared to Michael’ could easily have had its roots at The Oval.
Roy Fredericks showed Selvey the perils of bowling even slightly short before Greenidge lifted Greig over extra cover to give the West Indies 66 runs off 13 overs at tea. Fredericks’s steady accumulation was less brutal than that of his partner but resulted in him reaching his half-century first when he drove Selvey for two fours in an over. Greenidge cut and swept Underwood as the boundaries came in a cluster and the score reached 150 in two minutes short of two hours. Greenidge took one long stride to meet Willis with a towering drive into the pavilion for six, the start of his sequence of 22 runs off 11 balls. Shortly before six o’clock, at the end of the 32nd over and with both batsmen in the mid-80s, Lloyd waved his men back to the pavilion. A score of 182 for 0 had produced a lead of 434.
The two-hour passage of play had underlined once again the difference in talent and effectiveness of the two teams. Greig, meanwhile, understood what it meant for him personally in the light of his comments at the start of the summer. Never one to hide from his critics or deflect the glare of attention, he gave the cheering West Indian fans what they wanted. As the England players left the arena, he walked towards the open stands on the Harleyford Road side of the ground and dropped to the grass. Smiling in the direction of the crowd, he crawled on hands and knees, an attempt to make his peace with the West Indians. Over the delighted din, Tony Cozier told BBC Radio listeners, ‘For three or four paces he has, in his own words, grovelled.’
Greig would explain, ‘It was just a bit of fun. I was walking on my knees. I realise I made a mistake in using that word at the start of the series and they haven’t let me forget it.’
Clyde Walcott described Greig’s antics as ‘a delightful way to end a happy and rewarding series’, although the action wasn’t quite finished. Lloyd’s declaration left England with 20 minutes at the crease before stumps. Curiously, Lawrence Rowe remembers the West Indian bowlers having urged Lloyd not to end the West Indies’ innings. He recalled Lloyd being urged, ‘Don’t declare, Skip, because we can’t get these people out on this wicket.’ According to Rowe, Lloyd argued, ‘If we bat out the day, we are just going to kill the cricket. We have to declare.’
It seems an unlikely scenario. The wicket might have been flat and the evening sun warm, but England’s batsmen knew that, against Holding and Roberts, a lead of 435 with one day and a few minutes left was far beyond their abilities. This was not an era when 400 runs in a day’s Test cricket was considered achievable, especially when teams could slow the over rate with impunity. It is hard, therefore, to believe that there was reluctance on the West Indies’ part to get at them – although the five overs bowled before the close do lend more credence to Rowe’s memory.
Holding fired the first ball of the innings down the leg side for four byes and continued to bowl waywardly. Woolmer steered Roberts behind square with a late drive, flicked a full toss off his toes and worked a short delivery to fine leg for three successive boundaries. Amiss executed a firm off-drive and, after suffering a painful blow on the left arm, glanced the last ball of the day to fine leg. Any chance Roberts had of an interception was wrecked by the young fans who ran towards the square. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ spat Benaud. England had scored 43 without loss. Even if no one dared to hope for the impossible, English optimism at least extended to thoughts of a draw.
The final day was prefaced by something of a diplomatic foul-up following the conclusion of Monday’s action. Only an apologetic Alan Knott and Derek Underwood of the England players turned up at the Surrey Tavern for a reception to present the Wisden Trophy to the West Indies team in recognition of their victory in the series. Wisden editor Norman Preston told reporters that he had given the England squad’s letter of invitation to Alec Bedser four days earlier, but was told that the letter had been left in the committee room at The Oval and was discovered only a short time before the event.
England’s batsmen could have done without anything else occurring to stir up the West Indies bowlers when, maybe, they might have been content to coast through the final day of the series on a feather-bed pitch. Even Holding initially seemed a little lethargic, but he still got the ball to lift enough for Amiss, hanging out his bat, to edge to Greenidge. The first wicket was down for 49.
Woolmer had played a big innings on this ground to save the Test against Australia a year earlier and one of the most disappointing aspects of the summer was the fact that he had not built on the promise he had shown in that game and in his first innings of this series. A well-timed drive through mid-wicket took his score to 30 and the prospect of a full day’s batting lay ahead. But, for the second time in the match, indecisive foot movement was his undoing as he nudged at Holding and presented a thin edge to Murray.
Balderstone’s second ball from Holding, working up towards full speed, was a leg-stump yorker, striking him on the foot. Then an ugly stab outside off stump was lucky not to produce an edge. Balderstone endured 25 minutes of scoreless purgatory before Holding’s yorker flattened his off stump. A miserable pair for Balderstone, of whom Selvey says, ‘He was just out of his depth against that lot.’
Steele had taken almost half an hour before poking Holding round the corner for a boundary and had edged the Jamaican just short of the slips. With the third wicket down at 64, he wore a more determined look than ever, surviving an lbw appeal against Holder before marching into a productive off-drive. Willey, though, could not survive Holder’s second over when he cut hard and edged a low catch to Greenidge.
For the final time in the series, here came Greig. He milked the moment, halting a few paces onto the grass and standing to attention while he enjoyed the catcalls of the West Indian followers. He pushed a single off his third ball, enabling him to keep the strike. In raced Holding and, almost too fast for the eye to see, removed the leg stump with yet another yorker. It was an even more resounding exclamation mark to the series than Richards’s batting earlier in the game. Greig’s feet had not even had the chance to move before his stumps were demolished, the fifth time he had been clean bowled by such a delivery in the series; the fourth in his last five innings. But more than the facts and figures, the dismissal would endure as one of the iconic images of the series. Holding leapt skywards, teammates whirled around, hugging him, pausing only to wave away the fans who once again were rushing the field. Greig, his form at Headingley seemingly a long way in the past, made his weary way off the field.
Knott joined Steele at 78 for 5 and the pair lasted an hour and a half before lunch, adding 50 to the total. Knott was as dogged and defiant as he’d been in his previous two innings, stubborn defence mixed with impish attack and a bit of luck. The bowling of Richards, Fredericks, King and Lloyd offered a restful aperitif before the meal break, which was taken with Knott on 28 and Steele, who had not scored for half an hour, 31. But it was back to reality when Holding returned in the afternoon, the ball twice smacking into Knott’s pads. Steele failed to get fully behind the ball and King made a valiant, but unsuccessful, effort to take a low catch at slip. The score had moved to 148 when Holder, achieving a little away swing and extracting bounce, was rewarded by the sight of Steele edging to Murray for 42. It was an inconclusive end to the series for Steele, whose two scores in the 40s represented a partial return to form but would not be enough to ensure him of a place on England’s winter tour. Holder had his 15th wicket in four Tests, a solid performance by a man whose steadfast bowling was often overshadowed by his more eye-catching colleagues.
Miller took 32 minutes to score the first run of a knock that would build on the promise of the first innings, but then settled in against the spin of Richards and Fredericks. Knott squeezed runs to all parts of the field and completed a fifty by turning Holder to long leg for three. With 50 minutes plus 20 overs left, a flicker of hope for survival began to play in the minds of the England followers – only for part-time spinner Richards to bowl Miller with a quicker ball that beat his back-foot shot and flicked the pads. With only three tail-enders to bat, the game was up.
Holding came back to administer the last rites. His fourth ball moved a little off the seam and took out Knott’s off stump; 196 for 8. With that wicket, Holding, who had not even warmed up enough to remove his sleeveless sweater, had become the first West Indian to take 13 wickets in a Test match. Roberts, meanwhile, was still waiting for his first. At last he got it when Lloyd took a brilliant diving catch just off the ground in the gully to remove Underwood. Roberts danced in relief.
Holding raced in from the Vauxhall End one final time. A fast yorker beat Willis’s defensive effort and hit him on the foot; an easy lbw decision. At 4.20 pm, the series was over. Holding’s return in the second innings was 6 for 57, giving him an astonishing 14 for 149 in the match. The figures are impressive enough, but even more so for having been achieved on such an unhelpful wicket.
Holding’s recollection of his performance is ‘just running in and bowling fast’, crediting the naivety of youth for his success. ‘It was such a flat pitch that if I had been more experienced I would have said, “This is not working. It is not worth all this hard work and strain on my body.” When you are young and excited you just run in fast and do what you do.’
Willis notes, ‘Having bowled on the pitch, I know that there was nothing there to help the pace bowlers. But Michael managed to make it seem perfect for speed.’
It was this match that confirmed Holding’s arrival in the very top bracket of fast bowlers, where he had only Roberts, Lillee and Thomson for company. It had been a spectacularly brief journey, gathering momentum after a promising, if stuttering, start in Australia, where his figures had not quite matched his potential. ‘If I had been English that would have been it for me,’ he said, recognising the West Indies’ selectors’ faith in him – although it seems unlikely that even England’s management could have resisted such a phenomenon, however unproven, at a time when any moderate fast bowler with one good leg stood a chance of selection.
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