Updated: Jul 1, 2020
The rivalry between England and the West Indies is unique in world cricket. Both sides have enjoyed periods of crushing dominance over one and other. Yet a surprise victory for the underdog is never far away in this cricketing clash of cultures. The first Test match between the two teams was played at Lords in 1928. Since 1963, they have competed for the Wisden Trophy. Extracting the greatest moments from this vibrant, dramatic, and often controversial match up was difficult. I initially intended on selecting five, then ten, and finally settled on a dozen.
1) Pace like fire – Old Trafford, 1976
"People are building these West Indian’s up, I’m not quite sure they are as good as everyone thinks they are. If they are down, they grovel. And I intend, with the help of Closey and a few others, to make them grovel”.
Whatever England captain Tony Greig intended with these incendiary pre-series words, the outcome would leave his team battered and bruised. He had unleashed a West Indies bowling attack that would leave an indelible mark on the sport forever. Having suffered at the hands of Lillee and Thompson the previous winter, Clive Lloyd built his team on the values of unrelenting pace bowling and domineering batting.
After having the better of the first two drawn Tests, Michael Holding, dubbed “Whispering Death" along with Andy Roberts and Wayne Daniel, inflicted an unforgettable assault on John Edrich and Brian Close on the third evening. Old Trafford had never seen such pace, as the ball whistled past Close’s head again and again. When the ball struck his body, the sickening blow could be heard around the ground. Despite the bravery of the opening batsman, England crumbled to a huge defeat. Holding would later take 14 wickets in the final test to seal a 3-0 victory at the Oval. Whether intentional or not, Grieg’s ‘grovel’ comments echoed a colonial sentiment that had been hastily swept under the carpet. After this series, there could be no doubt who were the masters.
2) Cork seals desperate victory – Lords, 2000
As Darren Gough strode to the crease, a raucous crowd braced itself for yet another twist. Chasing 182 for a series-levelling victory, England were now eight down, with 28 runs required for the win. Dominic Cork recalled to the team that summer would play the vital innings. Bellowing calls of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, Cork bravely drove down the ground, and audaciously pulled for six to reduce the deficit. The pair ran boldly between the wickets, taking advantage of nervous West Indian fielding. Lords erupted when Cork struck the winning runs through the offside. It was one of the most dramatic matches the old ground had witnessed. Captain Hussain was indebted to his bowlers, but this time with the bat in hand.
Earlier, a timid England had responded to West Indies 267 with 134, an insipid performance. Walsh and Ambrose dominated them, as they had for a decade. With the match all but over, Caddick produced a second-innings special, and in the blink of an eye, the West Indies were 54 all out. England had a target. Incredibly, a portion of all four innings had occurred on day two.
The bowlers would inflict yet more pain on the beleaguered West Indian batsman at Headingley. All out for 61. Caddick took four in an over. An innings win, and series lead was England’s. A tense scrap at the Oval went England’s way, and the West Indies had been defeated for the first time since 1969.
3) Record chase sparks ‘Blackwash’ – Lords, 1984
It may have been only the second Test, but the West Indian victory at Lords meant a ‘Blackwash’ was inevitable. England should never have lost the game. Twice, the West Indies pace quartet sparked an English collapse, in both innings. And yet, Fowler’s ton in the first innings and Lamb’s in the second should have led to a creditable draw, at the least. Early on day five, captain David Gower declared his team's second innings with nine wickets down, setting a target of 342. The previous evening, they had accepted an offer of bad light from the umpires, much to the crowd's consternation. They believed England were on top and should be pushing for a win. Gordon Greenidge’s savage double hundred showed the parity between the two sides was an illusion. On an extraordinary last day, the West Indies scored at over five an over to reach their target. Supported by Larry Gomes, Greenidge dismissed everything the English bowlers could muster with disdain. They lost a solitary wicket, a run-out, and Botham - who had claimed eight West Indian wickets in the first innings – was flogged for over 100 runs. Debutant Chris Broad labelled the final day “a disaster”. Greenidge himself claimed his innings “was not planned”. It was pure, instinctive, brutal strokeplay.
Gower’s men had competed with, even bettered the West Indies for four days. This defeat was crushing. They had not been able to take wickets, or stem the flow of runs, even as the game entered the last hour. England would revisit the pain of this 5-0 defeat eighteen months later, with another ‘Blackwash’, this time on Caribbean soil. It was no longer a rivalry but an exhibition in cricketing superiority.
4) England storm the Sabina Park fortress – Jamaica, 1990
It is now hard to comprehend how big an upset this England victory was. England had not won a Test match against the West Indies since 1974, at Trinidad thanks to Tony Grieg’s brilliance. They had not achieved a series win over them since 1969. The West Indies had not lost a Test series to any opponent since 1980. They were unbeaten against England at Sabina Park since 1954. They had also won 14 of the last 15 encounters with England. Every conceivable statistic pointed towards yet another drubbing. And yet, Graham Gooch’s inexperienced side pulled off a clinical, impressive victory.
Having won the toss, Viv Richards elected to bat on a shiny and partially cracked pitch. Greenidge and Haynes looked confident and assured until an uncharacteristic runout left them 63-1. From then on it was carnage. David Capel started the procession, and once Devon Malcolm removed Richards lbw for 21, the West Indies were in trouble. The metronomic Angus Fraser eradicated the lower order with five, and West Indies had 164. Could England’s batsman capitalise on this great start? Wayne Larkins, staying alarmingly legside and exposing his stumps, managed to blunt the attack during his 120-ball 46. Straining to get back into the game, Patterson, Bishop, Marshall and Walsh bowled too short, feeding the cut and pull shots of Lamb and Smith. Their exhilarating partnership took England into the lead. When Lamb fell for an authoritative 132, an upset was brewing.
With a lead of exactly 200, this time Malcolm and Small were the destroyers. Any West Indian partnership was extinguished before it grew too large. 240 all out. Despite the rain on the fourth day, England knocked off the required 41 runs with ease to send shock the through the cricketing world.
A combination of cynical West Indies time-wasting in the second test and increased hostility in the bowling meant the series ended with a 2-1 win for Viv Richard’s team. Gooch could not hide his anguish at the post-series interview. But the West Indies were no longer invincible, and it would not be long before their noses were bloodied once again.
5) Lara scores 375 – Antigua, 1994
As Brian Charles Lara pulled a Chris Lewis delivery to the boundary, and joyous spectators poured onto the ground, England must have been left rueing what might have been. Despite competing with the West Indies, they had been undone once again by West Indian class, first with the ball, and now with the bat. They had been saved the ignominy of another 5-0 defeat with an impressive victory at Barbados, but the tour had been a painful one. The fifth test was to see Brian Lara achieve cricketing immortality.
Entering the fray at 12 for two, Lara produced an exhibition of trademark cuts and drives, guiding his team out of trouble and into the ascendancy. He effortlessly moved through the gears, offering no chances, and grinding down the bowlers. A huge score felt inevitable. At the end of day two, Lara was unbeaten on 320. Anticipation grew in the packed stands the next morning. Sir Garry Sobers, the West Indian legend and holder of the highest score record, looked on, his 365 made in 1958 surely to be surpassed. After his record-breaking boundary, Lara eventually emerged from an adoring huddle of pitch invading fans and met Sobers, who had walked to the middle. It was a meeting of West Indian past and present, two masters of the game who had brought such joy to their public.
10 years later, on the same ground, against the same opponent, an ageing Lara would become the first man to reach 400 in a Test. On that occasion, it was the sole consolation in a series defeat. But on that day in 1994, the world was at Lara's feet. Despite the dark days that lay ahead for West Indian cricket, they could always look to this moment, when one of their own was the world’s best.
6) Grievous Bodily Harmison – Jamaica, 2004
Seven wickets for 12 runs. Those were the astonishing figures registered by Steve Harmison, as England sealed victory in the first Test. Until that point, it had been a tense and competitive encounter on a slow pitch. On the fourth morning, the West Indies were eight without loss. Openers Chris Gayle and Devon Smith began cautiously, aiming to wipe out England’s slim first-innings advantage and build a score. In a chaotic session, Harmison would reduce the West Indian batting lineup to rubble. A fast, rising delivery outside off stump prompted a swipe from Gayle, and a tumbling Thorpe took the catch at third slip. Sarwan was beaten for pace and trapped LBW. Delivering the ball from a towering height, Harmison was wreaking havoc. He gained steepling bounce from a back of a length to force the obdurate Chanderpaul to inside edge onto his stumps. On so many occasions, the West Indies had triumphed due to physically imposing fast bowlers. Now, finally, England had the pace attack to fight fire with fire.
The barrage was relentless. Jacobs fended another Harmison missile away from his ribs, and into the hands of short leg. Fidel Edwards was Harmison’s 50th Test wicket when he edged behind, and the West Indies were all out for 47. Harmison had delivered the best figures ever seen at Sabina Park, and this emphatic statement set up a series win for the English. In retrospect, this was perhaps Harmison’s finest performance in an England shirt. His form and fitness would fluctuate for the rest of his career. Despite that, his performance in Jamaica sealed his place forever in the pantheon of great bowling achievements.
7) Taylor and Benn rout England for 51 – Jamaica, 2009
Where had the West Indian passion gone? What had happened to their skill and pace? When would they win a test series again? These questions, and more, were levelled accusingly at the West Indies as England arrived in early 2009. The men from the Caribbean had not won a Test series since 2004, a low-key encounter against Bangladesh. Surely the arrival of the English would set pulses racing once more in the stands, and the West Indies dressing room. In a tense game, England faced a deficit of 74 when they began their second innings.
They were to be hit by a perfect storm. Jermaine Taylor tore in, removing Cook in his second over, his rhythm immaculate and his pace increasing. Sulieman Benn – the towering left-arm spinner- terrorised England’s top order with turn and bounce. The English were stunned. A previously slow surface was now spitting and writhing, and they had no answers. Pietersen, Collingwood and Prior had their stumps obliterated by Taylor. When the dust settled after a breathless 33 overs, England had been bowled out for 51 and had lost by an innings. The fire was back for the West Indies. As was their resilience. Despite being dominated for the rest of the series, the men in maroon somehow clung on to their 1-0 lead, and thus wrestled the Wisden Trophy away from the English for the first time in 11 years.
8) Gooch’s masterpiece – Headingley, 1991
“In the context of a particular game, I’ve never seen a better Test match innings than this one”.
That was the verdict from Richie Benaud, reflecting on Graham Gooch’s match-winning innings at Headingley. Under lead grey skies, on a pitch offering seam movement, Gooch faced one of the fiercest pace attacks ever to take to a cricket field. He also carried the added burden of captaincy. If he did not score the runs, nobody would. With his characteristic high backlift, Gooch confidently drove and clipped first Malcolm Marshall, then Patterson, then Walsh around the ground. He treated Ambrose with more respect, as the gigantic paceman took six English wickets with ruthless efficiency.
At 38 for four, Gooch needed support. He found it with young debutant Mark Ramprakash, and then all-rounder Derek Pringle. Yet Gooch was head and shoulders above the rest, his 154 the only score above 27 as he set about setting the West Indies a stiff total to chase. England’s bowling attack was the polar opposite of the West Indies. Apart from Malcolm’s pace, Gooch could call upon the medium pace of DeFreitas, Pringle and Watkin. On the fifth day, the West Indies fell for 162, handing England an emphatic victory few would have predicted.
His authoritative performance was the blueprint for the rest of his team, as they secured a 2-2 series draw. It was the first time England had avoided a series defeat in the Wisden Trophy since 1974. It was a welcome reminder that England could compete with their illustrious opposition, and Gooch, the elder statesman of the team, finally tasted some success after years of struggle.
9) All-round Sobers shows his class – Headingley, 1966
Is Sir Garfield Sobers the greatest cricketer of all time? The debate will indeed run for all time, but we can be certain that his impact on the 1966 series against England has rarely been matched. Throughout that magical summer, Sobers averaged 103 with the bat, and 27 with the ball as he captained the tourists to a 3-1 victory. With the help of his talented side, Sobers made match-winning contributions at Old Trafford and Trent Bridge. Yet it was at Headingley where he was truly untouchable. Coming in at number six, he made 174 to propel his side to an imposing total of 500. The left-hander had batted with his usual flair, driving elegantly through the covers, and punishing anything off his legs.
He then proceeded to annihilate England with the ball. A five-wicket haul was taken after Hall and Griffiths had softened up England’s batting line-up. It was a true team effort and Sobers marshalled his bowlers expertly. In the second innings, it was spinner Lance Gibbs who caused the damage, as England succumbed to an innings defeat and surrendered the series. They were simply in awe of Sobers.
The West Indies had well and truly broken the hegemony of England and Australia, to become the number one team in the world. This would not have been possible if not for the genius of Sobers. Despite the champion teams that followed in the 1970s and '80s, West Indian cricket would never have had the self-belief to compete if it wasn't for this cricketing colossus. It is unlikely we will see his like again.
10) Anderson joins the 500 club – Lords, 2017
Once again, Lords was the scene for another dramatic occasion between these two sides. With the sun setting on day two, the West Indies began their second innings trailing by 71. They would need a repeat display of resilience that had seen them stunningly turn the tables at Headingley the previous week. James Anderson, England’s champion bowler, knew the series was in the balance. He also knew he had taken 499 Test wickets. England expected, and he delivered. A perfect inswinger beat Braithwaite’s drive and clattered into middle stump. It was bowling perfection. Anderson became the first Englishman to take 500 Test wickets, and England had control of the game. They would go on to seal the match and the series. Such had been the pre-eminence of the West Indian bowlers of the past, the watching public had seen them as cricketing demi-gods. Now, a lad from Burnley had more wickets than anyone from those islands. How many more can he take before he hangs up his bowling boots?
11) Roach and Holder bring the pain -Barbados, 2019
It is now a familiar tale. An England team arrived on Caribbean shores overconfident, whilst the very survival of West Indian Test cricket was being questioned. The result should never have been in doubt. Responding to 274, England were obliterated for 77 in their first innings of the first test.
England had enjoyed emphatic success in Sri Lanka two months earlier, prospering on slow, turning wickets. They faced a West Indian outfit determined to go back to their roots, by selecting genuinely fast and tall bowlers, and playing on bouncy surfaces largely absent from the Caribbean for a decade. Jason Holder started the procession, dismissing a driving Jennings. Kemar Roach bowled Burns via an inside edge, and England’s talented but fragile middle order was exposed to a vengeful and hungry attack. Nobody could stop the flow of wickets. Roach, who was backed up by the physically imposing Gabriel, the youthful Joseph and the captain Holder, collected five. They targeted the batsman’s pads, stumps, outside edge and bodies in a sustained assault that lasted just 30 overs.
England had been hammered and were once again victims of ignoring cricketing history. Joe Root’s shell-shocked men were also demolished in the second test, and the Wisden Trophy was back in West Indian hands after a ten-year absence.
12) “Mind the windows Tino” – Lords, 2004
England can rarely have entered a series against the West Indies so confident of victory. Just three months after pummelling Brian Lara’s men in the Caribbean 3-0, the two sides met again at a sun-drenched Lords. England dominated with pace in the previous series; now the much-maligned spinner Ashley Giles was dismantling the West Indies faltering batting line-up. With the final rites being administered, tailender Tino Best strolled to the crease. The fiery young bowler had riled England with his hostility and sledging. With eyes on the glass exterior of the Lords media centre, Best attempting to clobber Giles over the boundary, with little success. England’s close catchers chuckled and goaded Best to try it again. Andrew Flintoff, standing at slip, could not contain himself. “Mind the windows Tino”, resulted in Best, charging down the wicket, wildly swinging his bat, only to be out stumped. The fielders erupted with laugher, and Best’s six-minute ordeal was over. But this was more than simply getting under the batsman’s skin. This moment was hugely significant. No longer would England be cowed and intimidated by the West Indies. A 4-0 series win heralded a changing of the guard, and England dominating a team they had previously feared.