Surrey men in Antigua: Tests through history - Kia Oval Skip to main content

England launch their bid for a first series victory in the West Indies since 2004 at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium. Richard Spiller looks back at the involvement of Surrey players in Tests on Antigua.

Trepidation was a primary emotion for English players and followers when West Indies were at their awe-inspiring best in the 1970s, 80 and 90s.

But what now? There is no doubt that cricket in the Caribbean is nowhere near as powerful as in the days when Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards could call upon a phalanx of fast bowlers and buccaneering batsmen.

Yet England’s record over the past two decades has remained poor and they open the three-Test series with an experimental side after suffering a 4-0 hammering in Australia.

The Richards-Botham Trophy (formerly the Wisden Trophy) series over three matches opens on Tuesday in Antigua, Test cricket having made its debut on the island in 1981.

An England team which arrived 2-0 down and still reeling from the death of Ken Barrington – the Surrey great who had become their coach and mentor – during the Barbados Test, fought out a draw against Clive Lloyd’s mighty side but there was no escape five years later.

On his home island, Viv Richards had scored a century in that inaugural match and now, as captain, blasted another in 56 balls which was then the fastest in the history of Test cricket and proved instrumental in ensuring his side completed a second “blackwash” in as many series, wrapping up the match by 240 runs.

Over the first quarter century of Test cricket there, matches were staged at the Antigua Recreation Ground, on the edge of St John’s, where the main stand would shake to the sound and power of Chickies Disco and the crowd would chuckle at the antics of local eccentrics Gravy and Mayfield, each attempting to be more outrageous than the other.

There was another West Indies victory to distract them in 1990, England having caused a huge shock by ahead in Jamaica, just missing out on a another victory in Trinidad and then agonisingly failing to hold on for a draw in Barbados. Lacking skipper Graham Gooch and key seamer Angus Fraser through injury, they proved no match to the hosts at the ARG, going down by an innings and 32 runs, Alec Stewart making 27 and eight at the end of his first series at Test level.

The Surrey captain was fully established at international level four years later and a week earlier in Barbados had scored centuries in each innings, which enabled Mike Atherton’s side to bounce back after arriving 3-0 down.

Their hopes of continuing that fightback looked good when West Indies were 12-2 on the first morning but, instead of making further progress, they witnessed Brian Lara creating history, batting into the third day as he scored a new best Test of 375 – overtaking Garry Sobers (365) – on a perfect batting pitch.

Responding to 593-5dec, the tourists deserved much credit for drawing level on first innings although it was Atherton (135) and Robin Smith (175) rather than Stewart (24) and county colleague Graham Thorpe (9) who enjoyed the conditions most in a match which petered out.

There were three Surrey players in the side when England arrived at the end of another disappointing series in 1998 trailing 2-1, being shot out for 127 and then watching the hosts amass 500-7dec.

Second time round they did far better, Stewart opening up with 79 although poor Mark Butcher suffered a pair. A draw still looked possible with 33 overs remaining as Thorpe (84no) added 168 for the fourth wicket with Nasser Hussain (106). But confusion between the pair saw Hussain run out and the rest crumbled around Thorpe to see England go down by an innings and 52 runs, Atherton promptly offering his resignation after five years in charge.

It was England’s turn to be in charge on their next trip to the Caribbean, in 2004, Michael Vaughan having led his side to a 3-0 lead and looking to complete their own clean sweep at the ARG. Lara had other ideas. Having seen Matthew Hayden overtake his record earlier that year, making 380 against Zimbabwe, the Trinidadian maestro was determined to reclaim it.

Two Surrey players were on the field to witness it while Gareth Batty, who had spent early years at The Oval and has since returned, had the hardest of tasks on his Test debut and had a role to play in the drama as Lara pulled him into the pavilion to draw level with Hayden before sweeping the next delivery to set a new one. He finally declared at 751-5dec, having reached 400no.

Butcher’s 52 featured in a reply of 285 all out and he added 61 in the follow-on, Thorpe finishing on 23no when the match finally went to sleep at 422-5.

International cricket had relocated to the Sir Viv Richards Stadium across the island when England next toured in 2009 yet the ARG was to enjoy a final flourish. The scheduled Test lasted just 10 farcical balls while the West Indies bowlers found the newly-sanded outfield – designed to counter drainage issues – made it impossible to keep a footing. The near-derelict old ground was pressed into service at two days notice and an exciting Test saw West Indies hang on for a nailbiting draw.

There was more frustration for the tourists in 2015, when the new ground at North Sound was fully established, yet it brought no change of fortune for England as centuries for Ian Bell and Gary Ballance ensured the hosts were set 438 for victory, Jason Holder’s 103no down the order, his maiden Test century, ensuring safety at 350-7. Surrey’s new T20 skipper Chris Jordan made 21no and 13, collecting a wicket in each innings.

And it was West Indies who had the upper hand three years ago, winning by 10 wickets, England including three Surrey men. None will remember the occasion with much joy, Ben Foakes making 35 in the first innings at a ground where he is expected to make his return to the side this week.