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The day Curtly Ambrose ripped England to pieces in the West Indies

In this extract from the new book Supreme Bowling: 100 Great Test Performances, Rob Smyth celebrates one of the truly great spells

Most horror movies start cheerily. There will be often be scenes in which the lead characters demonstrate the optimism, innocence and playfulness of youth – and a thoroughly misplaced sense of security. On 29 March 1994, the England team boarded their coach to the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad knowing that, all things being equal, they would return that evening drunk on victory and Tetley. Alec Stewart was asked by a Sky reporter how the team would get on. “Don’t worry”, he said, sticking his thumbs up. “We’ll be fine today.” Ten hours later, after his off stump was detonated by the final ball of the day, Graham Thorpe’s blank face told the story of an horrific trauma. England had been sliced and diced by Sir Curtly Ambrose, reduced to 40 for eight in a manner that would have shattered even Kipling’s equilibrium. This wasn’t a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; they’d had glory snatched from them in exchange for humiliation. They never ever saw it coming at all. For a young team starting out under a new captain, it was a terrifying insight into just how tough it can be to win a Test match – especially when you are up against perhaps the greatest match winner of all.

England were given little chance when they travelled to the Caribbean in January 1994. West Indies had not lost a Test series since 1979-80, even if their victories were becoming less comfortable, and had lost only three home Tests in 16 years. England lost more than that in 1993 alone: they were walloped 4-1 at home by Australia, a miserable follow-up to a shambolic tour of India and Sri Lanka in which they lost all four Tests.

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