Watkinson rekindles Trent Bridge flame
It is a quirk of scheduling on West Indies’ 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2009 tours of England that they have not played a Test at Trent Bridge since 1995.
That six-game series stood at 2-2 with two to play when Mike Atherton and Richie Richardson’s teams met in Nottingham.
The hosts had drawn level at Old Trafford a fortnight earlier when 33-year-old Mike Watkinson took five wickets on international debut.
Lancashire’s bowling all-rounder played alongside 42-year-old fellow off-spinner John Emburey in a six-wicket win, and kept his place as Richard Illingworth returned to oust Emburey in the fifth match.
“Making your Test debut, you’re nervous,” Watkinson, now Lancashire director of cricket, told ecb.co.uk.
“All right you’ve got plenty of wickets in county cricket behind you and plenty of experience, but not at that level and he [Emburey] obviously had. When you’re up against (Brian) Lara on flat pitches, it’s a difficult proposition.”
He added: “You just want to do a good job, not let yourself down, not let the team down and if you get picked again it’s a great bonus.
“To take a couple of wickets in the first innings, to take three wickets in the second innings and to contribute with 30-odd runs I thought was not a bad return for the first game and I was pleased with that and that took me into the next Test match with a bit of confidence.”
Watkinson, who had turned 34 since the Manchester Test, claimed three wickets in the Windies’ sole innings at Trent Bridge, but made a stronger impact with the bat.
He had followed 37 in his one knock at Old Trafford with 24 in England’s initial 440 all out, a total built on centuries by Atherton and Graeme Hick.
The tourists’ 417, including 152 for Lara, also at less than three runs an over made a draw the likely result. That was still the case when England closed day four on 111 for two.
However, a collapse typical of the hosts in the 1990s saw Watkinson go in at 148 for six with a West Indies win on the cards. He held firm, but five wickets for Kenny Benjamin left England nine down and only 212 ahead.
“The wicket was quite flat at Trent Bridge I remember, not a lot of bounce in it for the spinners anyway,” he said. “The West Indies quicks seemed to extract a bit of bounce out of it, but spin - you had to stick at it over a long period of time.
“We kind of got lulled into a feeling - because in the first innings the runs were scored slowly - it was an inevitable draw, and then we lost a lot of quick wickets on the last day.”
Watkinson was joined by Illingworth, who had sustained a broken right index finger that forced him to retire hurt in the first innings.
The former was soon given a life on 22 when he clipped a Courtney Walsh full-toss to midwicket and the usually reliable Sherwin Campbell spilled a two-handed chance. Had Campbell held on, the Windies would have had 42 overs to chase 215.
“It was one of those sometimes you take, sometime you don’t,” Watkinson reflected.
“What I remember most about the last-wicket partnership with Richard Illingworth was that he had a broken finger, and we had to shield him from the strike.
“So as well as killing time and as well as scoring runs to make the target more challenging if they did get that wicket, I also had to try to protect him or between us we had to try to work it so he kept off strike as much as possible to protect his broken finger.
“We managed to do that. He got 14 not out so he still, with a damaged hand, faced up to quite a few deliveries and between the two of us saw to it that their pace attack ran out of steam and they finished up bowling a little bit of spin at us.”
In an unbroken stand of 80, Illingworth survived 52 balls and Watkinson 137 in making 82 not out of 269 for nine declared.
“I was picked as a bowling all-rounder so it’s nice to contribute with the bat as well,” said Watkinson, whose bowling was not required as West Indies confirmed a draw by closing on 42 for two.
He was a sole specialist spinner for the Oval decider, which proved to be a high-scoring stalemate with England’s 454 and 223 for four playing their opponents’ 692 for eight declared - featuring hundreds by Lara and Carl Hooper.
Although West Indies retained the Wisden Trophy, a series share was creditable for England, who had not beaten them in a Test rubber for 26 years.
“The Oval was a good pitch but it always seemed like it was going to be a draw because it was true; it had more pace in it than Trent Bridge, but it was beautiful for batting,” Watkinson added.
“I might have got a few wickets in the previous two Test matches, but the last Test match on a flat pitch up against Hooper was hard work. Rather than taking wickets you were looking at your economy rate.”
Watkinson, whose only other England appearances came against South Africa that winter, concluded: “It was a good series. They were evenly matched sides and two apiece over that series was probably a fair reflection.”