A Victory To Savour
Tue, May 13, '03
The fourth and final test at the Antigua Recreation Ground will go down in history as one of the most enthralling contests among two teams that have one of the greatest rivalries in cricket. Needing to make a record breaking 418 to win the test and avoid the ignominy of a whitewash, the young guns in the West Indian batting lineup, Sarwan and Chanderpaul set up a fascinating finish to the test match.
Taking the cue from their display with the bat, Against all odds, heroic batting by the West Indian middle and lower order resulted in a victory that will go down as among the most memorable in the history of West Indies cricket. With the West Indies fielding one of the youngest teams in international cricket today, this victory is going to have a significant impact on the future of West Indies' cricket.
When Australia set about their second innings, the West Indies attack did extremely well to restrict the total to 417, given that the score was 242 before the first wicket fell. When Steve Waugh walked back unbeaten on 45 for what will be the last time in a test innings on Caribbean soil, it looked as if the finishing touches were all that were required from the Australian bowling lineup, packed as it was with five specialist bowlers. The first ever whitewash against the West Indies at home looked to be an ever so simple task for the Aussies.
As the run chase in pursuit of 418 got under way, the West Indian resolve to fight this match to the finish was shown in the maturity with which Chris Gayle and Devon Smith handled the pace of Lee, Gillespie and McGrath in the period of play towards close on the third day. Time after time, Lee sent down short deliveries at searing pace to both openers, and apart from a couple of pull shots that Gayle played against the first ones that he faced, the rest were handled with extreme maturity and poise. Though he may not yet have the runs to reflect it, Devon Smith has definitely shown more than mere glimpses of the ability which has led him to be rated as one of the best young batting talents in the West Indies. He is definitely a long term prospect and the West Indian selectors will do well to give him his time to settle into international cricket.
The events of the fourth day are all too well known. The dismissals of Gayle, Smith and Ganga and the scorching start to Lara's innings. The West Indian opening partnership may not have been particularly imposing, but the manner in which Gayle and Smith batted showed the Australians, and the world, that West Indies was not going to hand this match over on a platter.
Lara came out to bat like a man on a mission. As expected, the Aussies sledged him to the hilt in a bid to disrupt his concentration and prevent him from settling in for the sort of long innings that this situation demanded. Shots flowed from his bat, a square cut off Lee and two lofted drives off MacGill fetching him sixes. However, in trying to repeat the shot off MacGill, Lara misread one that spun in from the rough and was bowled.
The score was then 165/4 and although Sarwan was batting with assurance on 38 at the other end, his history of scoring half centuries and then gifting his wicket meant that Australia was firmly in the driver's seat.
The next two hours of batting, which featured the partnership between the two Guyanese batsmen, Sarwan and Chanderpaul, was the stuff of which legends are made. The aggression with which both players approached the daunting run chase, and the flair and dash with which their aggressive intent was executed against the best bowling attack in the world showed just why West Indian cricket finds supporters all over the world, not just among people from the West Indies. Against both high quality pace and spin, the flashing blades of Sarwan and Chanderpaul came up with stroke after stroke that turned a position verging on defeat into one from where victory looked not only possible, but even likely. For the duration of the partnership, Antigua must have seemed hauntingly similar to Calcutta to Steve Waugh and his bowlers.
Interestingly, both Chanderpaul as well as Sarwan were fighting personal battles of their own before this innings started and both overcame them in the most fitting manner possible.
After scoring a brilliant century in the first test at Guyana, Chanderpaul had missed the next test due to injury. His return to the side was rather fortuitous, given that Marlon Samuels did score in one innings of the second test. Even Chanderpaul's greatest supporters would have rued the manner of his first ball dismissal in the third test. If that was not bad enough, Chanders uncharacteristically dropped catches in previous innings and was bowled through the gate in the first innings. He had a broken finger to contend with as well.
Sarwan's case was no different. From being a batsman who started his career with a score of 84* against a quality Pakistani attack, he went on to tour Australia and was totally at sea against the pace and aggression of Brett Lee. To the dismay of West Indian fans, who then saw him as the only emerging batsman on the horizon, he scored just one fifty in the series; in the final test for which Lee was not available. Sarwan subsequently went on to score runs all over the world, but the questions raised by the Australians during that series were never completely answered, with Sarwan's propensity to fall for the hook shot only raising more doubts about his ability against pace. His inability to score a century against anybody but Bangladesh also exacerbated the criticism.
Coming into a do-or-die match situation under such personal pressure, both Sarwan and Chanderpaul put in a batting performance that should secure their places in the history of cricket. Enthralling strokeplay, executed with characteristic Calypso flair saw them put Waugh's men firmly on the defensive. There was some gamesmanship between McGrath and Sarwan as well, but that paled into the background given the quality of cricket that was on display.
In fact, the gamesmanship may even have helped Sarwan's cause. So far, on each occasion when he had crossed fifty, he had looked under pressure to convert it into a ton. This time, there were no nervous nineties whatsoever and Sarwan flayed McGrath and Lee, who was brought on to replace him enroute to a century that will be spoken about by generations of cricket loving West Indians. As Sarwan said in his comments after the match, whatever was said between him and McGrath is best left on the field. The important thing is that even in the heat of the moment, several Australian players congratulated Sarwan when he reached his century. The Australians play the game extremely hard but are fair when it comes to acknowledging great play by their opponents.
At the other end, Chanderpaul played in his characteristic style, a mixture of dour defense and ferocious strokeplay. Although the attention was very much on Sarwan and his confrontation with the Australian bowlers, Chanderpaul had an equal share in the partnership. As luck would have it, very early in his innings, he was struck on his broken finger by a delivery from MacGill that bounced more than anticipated. A team man to the core, Chanderpaul opted to play on though he was obviously in great pain.
Just as it seemed that the West Indies were running away with the match, Sarwan tried to hook Lee and the resulting top edge was gleefully accepted by the bowler. The partnership between Sarwan and Chanderpaul saw 123 runs added in just over 26 overs. A stirring counterattack by any estimate.
Jacobs got a dreadful decision first ball, capping off an ordinary match for umpire David Shepherd. His dismissal saw the West Indies tottering at 288/6, still 130 runs away from the target and with only the tail to accompany Chanderpaul.
Then came the partnership between Chanderpaul and Omari Banks. Right from his first test, Banks showed remarkable composure with the bat. Even before this innings, it would have been no surprise to see him develop into a genuine all rounder.
Banks gave a chance immediately after he came in, when Lee probed his defences with some exceptional fast bowling. Martin Love, whose debut was souring by the minute, gave him a reprieve and Omari did not look back after that. He played a few ambitious shots and was lucky that a few did not go to hand, but Omari showed good defensive technique and a propensity to play the drive. Most importantly, he showed the nerve to play under pressure and attacked the ball when it was there to be hit.
Chanderpaul, on the other hand, shifted gears, plundering 14 runs off one Gillespie over, including a short arm pull for six. At this point, Waugh opted to bring MacGill on. Chanders, whose ability against spin is well known, feasted on the spinner with stroke after delectable stroke. At one point MacGill gave away 34 runs in five overs. The idea may have been to get one of the batsmen to play a rash shot. If that was the gambit, it did not work.
Moments before the close of an enthralling day's play, Chanderpaul turned MacGill on leg to record his century. Surely one of the most memorable centuries in his career and one which will be remembered for a very long time. Certainly till another team manages to score more than 418 in the fourth innings to record a victory.
Play ended with the West Indies on 371/6 and with the entire cricketing world agog at the prospect of a West Indian win against all odds.
Had there been time to play even another hour on the fourth day, the West Indies would have been favourites to win the game. But with the match intriguingly poised, the West Indies could have expected Australia to fight back with every resource at it's command on the final day. The 47 runs that remained would have to be earned the hard way.
Waugh chose to open proceedings on the fifth morning with Gillespie and Lee. A sign that McGrath was not being seen as the spearhead of the Australian attack any more? The bowlers started with three very tight overs, and off the first ball of the fourth, Lee struck. Chanderpaul was caught behind to a ball that straightened from around the wicket. He had added just one run to his overnight score.
Banks and Drakes then came together in a partnership that went to underline how utterly important it is for test teams to bat down the order. Banks carried on in his unflappable vein, and both him and Drakes showed remarkable composure against Gillespie and Lee. After a couple of overs without incident, Drakes flicked Lee to the midwicket boundary and Waugh opted to replace Lee with MacGill. Drakes hit the legspinner for a boundary in his first over, and for a towering six in the next. That stroke relieved some of the pressure and from then on, a West Indian win was always on.
Right from his spells in oneday games to his disciplined bowling in test matches and his tight fielding in both forms of the game, Vasbert Drakes has brought a much needed professionalism to the West Indies' team. Seeing him perform, it is all too obvious that the man has a wealth of experience in various situations. His invaluable contribution to this victory must once again highlight the folly of not selecting him all these years simply because he played domestic cricket outside the West Indies.
Fittingly enough, Drakes struck MacGill for two fours in quick succession to end the match. Banks, at the other end, was unbeated on 47*. Given his ability with the bat and his temperament, he will doubtless have higher scores, but it is hard to imagine him playing a more crucial innings for his team. In a single innings, from being a spinner who had conceded 204 and 153 runs in his previous innings, Omari had become the toast of the West Indies.
The magnitude of the West Indian victory can be seen when it is placed in perspective. This is the highest score in the fourth innings to win a game, eclipsing India's 406/4 against Lloyd's West Indies at Port of Spain in 1976. This is only the third time in the history of test cricket that a team has scored over 400 runs in the fourth innings to win a match. The third occasion, apart from this one and the 1976 test being 404/3 scored by Sir Donald Bradman's Australian team in 1948.
Not only did the West Indies create history, they did it against one of the strongest teams in test history, and they did it at a time when their opponents were themselves setting out to create history by winning all tests for the first time in the West Indies. After their clean sweep in 2001 and the defeats in the first three tests of this series, this was the first test that the West Indies had won against Australia.
The victory is especially relevant because the West Indian team is so very young. The list of players and their ages makes it sound like a youth team. For instance, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the leader of this youth brigade is only 28, well before his best years as a batsman. Darren Ganga, who seems to be coming of age is still a young 24 years old. Sarwan is seen as a veteran of the side, and he is barely 23, the same age as Chris Gayle. The others are even younger, Marlon Samuels (22), Devon Smith (21), Jermaine Lawson(21), Carlton Baugh (20) and Omari Banks(20).
With a lot of international cricket still to be played, should the West Indian selectors play their hand carefully and give these players time and opportunity to mature, then West Indian cricket may well have turned the proverbial corner. For now, every West Indian fan will seek to savour this victory and look forward to a renaissance in Caribbean cricketing fortunes.