December 7, 2000

Gilchrist leads young Australians to spirited win

There was music, fanfare, the opening of a new stand and an exciting match. In the end, however, it all drew out to one predictable result.

The West Indians were beaten again on this tour, this time in a carnival one-day match against the Prime Minister's XI here at the Manuka Oval in Canberra. The tourists lost by four wickets with nine balls to spare. This, after their young Australian opponents started over number forty-six needing twenty-seven runs off twenty-four balls.

Fittingly, the heroes for the Prime Minister's XI were two local boys - Anthony McQuire and Mark Higgs. McQuire (57), who turns twenty-eight in a couple of weeks, gave himself and the team an early birthday present with a clean-hitting innings that included four boundaries. After a slow start, he found his rhythm against the Windies' quicks before being brilliantly run out by a substitute English fielder.

Yes, the Windies camp is so depleted that they required their fielding coach, Julian Fountain, to take to the field, and he duly obliged with the direct hit from deep cover to effect the run out. In fact, Fountain's fielding - as well as that of Roger Harper - provided an entertaining edge to the match. With six players out injured (Brian Lara: hamstring, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Mahendra Nagamootoo and Mervyn Dillon: rolled ankles, Shivnarine Chanderpaul: stress fracture in foot, and Nixon McLean: 'flu), the coaches were forced on to the field to make up the numbers. Fortunately, though, most of the absentees should be ready by the time next week's Third Test starts in Adelaide, and replacement Marlon Samuels is also due to arrive tomorrow.

As for McQuire, whose taste of big-time cricket before today had extended to just six matches with the Canberra Comets in Australia's domestic one-day competition, he was pretty happy with his efforts against an international attack.

"It just took a little bit of time to adjust, they were a little bit quicker and I just had to take my time and realise the longer I was there the better I was going to hit them. So I just wanted to be patient and do the job that I had to do," he said.

Higgs starred as a genuine all-rounder, conceding only thirty runs from his ten overs before notching up a quick fire forty-nine not out from just forty balls. He brought up the winning runs when he slogged a Courtney Walsh (1/36) delivery over mid-wicket for four. In the previous over, it was Colin Stuart (2/53) who was the unlucky one, being smashed for three boundaries.

The Windies sadly failed to consolidate their fairly satisfactory batting with bowling of the same standard. As captain Jimmy Adams pointed out last week after the Test loss in Perth, the team is still struggling to make the two coincide. The bowlers were carted all over the ground today, with Stuart receiving the most severe punishment.

The bowling performance generally took the shine off the fine innings played by Daren Ganga (97) earlier in the day. However, Adams' decision to bat first did pay off in one sense, allowing the batsmen some much-needed batting practice.

Although their opposing bowlers perhaps did not perform as well as they would have liked, with the fast bowlers going for a few runs, the match was a fun and positive experience. Don Nash (1/31) bowled well, captain Adam Gilchrist (31) contributed a typically flamboyant innings, and Martin Love (56) was the second batsman to score fifty.

The only low point was the injury to Tasmanian all-rounder Daniel Marsh, who rolled his foot trying to field a ball in this third over. But even that incident had its fun side, allowing Gilchrist to have a rare bowl.

"That was unplanned, although I must admit the Prime Minister last night did tell me I had to bowl at some stage. So, when Dan twisted his ankle, I saw the window of opportunity open up and had to jump in there. Initially it was only going to be one ball, but when that was a maiden, I (thought I) better back up myself here. So I was disappointed when my slower slower ball came out and the batsman hit it into the corporate tents!" he said.

The biggest talking point after the match, though, was whether the 'keeper would feel comfortable taking on the Australian Test captaincy next week in Steve Waugh's absence as is widely expected. Gilchrist, who did not don the gloves today, said he fielded at mid-off for most of the day because he wanted to give young Tasmanian Sean Clingeleffer a go, not because it would be too much for him to captain and keep at the same time.

"The hardest part I found about captaining today was not keeping. That may sound a bit weird but whenever I've fielded in a game, I find it very hard to judge angles and field positions and then to know how the bowlers are bowling, what line they're bowling, whether I've got the right field. That's personally for me because I've grown up a keeper," he said.

"I enjoyed the run today, and the chance to captain. Get myself thinking more like a captain. I think a lot of the guys in the Test team do think like captains anyway and we're all contributing to Stephen and he's always asking us. Today was planned long before Stephen was injured so the fact that it's coincided with that if I am named captain next week I'll be thankful for the hit out today. It was good. Hopefully if I captain the Test, I'll have the gloves on," he said.

The would-be captain also had some kind words for his opposition.

"They played really well. They've had a tough time, their batsmen. All credit to them for continually working hard. The one thing that can be said about it is that they're not giving up; their spirit's still good. They've put in a good fight today and took it to the wire so all credit to them for continuing to fight on," he said.

Of course, being on the winning side, he could afford to be magnanimous. One thing was for sure, Gilchrist clearly relished the chance to lead today.

"I really enjoyed it. Had a great day. It's not the Frank Worrell Trophy that we're playing for today but I must say all the same it was nice to win," he said with a smile.