Adrian Barath brightens West Indies' gloom
Seldom can positives be drawn from an innings defeat, particularly one sealed inside three days. Yet from the wreckage of West Indies' lamentable Brisbane campaign has emerged a performance worthy of the highest order of recognition; one that augurs well for the future of the browbeaten game in the Caribbean and the Test format in general.
Adrian Barath's sublime second-innings century heralded the arrival of a batsman anointed by Brian Lara, his esteemed countryman and mentor, as a figure capable of breaking the region's cycle of mediocrity. At just 19 years and 228 days, Barath became the seventh youngest batsman in Test history to post a century on debut, and the youngest ever West Indian, breaking the 79-year record held by George Headley. "I'm sure he'll be proud of this achievement," Barath said of Lara, who identified genius in the then 11-year-old during a net session at the Queen's Park Oval.
Barath's innings on Saturday came at a time when his more seasoned team-mates were folding like laundry day to a ravenous Australian attack, and featured powerful cutting, the quality of which Lara himself would have approved. At the time of his dismissal, Barath had scored 104 of West Indies' total of 154, and was recognised with the rarest of sporting accolades: a rousing standing ovation from the fiercely parochial Gabba crowd.
Barath had an early taste of the celebrity realm he seems destined to inhabit when, while walking the streets of Brisbane this week, he passed by Britney Spears. Breathless, he returned to the team hotel to inform his fellow tourists of the pop starlet's shortness in stature. "You're not so tall yourself," they replied.
Barath is spotting Chris Gayle over a foot in height and, more pertinently, 82 Tests in experience. But whereas Gayle was coerced into a pair of cheap lbws and as many ill-advised video challenges, Barath took the attack to the Australian bowlers with assuredness and precision beyond his years. He raced into the 90s with a brutal pull to the boundary off Mitchell Johnson, and reached triple figures by cutting Shane Watson through point, also for four. Big game temperament in a small man's frame.
Already, Barath has achieved a feat that has thus far eluded Gayle in his Test career: a century against the Australians. His efforts, coupled with the determined half-century from fellow rookie Travis Dowlin in the first innings, signalled a welcome departure from West Indies' modus operandi of the past decade, in which a select group of senior batsmen were relied upon to prop up their underwhelming colleagues.
"It's a privilege to play for West Indies against Australia in Australia," Barath said, his orthodontic braces gleaming in the television lights on account of his broad grin. "It was really emotional to me, very exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it."
Barath is a player to romance the purists, both for his appealing technique and his attitude to international cricket's traditional format. With Gayle - the all-swing, all-bling poster child of the Twenty20 revolution - sitting to his right, Barath told reporters at the post-match press conference that, to him, Test cricket would always retain its primacy. CLR James, another son of Trinidad, could not have been more eloquent.
"A lot of youngsters these days talk Twenty20 and 50 overs, but all the youngsters understand the stature of Tests as the ultimate form of the game, the true test," he said. "Representing your country at Test level is the highest position in the West Indies. All young players realise that Test cricket is what it comes down to."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo