A delightful debut
To those in his native Trinidad -- Brian Lara most prominent among them -- who always regarded Adrian Barath's advance into the West Indies Test team as a matter of when, rather than if, the opener's delightful debut hundred in Brisbane on Saturday would not have been surprising.
Bryan Davis, the one-time Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies opener, and currently the cricket manager at the famous Queen's Park Cricket Club in Port of Spain, tells the story of this tiny boy brought to the indoor nets by his father and friends who proceeded to pepper him to such an extent that he feared for his safety.
Barath senior assured him that his son, even smaller than he is now at 19, could handle himself. It didn't take long for Davis to agree. That 11-year-old's progress since has been measured and true to expectations.
At 16, he was into the Trinidad and Tobago first-class team and scoring hundreds in successive matches, against the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands in his first year.
Last season, there was 192 against the Leewards and 132 for West Indies A against the touring England party, who had James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann in their bowling arsenal.
It might have been enough to gain him selection for the home and away Test series that followed but he had to wait for Bangladesh in the Caribbean, and wait some more again when, like the others chosen, he lost he chance of an earlier and less demanding initiation because of the West Indies Players Association's (WIPA's) contracts dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
He came to wider international attention during Trinidad and Tobago's stirring showing in the Champions League Twenty20 in India in October when, in his second match, he thumped four sixes in 63 off 41 balls off the Eagles, the South African team.
The next step in the progression was the Test hundred, although it was a bit much to expect it on debut at an age even younger than the 20-year-old George Headley's second-innings 176 against England at the Kensington Oval in 1930, a Test hundred and, at that, in a land down under where they are scarce for visiting batsmen.
Fair enough but what would have strengthened Lara's comparison with a young Sachin Tendulkar, publicly, boldly and honestly expressed when he took Barath to England to expose him to the culture of the game at Lord's and other famous cricket venues in 2007, were the circumstances in which his Brisbane feat was fashioned.
Even by recent West Indian standards, they could not have been more dire. The team had lived up to all the denigration heaped on it by the Australian media since its arrival.
The captain, Chris Gayle, had jetted back to Jamaica to be with his ill mother and no one quite knew when he would be back, if at all. He did return, only to wrongly predict the toss of the coin, giving Australia the advantage of batting first. By then, it was known that Ramnaresh Sarwan, the key No.3 batsman with a double-hundred, three singles and an average of 76.2 in his seven Tests for the year, was enduring back spasms and would not be in the playing XI.
By the time the first day was half through, Jerome Taylor, the only fast bowler with genuine Test experience and depended on to spearhead the attack, had done something to his hip that would restrict him to nine overs. It placed more responsibility on the untested rest and, dutifully as they tried, their efforts were blunted by determined Australian batting and typically faulty West Indies catching.
When Ricky Ponting thankfully declared the innings at 480 for 8 just before tea on a second day of blazing 30 degrees heat, it left Barath and his teammates to initially aim for a total of 280 to avoid the follow-on.
Four wickets in the space of three-quarters of an hour in the second session, Barath's among them, rendered it mission impossible. Dogged resistance for more than four hours from Travis Dowlin, a 32-year-old journeyman provided with a belated, utterly unexpected chance at the highest level through the withdrawal four months earlier of disgruntled others, and a little flurry from the lower order couldn't stave off the inevitable.
Barath found himself returning to start the second innings in his first Test with the beleaguered Gayle after lunch yesterday, a deficit of 252 to be cleared to make the opposition bat again. A revival seemed to depend on Gayle and the reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a pair of contrasting left-handers with 204 Tests, 14,000 runs and 31 hundreds between them.
Instead, Gayle, whose general method is shot-a-ball, offered none at all and was soon lbw for the second time. Chanderpaul, for most of the past two years an immovable object, paddled a catch high off the bat to the fielder alongside the square-leg umpire. The No.10 would be out later to a similar shot but it was excusable for Kemar Roach. For Chanderpaul, it was completely out of character.
Dowlin was sandwiched between them so that, by the end of the 17th over, the mismatch predicted by the Australian press was confirmed.
At his age, Barath might well have been frozen into inactivity or else become careless and extravagant by the turn of events. Brendan Nash fell into the former category, Dwayne Bravo and Jerome Taylor, who hooked medium-paced long-hops precisely into long-leg's lap, into the latter.
In contrast, Barath stoutly defended the good balls on a pitch behaving itself in spite of its mosaic of cracks and indulged his offside penchant whenever a boundary presented itself. The balance was clear in the 19 fours he stroked and the 102 balls of his 138 faced that he blocked.
The innings was a gem and acknowledged as such by wise observers in the television commentary box, all of whom know the euphoria of a Test hundred, by his teammates in the West Indies, including those who managed to overcome their individual shame to rise in applause, and the 12,000 or so spectators who saw Barath off to a clearly heartfelt ovation.
As was mentioned more than once, it was a performance that should be an inspiration to other young cricketers in the Caribbean.
In this match, the bowling of Roach, 21, and in his third Test, caught the attention. Denesh Ramdin's wicketkeeping and aggressive batting moved Ian Healy, a kindred spirit, into a prophecy that the vice-captain, still only 24, will be among the best in the game by the time he is through.
Others wait in the wings, not least another Darren Bravo, the 20-year-old left-handed batsman, and the Nevisian Kieron Powell, another left-hander, aged 19. There is, however, a warning light for those responsible for such matters.
The last West Indian to score a hundred on his debut Test was Dwayne Smith, against South Africa in Cape Town four years ago and every bit as spectacular as Barath's. Significantly, he is now a Twenty20 gem for Sussex but no longer in the West Indies team.
Given his background and the organisation of the game in Trinidad and Tobago that now produces batsmen as Barbados and Guyana once did, it is unlikely that Barath will suffer the same fate. But the WICB need to ensure that the structures are in place to harness the best of all the budding Baraths. Perhaps it could consult its affiliates in Port of Spain and Couva for guidance.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years