Benn takes giant strides on crucial occasion
Standard policy for West Indies captains is usually, if in doubt, hand the ball to the biggest, meanest-looking bowler in the team. In the glory days, it would be Joel Garner or Curtly Ambrose, and they would duly hurl down bouncers that fizzed past heads. The 200-centimetre Sulieman Benn did the job for Chris Gayle today, the only difference being his 90kph offerings were awkward rather than life-threatening.
Benn's 5 for 155 at Adelaide Oval won't jump out in the history books as an all-time great performance but it was invaluable after Australia began the day at 0 for 174, with a terrific chance to bat West Indies out of the game. The obituaries of the tourists' tour, drafted following the debacle in Brisbane, were being further fine-tuned after stumps here on day two.
But beginning with Dwayne Bravo and Brendan Nash with the bat, redemption has been the theme of the team's Adelaide effort and there was no way Benn was going to let Australia run away without a fight. While the shorter fast man Kemar Roach impressed from the Cathedral End, the gangly Benn loped in at the City End. For 37 overs in the day - and 53 for the innings - he made life difficult with his natural bounce, drift and turn.
"It's certainly different," Michael Hussey said of facing such a tall slow bowler. "He's probably the most unique spinner I've faced in my career. He does use bounce very well with his height and I think he's pretty wily with his changes of length and changes of pace as well.
"Certainly the more you get to face him the more comfortable you feel with it. I thought he bowled outstandingly well and to bowl 50 overs is a huge effort. I think he stuck to his disciplines pretty well throughout that whole 50 overs. He still was landing the ball pretty consistently [at the end] and he was difficult to get away."
Benn appeared confident throughout the day, following through a few extra steps to make sure a batsman saw his glaring face and towering physique, or voicing his opinion to the opposition or his team-mates. After play he was quietly spoken and brief. He said that it had been pleasing to collect his maiden Test five-for.
"It's my first five-wicket haul in first-class games for a little while too," Benn said. "It's always nice to know you can get five wickets in a Test match and against Australia as well, so I feel pretty pleased about that. It gives you a sense of belonging. Sometimes you can doubt yourself."
Among West Indies spinners only Gayle and Dinananth Ramnarine have taken five wickets in a Test innings in the past decade. It's hard to believe that coming from Barbados, which produced great fast men such as Garner and Malcolm Marshall, Benn would choose to commit himself to orthodox spin, but he said it was a decision that he made before he started to tower over his school mates during his teenage years.
"I can't say anything attracted me to it [spin bowling]," Benn said. "It's just something I started doing from very young, eight or nine years old. I never thought about bowling fast, I never had a passion for it. I started bowling spin, I liked it, and I continued."
And continued, and continued. For much of the third day it seemed like Gayle had forgotten he had the power to alternate his bowlers and Benn sent down 24 overs unchanged from the start of play until drinks in the second session. Benn said it was no great hardship and he was happy to shoulder a heavy workload.
"I'm fairly used to that," he said. "I've been doing it for a while. It comes natural to me now because I've been doing it from school and my club and then for Barbados and now West Indies. I'm pretty comfortable doing it."
His unfailing efforts, combined with the difficult, skiddy fast deliveries being sent down by Roach, ensured West Indies took a small first-innings lead. The quicker that Gayle and his top-order colleagues accelerate on the fourth day the less comfortable the Australians will feel, and Benn said he was happy with the position he had helped West Indies achieve.
"Hopefully they are under some sort of pressure," Benn said. "The game is slightly in the balance, obviously we didn't get the lead that we would like but hopefully they are under some sort of pressure."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo