April 10, 2003

Chanderpaul can't halt the tide

After three months of wall-to-wall one-dayers, it might have been expected that Test cricket would return to centre stage with relative calm and order. But the first day of the first Test at Georgetown provided enough thrills and spills for even the most impatient spectator. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's magnificent 69-ball hundred took the plaudits, but when the dust settled it was Australia who ended the day with a firm grip on the match.

That Australia took such a stranglehold was largely thanks to their assured batting in the final session, coupled with some indifferent batting from West Indies and three poor decisions from the umpires - the most crucial of which was that dished out to Brian Lara.

But it was Chanderpaul who won the hearts of his home crowd with the third fastest Test hundred (in terms of balls faced) at a time when West Indies appeared to be down and out. He came in to join Lara, who had looked at his imperious best during his brief stay, at 53 for 4, and within an over was the last recognised batsman as Lara departed.

Whereas Chanderpaul is renowned for dogged - some would say downright dull - rearguard actions, this time he attacked, and in style, unleashing a string of quite exquisite cuts, pulls and drives. None of the bowlers were spared, and so wayward were they that for an hour after lunch Australia were rendered impotent. Catches were dropped, overthrows given away and brows grew more furrowed as Chanderpaul and a hobbling Ridley Jacobs added 131 for the sixth wicket at six an over.

The support given by Jacobs was invaluable. He pulled a thigh muscle early on attempting an ambitious sweep off Stuart MacGill, and played almost all his innings on one leg and with severely limited mobility. And yet he kept his end up, and even produced the shot of the day, a towering drive off MacGill which cleared the triple-decker stand at long-on. If Chanderpaul's innings was savage dissection, Jacobs's was courageous determination.

The problem for West Indies was what happened either side of that stand as ten wickets fell for just 106 runs. The rot started as early as the fifth over when Devon Smith (3) was on the sharp end of the first dubious decision of the day (9 for 1), and an over later Daren Ganga was bowled for 0 by a ball which kept a little low (10 for 2). Lara, briefly threatening to unveil a masterpiece, needed someone to stay with him. Instead, Wavell Hinds holed out to Justin Langer at mid-off courtesy of an infuriatingly loose drive off Brad Hogg (47 for 3), and next ball Marlon Samuels edged to Matthew Hayden at first slip. But the hammer blow came in the next over when Lara was given leg-before for 26 (53 for 5). It was a dubious decision from Asoka de Silva, and it seemed set to usher in another humiliating capitulation.

But Chanderpaul and Jacobs fought back, and it took the afternoon drinks interval to end their resistance. Two balls after the break Chanderpaul fell leg-before to Andy Bichel trying to pull a ball which wasn't short enough (184 for 5). The blow to his knee was sickening and he hobbled off to add to West Indies' injury worries. Four balls later Vasbert Drakes sparred at Bichel and was excellently caught by wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist low down to his right for 0 (184 for 6).

Merv Dillion's spirited assault was cut short by the inconsitent MacGill - aided by another poor lbw decision from de Silva. He made 20 in a breezy eighth-wicket stand of 38 with Jacobs, and the last rites were completed after tea with the increasingly distressed Jacobs left high and dry.

Australia's customary aggressive response was briefly checked when Hayden (10) paid for his own calling error, failing by inches to beat Drakes's sharp pick-up and throw (37 for 1). But Langer and Ricky Ponting relentlessly ate into the deficit, and as the day drifted towards a close it was increasingly hard to see where a wicket was going to come from. The forecast of intermittent rain over the next four days already appeared to give West Indies their only hope of salvation.