May 12, 2003

West Indies on verge of history as tempers fray in Antigua

Close West Indies 240 and 371 for 6 (Chanderpaul 103*, Banks 28*) need another 47 runs to beat Australia 240 and 417

This Test match has simmered for days, but in an extraordinary hour after tea, it erupted in a fury. Just as Australia looked set to complete an unprecedented clean-sweep in the Caribbean, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul belted West Indies back into contention in a flurry of boundaries, bouncers and bad-feeling. It was Test cricket at its rawest and - until the crowd stepped in with a volley of debris from the stands - at its best.

Ramnaresh Sarwan roars with delight after reaching his second Test century
Ramnaresh Sarwan roars with delight after reaching his second Test century
© Getty Images

By the close, the equation was simple - Australia needed four wickets to complete one brand of history, and West Indies needed 47 runs for an even more improbable achievement of their own. Only two sides have ever chased more than 400 runs for victory, but no-one has ever managed a total as high as 418. There is nothing dead about this rubber.

After three years and 57 innings of near-misses, Sarwan finally registered his first Test century against creditable opposition (he scored 119 against Bangladesh in December), and Chanderpaul returned to his bat-flinging best, with a rollicking 103. By the close Chanderpaul had added an unbeaten 83 for the seventh wicket with the admirable Omari Banks, who played hard and straight to reach 28, and West Indies had Australia distinctly rattled. Had they been able to reach a conclusion this evening, only one side could have won it.

It was a far cry from the morning session. West Indies had begun with cautious optimism after a resourceful opening stand of 47 on Sunday evening, but Devon Smith and Chris Gayle could add only another two runs between them. When Daren Ganga was trapped lbw by a brute of an inswinging yorker from Glenn McGrath, West Indies were 74 for 3 and the white paint was dripping.

Only one man, it seemed, could save the day. And for half a session, while Brian Lara was treating Stuart MacGill with barely disguised contempt, the improbable looked ever-possible. Lara clobbered consecutive sixes over long-on to bring up his fifth half-century of the series, but MacGill had the last laugh, suckering Lara with a flighted delivery outside off stump, which ripped out of the rough to clip the top of middle (165 for 4).

By this stage, however, Sarwan was flowing. He was eased into the session by Waugh, who bowled a lengthy spell after lunch as the big guns rested up ahead of the new ball. Chanderpaul was quickly up to speed as well, and Sarwan went to tea on 67 not out, knowing full well that nearly would not be enough this time. And then it all kicked off.

It started innocuously enough, with a few muttered words between balls, but before long McGrath and Sarwan had become involved in a furious finger-pointing altercation, and umpire Shepherd was forced to intervene. Moments later McGrath had to be relieved on the fine-leg boundary by Matthew Hayden as the crowd got stuck in as well.

Sarwan refused to allow himself to be rattled, and took out his frustration by carving a brace of MacGill long-hops past point for four to move into the nineties. Chanderpaul responded to the raised stakes in glorious fashion as well, swinging Jason Gillespie for two fours in an over to bring up his fifty from 73 balls. Waugh responded by recalling Brett Lee to the attack, but Sarwan clubbed him first-ball through midwicket for four to move onto 98.

Australia took the new ball to unsettle Sarwan, but he was not to be denied, and drove Lee down the ground to complete his century. He punched the air and roared with delight, and despite their fury, some of the Australians were able to put aside the match situation to shake Sarwan's hand.

Lee however was not one of them, and in his next over, the Antigua Recreation Ground exploded. Sarwan slashed his first ball wildly over gully for four, but just when discretion would have been the better part of valour, he attempted to hook a venomous bouncer and top-edged straight back to Lee, who immediately ran across to McGrath to celebrate. Sarwan was gone for 105, and Australia's pressure had finally told.

Australia's false summit: Brian Lara is bowled by Stuart MacGill
Australia's false summit: Brian Lara is bowled by Stuart MacGill
© Getty Images

Lee's very next delivery was a phenomenal bouncer that screamed past Ridley Jacobs and clearly clipped something on the way through. Umpire Shepherd agreed it was glove, but replays proved it had been Jacobs's elbow that had borne the brunt. Had he done the natural thing and showed the pain, Jacobs would surely have been reprieved.

It was too much for the crowd, who bombarded the ground with bottles. West Indies had been a mere 130 runs adrift with six wickets standing, but suddenly their hopes of victory had vanished.

Banks, however, has demonstrated his obduracy on several occasions already this series, and after a brief rain-break which cooled the tempers a fraction, he provided Chanderpaul with vital support - although he was indebted to a rare lapse from Martin Love, who dropped him at second slip when he had made just 2. When Chanderpaul took 14 runs from a Gillespie over, including a hooked six, West Indies had reduced their target to double-figures.

That was just the start for Chanderpaul, who rampaged to his eighth Test century as MacGill melted under a barrage of boundaries, and with three overs remaining, he swung MacGill to long-leg and kissed the ground in triumph. Banks got in on the act as well, cracking MacGill for an exocet of a straight drive, before playing out his final over of the day with a maturity beyond his 20 years. West Indies had lacerated 143 runs in a session, and Australia's dream was hanging by a thread.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo in London.