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December 3, 1996
Tuesday December 3, 1996: I visited the Sydney Cricket Ground and witnessed a great day's cricket, but I have also witnessed the demise of a cricketing power that I have known and loved for over two decades.
After an enthralling if tight first four days of the Sydney Test between Australia and the West Indies, the visiting side needed 313 runs to win with ten wickets in hand - a huge task seeing that runs had been hard to come by, also hard for the bowlers as wickets too had been hard to take. But Australia did have one SK Warne in its side, so anything was possible. At one stage or another of the pre-lunch session, everything became possible.
Sherwin Campbell fell to Glenn "Millard" McGrath in the third over of the morning, leg before wicket. The following over, and Robert Samuels was out, bowled by a ripsnorter from Warne which pitched way outside the left-hander's off stump and came back miles! When have I seen a video replay of a wicket attract such an ovation from the crowd? More about that later in the day...
Next over, and McGrath bowled a bouncer to Lara, who started a hook shot, and then pulled out... almost. The faintest of bottom edges, and into Healy's gloves. Was it a clean catch or did it touch the ground first? David Shepherd said yes - eventually. Lara was gone, having gone only halfway to matching his 1st innings effort of two. I get the impression that Lara is not enjoying his cricket these days. 35 for 3 - some of the wags around me in the Bradman Stand are getting ready to go home before lunch!
This brought Hooper and Chanderpaul together. Chanders has the reputation of being a grafting batsman, but if this was the time to start playing for a draw, he was going for the win. After McGrath dropped a firm c&b chance, Chanders started blazing, he took to Warne's bowling and, with solid support from Hooper, knocked up a quick century partnership, and achieved his own 50 in thirty-eight balls. Close to lunch, the Windies had seven wickets in hand and needed less than three runs an over for the rest of the day. If Hooper and Chanderpaul could keep up their blistering pace the match could be theirs.
Then... Ripsnorter Revisited. Warne gave Chanderpaul the same fierce-spinning delivery that removed Samuels earlier in the day, and with the same devastating effect. Chanderpaul bowled for 71 from 67 deliveries, and that was lunch. 152 for 4, 125 runs in the session. Could Jimmy Adams carry on after lunch where Chanders left off?
Adams came and went, having totally monopolised his five-run partnership with Hooper. Carl knew that now it was time to play for a draw, and it took him around half an hour to advance from his lunchtime 48 to 50. At 57 he edged Michael Bevan to Taylor at slip. Taylor finger-tipped the ball, and as he fell backwards kicked the ball into the air and caught it. Hooper was on his way. Time to call off the "Classic Catches" competition now. The replays on the giant screen brought gales of applause as every conceivable angle was shown. This piece of video footage is going to be replayed ad infinitum for years to come.
Six down, Ian Bishop, the late-order hero of the first innings, came in to partner Courtney Browne. Courtney must be sooo popular in the West Indies camp these days. His latest contribution to team morale was to turn back Bishop's call for a quick single and leave him stranded, run out without scoring, second ball. Ambrose came, saw, got conquered. No addition to the score, Bevan scoring his second success of the afternoon with his slow chinamen. And to think the Australian selectors were looking to Brad Hogg as their next spin sensation...
The game is slipping away. Benjamin goes, and then Walsh provides some brief excitement, including the only six off the day, before he holes out to Millard McGrath, and the match is over, fifteen minutes before tea. Australia have won by 124 runs following on their 123 run victory in Brisbane. The series stands at West Indies 0, Australia 2, with three to play. (I could predict a 125 run victory in Melbourne but, well...) Including Sabina Park 1995, that represents three Test wins in a row over the Windies.
Where does this leave the once-mighty West Indians? They were flogged 5-1 by Australia in 1975-76 but at least that was a great side (Lloyd, Richards, Kallicharran, Roberts, Holding, Boyce, Derryck Murray, Gibbs...) These guys today seem to be in the right place at all the wrong times. Ambrose is past his best. Lara doesn't seem to care. Adams - was he really Coopers & Lybrand's no.1 player in the world two years ago? Courtney Browne - rhymes with clown! If I were the WI management I would be packing his bags for Barbados right now. And the fielding is a pale, even embarrassing, shadow of the Lloyd/Richards days.
Where are the spinners? Where is Dhanraj, who took 16 wickets in a Red Stripe game last season and a hat-trick in the Shells and Sandals one-day final in October? Where is Robert Haynes? Where is Nagamootoo? (Spin bowler S Chanderpaul even.) Can Roger Harper not be trusted with more than ten overs an innings? It is time the selectors took a reality check - the twenty-year fast-bowling dynasty has disintegrated.
The plusses are in evidence: Sherwin Campbell is performing well, and may have scored another ton in this game if it weren't for Greg "Waqar Younis" Blewett. Hooper is batting with more maturity than he is generally credited for. Maybe it's time he gave up his bowling. If Lara has blown his chances of being the next WI captain (as I believe he has), then would Hooper rise to the responsibility? And Chanderpaul is remaining incredibly consistent, today's cameo being his eleventh half-century of his Test career. If and when he can convert the 70's and 80's to hundreds and two-hundreds, then he will become one of the great West Indian batsmen. He is only 22 years of age, and can potentially take over Brian Lara's huge mantle. As long as he doesn't take over Lara's huge head...
Finally, this day was a real pleasure for me, a too-rare visit to the SCG. I was privileged to see Chanderpaul at his best, and to see, before lunch, one of the great sessions of Test cricket.
Test cricket is a genuine treasure of world sport and must not be allowed to fade away.