December 14, 1999

West Indies stretched

There should have been some alarm bells ringing gently in the West Indian camp when their bowlers took most of a rain-affected day to finish off Auckland's first innings.

Auckland reached 369, giving the touring side a modest lead of 11, which was improved when West Indies scored 14 for no wicket in the last two overs.

With the possibility of one seven-hour day remaining and with the pitch growing increasingly peaceful there does not seen enough time for West Indies to achieve victory.

A win would provide the ideal morale-booster for the touring side as they approach the first Test starting 100 kilometres down the road at Hamilton on Thursday.

After an early start to regain some of the two hours lost to rain on Saturday, West Indies required 95 overs to finish off the hosts, who started the day at 120 for two.

The scoring was not rapid, the pitch easy-paced, but the bowlers never really looked like breaking through the stubborn batting.

It should be pointed out that the top-scorer John Aiken (86) was playing his first game for Auckland after an erratic ten-year career which has contained very little first-class cricket in recent years.

The next highest scorer was the No. 6, Aaron Barnes who reached one of his rare first-class half-centuries.

A tiring attack had little impact as the Auckland tail produced 29 from Reece Young at No. 8, 45 from Kyle Mills at No. 10, and 26 from Kerry Walmsley at No. 11 - all of them personal bests in first-class cricket.

Mills and Walmsley batted sensibly and strongly in a last-wicket stand of 63, with the second new ball reasonably fresh.

It took Jimmy Adams to part them with Auckland close to gaining the unusual dignity of a first innings lead. I say 'unusual' because Auckland have occupied a modest place in recent New Zealand first-class cricket.

Their performance was the more surprising given that for this game they had perhaps only five players who might be expected to be in the side when the Shell Trophy four-day games begin in February.

West Indies just escaped the indignity of having 'extras' go close to being second-highest scorer for Auckland. The 51 extras included 30 no-balls: 19 by Franklyn Rose, six by Reon King and five by Pedro Collins.

These three had occasional effective bursts, but took time to work out the effective length to bowl on a pitch which offered modest pace and bounce.

Off-spinner Nehemiah Perry was accurate and economical - 37 overs for 67 runs and two wickets - but he did not gain much turn, and his eagerness to hurry the ball through did not tax the batsmen's footwork.

Judging by his hand action, Perry has a mixed grill of finger spin and occasionally he got a slightly higher bounce, perhaps from what looked like a top-spinner. But on the slowish New Zealand pitches he may need some trickery through the air to make up for the lack of quick spin.

The small crowd at Eden Park's secondary ground could take much pleasure from the home team's batting.

Aiken batted with maturity and sound judgement for the right scoring stroke. He was not spectacular, but occasionally hit grandly through the covers and altogether looked a good prospect, even at the advanced age of 29.

The West Indians thought so, and said so during the several social occasions with the Auckland players, set up by Clive Lloyd, who has gone out of his way to polish his team's public relations image.

The Aucklanders heard that Blair Pocock and Tim McIntosh, the opening batsmen, were much better openers than Gary Stead (now promoted to the Test side) and Matthew Bell (again dropped from the Test team) who played for New Zealand 'A' against the tourists at Taupo last week.