December 19, 1999

Test hangs in the balance

A late wicket-taking rally led by Reon King allowed the West Indies to get back to even terms with New Zealand by the end of the third day of the first cricket Test at WestpacTrust Park yesterday.

After a long, hot battle against determined batting, led by a smashing 72 from Chris Cairns - and absolutely no luck from the umpiring - West Indies snatched the last four wickets in 30 minutes to finish the innings at 393.

This gave the hosts a first innings lead of 28 with two days remaining - and the West Indies second innings started and finished with a maiden over to Adrian Griffith.

Two hours beforehand, the frustrated visitors seemed to be heading for a worse position, with New Zealand threatening to take command of a roller-coaster Test.

Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand bowling hero with four wickets yesterday, showed his night-watchman batting skill with a stubborn 29 which allowed him and Stephen Fleming to take the score to 162.

With sturdy support from Nathan Astle, Fleming batted stylishly and confidently and the West Indians must have been pleased when the New Zealand skipper's concentration finally broke and he was out having a heave at the leg-spin of Dinanath Ramnarine. Fleming's 66 was his 26th innings past 50, but he has only gone on to three centuries.

Astle had his lucky moments, Craig McMillan looked a batsman out of form, and when Astle holed out with the score at 258 for six the fielding, which had begun to look tired and ragged, regained a confident spark.

Then the West Indies morale again dropped badly. Before he had scored Cairns seemed to be run out by a direct hit from Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Doug Cowie, the New Zealand umpire, called for a decision from the television umpire. The pictures were far from accurate or distinct. Some suggested Cairns was in, others that he was out, and the off-field umpire, David Quested, ruled that Cairns was in.

Cairns had smashed 15 runs by the time he sent an edge from Franklyn Rose to the hands of Ricardo Powell at second slip - where Powell had let slip two very difficult chances before lunch - and the West Indians were beginning to rejoice when they noticed English umpire David Shepherd signalling a no-ball.

That was all the good luck Cairns needed. The big all-rounder launched a fierce attack. Three fours, and a vast six over long-on (which landed on the roof of a sponsor's tent and rolled into the hands of a spectator (who became $600 the richer) rocketed from Cairns' blazing bat.

In the first 41 runs of a stand with McMillan, Cairns scored 37 and there were four extras.

The score began to race toward the West Indies total, and some indication of the late thrust Cairns gave is shown by the fact that the 50s of the New Zealand innings came from 112, 117, 117, 141, 85, 54 and 67 balls.

The West Indies fielding and bowling again looked ragged in the face of Cairns' blistering assault. But like so many batsmen in this game Cairns seemed to lose concentration at the vital time. He mistimed a big drive at Ramnarine and away in the distance Sherwin Campbell clung to the catch.

The stand had been worth 116, New Zealand were ahead at 374, but this time the West Indians were not going to let their opponents escape again.

McMillan, after a edgy three-hour innings for 51, at last got an edge within Ridley Jacobs' reach. Adam Parore added to his long list of run-out dismissals, and Dion Nash had time for only one four before King had him caught at slip.

This gave King the excellent figures of four for 81 from 26 overs, and a share of the honours with Ramnarine, three for 82 from 36 overs.