December 1, 2000

The West Indies Fight Back!

Even from my perspective, and I do not give kudos easily, Glenn McGrath is quite special. He certainly knows something about fast bowling. Many spectators at the WACA will not have noticed a few things of engineering and mechanics that were implemented by the lanky fast bowler.

Firstly, although the pitch at the Western Australia Cricket Association seemed even and somewhat grassy, McGrath did not try to bowl as quickly as we all know that he can. Instead, he more or less decided that he must allow the batsman to play most of the time. To do that, he had to slow down slightly, not noticeably, but enough to allow his body and arm to reach their elongated peak.

The mechanics of fast bowling then came into play. At a slightly slower pace, the ball, on pitching, would 'grip' a bit more than usual, even though there was a considerable amount of grass on the pitch. Thus, it was no surprise that McGrath, master that he is, managed to get the ball to 'dance around' somewhat.

The sequence of McGrath's hat trick was fast bowling magic, the bowler showing splendid control. The first two wickets also confirmed his boast last week; that he would get both Sherwin Campbell and Brian Lara as his 299th and 300th Test wicket. Do you not love a sportsman who can follow up a boast? That is why Muhammad Ali is my all-time favourite sportsman.

The first two deliveries to Campbell were good length off-cutters, Campbell having to play them. The change came in the next delivery, with a bit of a flick of the bowler's wrist. The ball held its line, but bounced a bit more. Campbell, out of position, fooled by the previous deliveries, sparred at the ball, the edge ending up nicely in the hands of Ricky Ponting at first slip; McGrath's 299th Test wicket.

In came Brian Lara, with great expectations from the crowd, and tremendous responsibilities on his shoulders. McGrath bowled his standard ball to a left-handed batsman. Pitched on leg stump, at good but not great pace, but angled across the batsman. Lara also sparred at the ball, trying to 'ride the bounce.' He could not. Stuart MacGill took the edge at fourth slip, suggesting that Lara nearly succeeded in keeping the ball down. Lara was gone, from the first ball that he received, and the West Indies were not only in serious trouble at 19-3 in the ninth over, but McGrath was on a hat trick, and he had taken Lara as his 300th Test wicket.

The third wicket was the one that was especially well thought out by the big fast bowler. Instead of bowling at the stumps, or perhaps angling the ball towards the slips, McGrath dug the hat trick delivery in short, but 'skidding it', so that it didn't bounce as much as the batsman expected. Furthermore, McGrath had directed the ball into the ribs of West Indies captain, Jimmy Adams.

That was planned, as McGrath explained afterwards. "I expected the ball to bounce a bit more, but the direction was right, straight to the batsman's body."

All Adams could do was to try to use his bat to turn the ball down to fine leg. The pace of the delivery deceived Adams, and he could only spar the ball to Justin Langer at forward short leg. That was the hat trick, the 10th for an Australian in Test cricket, the 27th overall. As McGrath said afterwards, "The last ball did not go as I would have liked, but I will take it anytime!"

It was a wonderful display of controlled fast bowling, and McGrath deserves every credit for it. Anyone who thought that fast bowlers do not have any knowledge of sciences, physics in particular, should think again. I know of at least four international fast bowlers, including McGrath (who did have a helicopter's license), who are actually pilots!

The recovery for the West Indies came from two rather ungainly, but very effective left-handers, Wavell Hinds and Ridley Jacobs. Like Jeff Dujon and Larry Gomes in 1984, both of whom hit centuries in the corresponding Test for the West Indies at the WACA, Hinds and Jacobs fought the West Indies back into the game. Indeed, Wavell Hinds, who opens the batting for Jamaica, but bats at No. 3 for the West Indies, could not have found out his position in the batting order until, just before play started on Day One. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was ruled out with a foot injury, only about 45 minutes before the game started.

Hinds effected the plan suggested by former West Indies middle order batsman, Seymour Nurse. Simply, hit the ball very positively. He did so. From 22-5, he and the more circumspect Jacobs helped the West Indies to 97 before the next wicket fell. During that partnership, Hinds hit seven boundaries in his 87-ball half-century, playing with such fluidity that many asked why he hadn't been selected for the first Test. Sometimes disappointments are for the best.

Hinds' only fault was his dismissal. After riding his luck somewhat; he was badly dropped by Ponting at first slip on 16, and again by wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist when he was 33, the bowler being Brett Lee on both occasions. He was actually caught, from a no-ball, when he was 19. Then Hinds slashed at a wide ball from MacGill, only for Mark Waugh to take a comfortable catch at slip. Hinds had made 50 precious runs, for both himself and for the West Indies.

On losing Hinds, Jacobs, who played the innings of the day, then assumed the responsibility and the ascendancy. He played with his normal flamboyance, hitting everything 'in his half', but doing it sensibly. He probably would have known that Jeff Dujon made a century here in 1984, when the West Indies were in the hunt, ironically, for the record that Australia are trying to break if they win this game. Jacobs's 50 came from 92 balls, with six boundaries; bearing witness that he knew his responsibilities. He even managed to cajole Merve Dillon into putting on 55 magnificent runs, through some very hostile bowling from Brett Lee, for the seventh wicket. Dillon contributed 27.

That is the commitment that is required at this level. No quarter is asked, none given. Day one of this Test showed that both sides knew what was at stake, and were willing to fight for it. The West Indies have a lot to be thankful for from their later order batsmen, especially Ridley Jacobs and Merve Dillon, while Wavell Hinds, coming back in, took his opportunities well. The fight-back was great to see!