December 15, 2000

Positive thinking works wonders for the West Indies

The West Indies responded to the pressure on them to be positive by reacting ultra positively, even showing some bravado. Day one of the Third Test also suggested that the West Indian selectors have decided, either by chance or design, that they will take a gamble with the young players and also take the fight to the Australians.

Brian Lara led the way with some truly positive, sometimes breathtaking strokeplay. He completed his first 50 in the Tests so far with a series of drives, slashes and deft strokeplay that would have brought tears even to the eyes of perhaps the greatest, Sir Gary Sobers. That Lara hit 10 fours in his first 50 from only 90 deliveries, was indicative of the "plastering" the bowlers, including Glen McGrath, received. He even hit McGrath for 14 in one over. Perhaps, with a "crook" leg, Lara had decided that he did not want to run much. More of the same was to come later.

As has been the case when they saved the West Indies in Jamaica last year, putting on 322 against the Australians, Jimmy Adams also made his mark, coming in with the West Indies precariously placed, again, at 86-3. In the period between lunch and tea, the West Indies made 85 runs while losing only one wicket, from 31 overs. In that session, Adams and Lara added 60 for the fourth wicket, with Adams, positive, but careful, assured even, getting only 10. Adams bats so much better when he has Lara at the other end. It was, however, the Lara show, and rightly so.

When Adams was the last man out on the first day, he and Lara had put on 183 runs for the fourth wicket in just 191 minutes from 288 deliveries. This was the sixth time that these two have put on a century together. What a habit to have!

Earlier, the selection of Marlon Samuels, aged 19 years 10 months 10 days, to become the 237th West Indian Test player in only his seventh first-class game, was a wonderful, positive, perhaps even necessary move.

Ironically, Samuels was actually replacing the last teenager to be selected for the West Indies, Ramnaresh Sarwan, who made his debut at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, in May 2000, against Pakistan, aged 19 years 10 months 25 days. It could even be suggested that Samuels was replacing the injured Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who first played for the West Indies in March 1994, at the Bourda Oval, against England, aged 19 years six months 29 days. If either Sarwan or Samuels could be as consistent as Chanderpaul has been, as a batsman who averages 40.23 in Tests, it would auger well for the West Indies batting in the future.

Another obvious positive was that, for once, Jimmy Adams not only won the toss, itself a strange phenomenon, but he immediately decided to bat first, despite his batsmen being under tremendous pressure after recent Test performances. It was as if Adams was acknowledging the considerable "advantage" given to his team with the absence of both Steve Waugh, the "iron hand" of the Australian team, and Brett Lee's speed and aggression, as well as the resurgence of his premier batsman. Simply, it is always better to fight fire with fire.

Of course, the positive aggression of Glen McGrath was not long in coming, and he bowled wonderfully to the openers, who themselves were opening our eyes with their strokeplay, especially Darren Ganga. However, McGrath did bowl two deliveries in the first hour that showed how great a fast bowler he really is.

The first was bowled from very wide of the crease, slanted into the other opener, Sherwin Campbell. Unfortunately for McGrath, the ball just straightened, the resulting appeal from the wicket-keeper/captain and his charges in the slip cordon being turned down correctly by umpire Shrinivas Venkateraghavan, as the ball just missed the outside edge.

The second, also to Campbell, was a "pearler". Bowled from much closer to the stumps, McGrath made the ball bounce disconcertingly from a good length, and Campbell did well to evade the ball at all. On its way to the wicket-keeper, the ball actually clipped the peak of Campbell's helmet. Because the batsman was taking evasive action, with his glove perilously close to the helmet, the appeal was again vociferous but again correctly rejected by umpire Venkat.

Perhaps the most positive part of the early play was those decisions by Venkat. His decisions for the caught behind appeals were correct, but at first look, they both seemed out. Umpires these days are under such pressure that those two decisions would, in my mind, rank as the best two I have seen for some time. I hope that I am not singing his praises too quickly, but umpire Venkat certainly showed how competent he really is.

Just when the positives seem to be overflowing from the morning's play, especially for the West Indies, with almost 90 minutes of the morning gone, Ganga had his first negative moment, to his immediate detriment. He elected to allow a well pitched up, wide delivery, one that should perhaps have been driven through the offside, through to the 'keeper. Ganga was badly late, beaten for pace, and the ball actually hit the bat as he "padded out" before cannoning into his middle stump. Ganga will soon understand what is meant by "being positive". Jason Gillespie, playing his first Test at home, took the wicket.

Gillespie was positive too for his second wicket. Actually, it was a brilliant piece of fast bowling. Having used the outswinger for most of the morning, Gillespie, with the wind coming from off to leg, first pushed Campbell on to the back foot, then cut the delivery so sharply back into the batsman that Campbell's bat was acres away from the ball as it hit the pad. He must have even thought of "walking", so plumb was the lbw decision given by Venkat.

Lara continued his onslaught after tea. In one MacGill over, he pulled a six and a four in successive deliveries, significant in that it was exactly the way that Lara had played the same bowler in Antigua last year when he made a superb 100 in a losing cause. It was obvious that Lara, "Old Limpy" (not unlike Gordon Greenidge who was ultra dangerous when he was supposedly injured) was enjoying his best stint at the crease in Test cricket in Australia this year.

One of the better positives for the West Indies was that they have reached a total of 200 for the first time in the series, and that was done with the most senior batsmen in the team, Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams, at the crease. The communication between the two should have been a fillip and an education for the younger players in the squad.

Yes, it was the best, most positive day for the West Indies of the series, with Brian Lara leading the way with his sixth Test century against the Australians and his 15th overall. His second 50, a conflagration of shots, came in only 50 balls. It was a truly majestic display of batsmanship.

It has been a great day for the West Indies.