March 17, 2000

West Indies make heavy weather

Port-of-Spain - From the moment Heath Streak earned himself an early 26th birthday present with the wicket of Adrian Griffith, off the third ball of the match, to the time rain set in 13 balls after lunch, the first day of the inaugural Test against Zimbabwe was 28.1 overs of hard labour for the West Indies.

It was a little less of a struggle when the weather relented and play restarted four hours, 25 minutes later in soft evening light at 57 for two.

But another wicket in the remaining 11.5 overs, that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, left the Lara-less West Indies having to revert to Curtly Ambrose as nightwatchman.

They finished at 79 for three, the kind of bind that has become all too familiar.

Given the chance to bowl on a well-grassed pitch and in steamy conditions after captain Andy Flower won the toss, Streak, the only Zimbabwean to have over Test 100 wickets, and his three seam bowling accomplices, Henry Olonga, Pom Mbangwa and Neil Johnson, none of threatening pace, adhered strictly to the full length and direct line required.

Loose deliveries were few and far between and, once Griffith was lbw on the defensive, opener Sherwin Campbell and Chris Gayle, the tall, 20-year-old left-hander on debut, were so restricted they managed only 19 runs off 17 overs.

They came through a succession of reasonable lbw appeals and Gayle's edged chance to Murray Goodwin at third slip off Mbangwa when he was six, but were going nowhere when Gayle suddenly allowed himself the freedom of a few strokes.

Kept scoreless for 38 balls at one point, he gave evidence of the temperament that is one of his principal assets.

Like his experienced partner, he did not lose patience and finally spotted something with the width or the length, or both, to play some strokes.

He found the boundary six times in the space of 40 minutes, all on the off-side. Two were steered to third man, two driven down the ground off successive balls from Mbangwa and two punched through the covers off the backfoot.

The remission of lunch was only ten minutes away when his promising innings was cut short by confusion with Campbell over a second run.

As Brian Murphy chased his backfoot shot off Johnson from extra-cover, Gayle completed one and turned for a second, only to be halted quarter-way down the pitch by his partner.

The throw to the bowler was wide but Johnson had time to underarm the ball onto the stumps with Gayle six inches short of his ground.

It was ironic that the stand should have ended in a run-out for the two had sprinted positively between the wickets from the time they came together.

Not many batsmen have to start their first Test innings after three balls of the match but Gayle coped with no signs of nerves.

Zimbabwe's is not the most lethal attack in the game but it was still a stern test of his character all the same and, for the hour-and-three-quarters he was in, he comfortably passed it.

Campbell has several times passed his.

His timing was so out of kelter that he wasn't even putting away his favourite square cuts and he laboured to nine off 84 balls when the rain arrived. But he refused to budge, appreciating the importance of his presence.

In contrast, Chanderpaul was all action from the start, driving and glancing with urgency.

The acceleration provided by him and Gayle brought 39 runs off the nine overs prior to the interruption. The previous 19 overs had yielded a mere 17.

On resumption, after busy work by the groundstaff and a drying sun, Chanderpaul's mood remained the same. Campbell's changed, and he finally found the boundary with a squarecut off Streak.

Streak conceded nine in the over, and gave way to Olonga who angled the last ball of his first over across Chanderpaul.

Chanderpaul drove at it, the edge was thick and wicket-keeper Flower's gloves were safe.

Ambrose arrived in an unusual role and managed to remain to the end only through a sharp chance to Trevor Gripper at short-leg off leg-spinner Murphy. It was that sort of unconvincing day for the West Indies.