March 18, 2000

Little pluck, less luck

Port-Of-Spain - After two days of the first Test they have ever played against the only opponents they can justifiably claim to rank below them at present in the world game, the West Indies are in familiar strife.

Their always unreliable batting, minus its only proven world-class member, once more let them down, falling to spirited Zimbabwe bowling for 187 half-hour after lunch on the second day of the inaugural match at the Queen's Park Oval.

As they have done countless times over the years, the indomitable veterans, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, then energised the 11 West Indians on the field and the couple of thousand in the stands with three quick wickets.

But an unlucky umpiring break and an obdurate, unbroken partnership of 82 between the left-handed captain, Andy Flower, and the right-handed Trevor Gripper defied them for the remaining 3-1/4 hours of the day and carried Zimbabwe through to 109 without further loss at the close.

Ambrose struck with his first ball, an on-target, perfect-length delivery that struck left-hander Neil Johnson's pad in front of middle and leg-stump for umpire George Sharp's straightforward decision.

At the opposite end, Walsh clipped right-hander Grant Flower's tentative outside-edge for a lap-high catch to Sherwin Campbell at second slip so that both openers had been despatched without a run scored.

When the dangerous Murray Goodwin's forcing backfoot stroke off Walsh deflected a catch to Chris Gayle ten minutes to tea, Zimbabwe were 27 for three and the West Indies could sense disintegration.

First ball after the interval they endured the kind of bad luck not uncommon in any cricket match but always hard to take, especially when things develop as they did. Flower was yet to score when Walsh's chest-high lifter passed him down the leg-side and brought a roared claim for a wicket-keeper's catch that would have carried the durable Jamaican to within seven of passing Kapil Dev's elusive Test record of 436 wickets.

For once, umpire Steve Bucknor failed to detect the deflection off the glove that was clear on the close-up, slow-motion television replay and Flower proceeded to bat with the assurance that has brought him an average of 44.48 in the 39 consecutive Tests he and his country have played since their accession to such status in 1992.

He was not flawless. There were a few uncertain edges and a couple of aerial strokes that just eluded off-side fielders.

But the only one that went to hand, off Walsh when 38, ankle-high and to the left of third slip, could not be grasped by Ricardo Powell, temporarily on the field for Ambrose.

Flower raised the first half-century of the match just before poor light ended the day seven overs early when he was 52.

The adhesive Gripper, justifying his surname, was unbeaten on 31 after four hours and 166 balls of chanceless defence.

The West Indies bowling looked threadbare once Ambrose and Walsh were resting in the outfield. Franklyn Rose took a few overs to find his line and was the best of the others, but Reon King was all over the place and Chris Gayle's steady but uncomplicated off-spin troubled neither batsman.

Unless the veterans strike early again, another long hard day seems to lie ahead.

Zimbabwe had imposed themselves on a West Indies team lacking both Brian Lara and self-belief in equal measure from the time Heath Streak dismissed Adrian Griffith with the third ball of the match and continued to do so from the start yesterday.

As he did on Thursday, Streak struck in the first over, removing nightwatchman Curtly Ambrose to a wicket-keeper's catch with his sixth ball.

It was an immediate setback that induced the sense of insecurity that had characterised the West Indies batting on the first day and they never seemed likely to recover.

Their only encouragement was the batting of Wavell Hinds, the 23-year-old left-hander in his debut Test who played with the same maturity and level-headedness of the other newcomer, his fellow Jamaican, Chris Gayle, on the first day.

Left stranded

He arrived when Sherwin Campbell was Streak's second victim, lbw defending from the crease, 20 minutes into the day, after a tortured 24 that occupied 3-3/4 hours and 129 balls.

Hinds was left stranded on 46 when his spirited last-wicket partnership of 26 with Walsh was finally ended half-hour after lunch by the new leg-spinner Brian Murphy.

For a while, the new captain, Jimmy Adams, promised to put together a stand with Hinds, but when Zimbabwe turned to Murphy, the decline continued.

Murphy, a 23-year-old student at the University of Cape Town who has experience in South Africa with Western Province, was drafted into the team once it was known that Paul Strang's shoulder injury had not healed sufficiently to allow him to return to Test cricket.

He won umpire Sharp's approval of an lbw claim against Adams, playing well forward to a top-spinner, and then hauled in a sharp, two-handed return catch to remove wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs, the last of the seven left-handers in the West Indies order.

Left with only the fast bowlers, Hinds opened out with some meaty boundaries.

Rose and King did not keep him company for long, but Walsh, Test cricket's most prolific duck-maker, matched him with a couple of thumping boundaries down the ground.

But it was much too little, much too late.