January 2, 2001

West Indies openers earn some Respect

There was one overwhelming irony, one that brought smiles to many faces, especially those of West Indies supporters, as the West Indies opening batsmen Sherwin Campbell and Wavell Hinds came to the crease after the luncheon interval on day one. They had managed to fend off the best of Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath, Stuart MacGill and Colin Miller, for two hours, to be 71-0, at lunch.

As the batsmen started to make their way back to the crease after the break, the public address system struck up the 1970s hit song, "Respect", by American soul singer Aretha Franklin. Considering the way things have gone for the West Indies during this tour, the choice of music was absolutely apt, perhaps sending a message from the West Indies that things would be somewhat different this Test, the first one of the new year.

This was an important situation for both batsmen. Before this start, the West Indies first-wicket contributions had been horrendous in the previous four Tests. Scores of 21, 0, 1, 7, 45, 26, 5 and 1 tell their own story. The West Indian openers have had a very bad time indeed.

Jimmy Adams, as recently as the end of the fourth Test, lamented the fact that his later batsmen had been exposed much too quickly to the Australian fast bowlers, and hence found it difficult to prosper. His prayers were answered, courtesy of an injury to Darren Ganga, which allowed Hinds to open the batting. Ironically, Hinds has opened the batting for Jamaica, hitting a century in that position, but bats at No. 3 for the West Indies.

When Campbell and Hinds had put on 100, they had equalled the best opening partnership that the West Indies had achieved at the SCG in games featuring the West Indies and Australia.

Joey Carew, one of the present West Indian team selectors, and one who has had a tremendous influence on Brian Lara, and the late Roy Fredericks, put on exactly 100 in 1969.

They even managed to eclipse the first-wicket record for West Indies v Australia games at the SCG. That partnership, 117, was made by Mark Taylor and David Boon in 1993.

Campbell and Hinds even did the improbable, "overshadowing" the great Gordon Greenidge/Desmond Haynes partnership. (If that is not sacrilege, then nothing is). Their stand of 147 was the best West Indies opening partnership in Australia, eclipsing the 135 made by Greenidge and Haynes at the Gabba.

Campbell has had a horrible time this season. Before this game, he had made 54 runs from eight completed innings, at the diabolical average of 6.75. Hinds has been marginally better, making 131 runs from six innings at an average of 21.83.

While Adams would have been better pleased with the efforts of Hinds and Campbell, he and perhaps the team's coach, Roger Harper, would have been disappointed that neither managed to complete a big score.

Both Campbell and Hinds hit half-centuries, but neither made it to three figures, both batsmen falling within two overs of each other.

Even with this start, the West Indies still could not capitalise. Jimmy Adams, coming in at No. 3 for the first time in his international career, was soon out lbw, the decision hotly debated since the ball might have been pitched just outside leg stump.

Brian Lara and Marlon Samuels tried to capitalise, but then Mark Waugh took a splendid catch at slip to dismiss Lara. When the unfortunate Ramnaresh Sarwan was palpably out lbw to a Stuart MacGill straight ball, it was obvious the West Indies has squandered an opportunity for a good start to the new year.

MacGill again has dumbfounded his doubters. While the pitch is supposed to turn later on, he managed to mix his deliveries enough on the first day to pull the rug from under the West Indies batsmen, claiming seven good wickets.

Add that to his 68 wickets in 15 games before this match, at an average of 24.77, and a good strike rate of 49.1 deliveries per wicket, and mathematics will tell you that he averages nearly five wickets per Test. This, mind you, from a supposedly "substitute" (for Shane Warne) bowler.

I have heard revered cricketing pundits suggest that MacGill cannot bowl at all. Well, I think that any bowler, especially a leg-spinner in these pace-based days of Test cricket, who averages more than four wickets per Test, is doing very well.

The West Indies have shown some spark in this match, only to have it extinguished by tentative batting and some extremely good bowling from MacGill. They disintegrated from 147/0 to 256/9, and this, mind you, only on the first day. One only wonders what will happen on days three and four when the pitch is really "turning".