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June 11, 2007
That's all you can ask for - a lot of fight, even if it might eventually prove to be all in vain.
Many fans wouldn't have bothered to be up early yesterday just to see the West Indies fold meekly on the way to yet another massive defeat. You can't blame them. Even some English journalists and broadcasters covering the match had checked out early from their hotels on the fourth morning, fully expecting the tourists to live up to their recent reputation as a side prone to gutless capitulations.
Just the thought of these goodly gentlemen, and even the odd lady, hastily re-booking into hotels and cancelling plans for golf or other diversions today is satisfaction in itself. But there was more than enough out in the middle at Old Trafford to again keep that limp flame flickering just a little bit more in the expectation that some of these same players may actually have what it takes to help develop a new culture of discipline, dedication and commitment in West Indies cricket.
After playing most of his international career in the considerable shadow of Brian Lara, most of us almost take Shivnarine Chanderpaul for granted. He is always there thereabouts, nothing spectacular, nothing flamboyant (except for the out-of-the blue explosion, like that 69-ball hundred against the Aussies at Bourda in 2003), grinding out runs almost anonymously while the starboy strokeplayers have everyone gasping at their pyrotechnic displays at the other end.
But the incomparable Trinidadian batting maestro is no longer part of the landscape, bringing sharply into focus just how significant the other long-serving left-hander is in the West Indian middle-order. His knock of 74 was the topscore in a commendable overall effort of 437 in the first innings of the drawn first Test at Lord's. Ruled out of the second Test debacle at Headingley with an inflamed knee, the former captain returned for this encounter and again led the way with an even 50 first up, although he could not halt the distressingly swift decline of the first innings late on the second day.
Yesterday, though, he was in his element, soldiering on for four-and-a-half hours while accumulating runs as quietly and efficiently as ever. Ever mindful that, with two days to go, occupation of the crease was more of a priority than racing after an improbable target of 455, Chanderpaul batted as he usually does, as if nothing else matters but the next delivery. He resumes this morning 19 runs short of another Test hundred, but it would be surprising if he is not thinking well beyond that milestone to the 154 runs required to make history, especially if his team-mates can continue to give such impressively solid support.
And that is something, probably even more than the trademark Chanderpaul vigil, which defined yesterday's play in Manchester. In the same way that bowlers need the support of fielders to hold the catches, even the greatest batsman in the world can't make much of an impact if wickets are tumbling at the other end.
Such a clatter would have been expected when Chris Gayle fell early. However since then, every partnership has contributed more than 50 runs with successive pairings urging each other along to maintain the fight against an English side that looked genuinely surprised at having to cope with such prolonged resistance. They have come to expect an attractive cameo here and there from their talented yet indisciplined opponents. But 42 from Devon Smith (adding 53 with Runako Morton), a battling 54 by Morton (putting on 73 with Chanderpaul), Dwayne Bravo mixing caution with unbridled aggression in reaching 49, (dominating an 88-run stand with the senior man), and last, but certainly not least, Denesh Ramdin (26 not out) keeping the fires of resistance burning right to the close in putting on 52 with Chanderpaul.
Few could have expected such a consistent effort, and while there is no guarantee that the trend can continue on the final day, those who are yet to come (surely Darren Sammy needs no further motivation after his remarkable bowling success on Saturday) must be inspired to carry the fight if or when their turn at the crease arrives.
On a pitch offering considerable assistance for specialist spinner Monty Panesar and still firm enough to keep the seamers interested, the West Indian batting performance yesterday becomes all the more praiseworthy and cannot be idly dismissed as the result of English complacency.
In the context of a side set a near-impossible task and battling through an entire day under considerable pressure, this was the best the West Indies have done since the final day of the New Year's Test at Cape Town in 2004, when a blistering debut hundred by Dwayne Smith pulled the visitors to within 100 runs of a monumental target of 441, before skipper Lara decided that the eighth-wicket pair should shut up shop to ensure a draw instead of risking defeat by continuing the chase.
This time however, there will be no stalemate, unless inclement weather intervenes. Maybe all of the optimism will come to nothing in less than an hour this morning. Nevertheless, the fact that the West Indies are still in with a chance at the start of the last day, when most were expecting England to have clinched the series already, again gives us reason to believe that somewhere among this much-maligned group are a few of the building blocks required for the reconstruction of West Indies cricket.
© Trinidad & Tobago Express
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