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June 16, 2007
It was once again left to Shivnarine Chanderpaul to rescue West Indies who struggled in the gloomy, murky conditions on the second day against England at Chester-le-Street, losing four early wickets. Ably supported by Dwayne Bravo, the pair put on an unbeaten fifth wicket stand of 77 before bad light curtailed the day's play.
Play didn't get underway until 2pm, but Ryan Sidebottom immediately took advantage of the humid conditions and granite skies, nipping out Daren Ganga with the first ball of the match. Even the most hard-nosed supporter must feel a tinge of sympathy for Ganga. With the captaincy thrust upon him, he has looked completely out of sorts at the crease and, today, he clipped Sidebottom's first delivery straight to Alastair Cook at short-leg.
Sidebottom's exemplary opening over was matched by Matthew Hoggard, making a welcome return following his niggling groin injury, who bowled full and straight in Headingley-like conditions, swinging the ball away from the right-handers. Chris Gayle briefly threatened to bulldoze his way into form with three fours and an audacious six, before he too fell victim to the swinging delivery.
Most depressing of all, though, was the wicket of Devon Smith who shouldered arms to Sidebottom, losing his off bail in the process. It was an artful display from a very intelligent bowler, cutting one back into the left-hander after testing him with away-swingers, but it demonstrated just how bereft of experience, and skill, West Indies' top-order is.
Runako Morton briefly threatened with several bossy drives but, as he has failed to do all series, lost his concentration. The top four blown away, West Indies were again relying on Chanderpaul and Bravo to dig them out of another sizeable hole. The two most technically adept of their top six remained characteristically calm, the former driving and cutting a wayward Harmison while Bravo nudged, nurdled and scampered quick singles.
Chanderpaul was given a let-off, however, when on 9 he edged Hoggard to Ian Bell's right at third slip. It was a tricky, but not impossible chance, the type England would have snaffled two years ago with ease and further evidence, should any be needed, that this is a team very much in a phase of redevelopment.
Talking of such things, Bravo is as instrumental to the rejuvenation of West Indies cricket as anyone. Though always keen to demonstrate his multi dimensions - bowling, fielding and even keeping wicket - batting is his primary strength and today his natural skill shone through. Whereas West Indies' top four struggled to the swinging delivery - almost appearing to give up hope of laying bat on it - Bravo played back and across, nudging singles to the leg side and rotating the strike with Chanderpaul. And when England dropped it short, as Harmison and Sidebottom both did, they were clinically dispatched.
Chanderpaul was his usual resourceful self, punishing anything short and wide and sliding anonymously past 7000 Test runs, becoming only the seventh West Indian to do so. He really ought to be sponsored by a spade manufacturer, such is the frequency with which he digs his side out, and he has done it again today.
Bad light forced the players off an hour after tea, before the rain put paid to any hope of playing in the late Durham sunshine and a familiar gloom enveloped the ground. Chanderpaul and Bravo, inevitably, hold the key for West Indies - and the forecast for tomorrow is encouragingly bright. However, as England well know, not a lot else lies beyond this pair.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?
Alastair Cook did not bat like a leading man but the crowd applauded him for simply not failing
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