Lara and Morton sparkle in the rain
A rousing innings from Brian Lara, followed hot on the heels by an inspired counter from Runako Morton, took West Indies to 256 for 4 at the end of the second day, again badly hit by rain, of the final Test at Napier. Though the day had dawned clear and the first session, which began half an hour early was completed uninterrupted, the rains came down in the middle of the day, and only a total of 78.1 overs has been possible in two days.
In the first half hour of play, designed to make up some of the 60-plus overs lost on the first day, West Indies had both joy and disappointment. Lara, who looked in even better touch on the second day than on the first raced along to his half-century. At the same time Daren Ganga failed to capitalise.
Shane Bond's pace has hurried batsmen through the course of this Test but it was a cleverly disguised slower ball that accounted for Ganga. Almost yorker length the ball was too good for Ganga, who was bowled for 38.
The fall of Ganga's wicket did nothing to deter Lara who began to hit the ball sweetly. The off-side fence took a bit of a pounding, and even Stephen Fleming's attempt to stack that side of the field did not help. Lara's timing and placement as he drove in the arc from point to cover were so good that the fielders often had no chance.
There was one bowler who escaped a beating, though, and that was Nathan Astle. Realising that the pitch was on the sluggish side Astle further cut down his pace and kept the ball up to the bat, bowling wicket to wicket and getting just a touch of movement in the air. Lara had to play him with care, and he did so till reaching 83, when he played on. Somehow Astle managed to squeeze through Lara's defences, albeit through the inside edge and perhaps pad.
Morton wasn't as fluent as Lara to begin with but his methods were no less effective. He played straight, thumping the ball hard, and often he would beat the bowler or the close-in fielder with a shot that sent the ball straight into the pitch and then back past the fielder. He, and West Indies, could really have pressed forward if not for a tragicomic moment that left Shivnarine Chanderpaul stranded.
Morton pushed to mid-on, where Daniel Vettori fielded, and set off for a single, but Chanderpaul, who was watching the ball, barely responded. By the time Vettori had fielded the ball both batsmen were at the bowler's end and a throw to the keeper's broke the partnership. Morton, bitterly disappointed, made to leave, but the umpires adjudicated that it was Chanderpaul who had to go.
In some ways it appeared as though the run-out helped Morton focus. Perhaps he just did not want to return to the dressing-room early to face his captain. After the fall of Chanderpaul, Morton became more assured, driving and pulling with a minimum of footwork and maximum oomph. Once he picked up the length of the ball his bat came down hard and fielders in the circle could not move quickly enough to cut off the boundaries. In all he had 8 fours in a 133-ball, unbeaten 70 when the rains that have drenched Hawke's Bay all week came down and put an end to the cricket. Dwayne Bravo quite a hitter in his own right, disciplined himself well, and put his head down, facing as many as 86 balls for 22, sharing in a partnership of 67 for the fifth wicket.
The outlook is bleak for this Test match with more rain forecast for Monday and Tuesday. The game looks destined for a draw and it seems unlikely that even West Indies, playing as erratically as they are at the moment, can contrive to be bowled out twice quickly enough to force a result in this game.
Chris Gayle c Fulton b Martin 30 (37 for 1)
Holed out to short cover
Daren Ganga b Bond 38 (111 for 2)
Foxed by a full slower ball
Brian Lara b Astle 83 (171 for 3)
Edged back onto stumps
Shivnarine Chanderpaul run out (Vettori/McCullum) 2 (189 for 4)
Stranded in a horrendous mix-up after ball watching from the non-striker's end when the ball was played to mid-on
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo