Morton shines through the rain
The reward of a thoroughly deserved, maiden Test hundred for Runako Morton had to be put on hold yesterday as the third day of the third and final Test was delayed by the damp, wintry weather that had already trimmed 101.5 overs off the match.
Heavy overnight rain left pools of water across an already sodden outfield and, although it abated in the morning, it remained overcast and play was unlikely until after lunch. Morton, the least experienced but by some way the most consistent West Indies batsman on a tour of inconsistent batting, was eager to resume another flawless, disciplined innings of 70 from 133 balls, with eight, mostly driven, fours, the total 256 for 4 and the new ball due after 11 balls.
He was likely to have a lengthy wait. The outer bands of a hurricane-known in these parts as a cyclone-to the north of New Zealand have brought the rain, the gloom and the frigid temperatures that have spoiled the Test. The more play lost increases the likelihood of the draw that would save West Indies the worry of yet another series whitewash but to achieve it with the help of the weather would bring no satisfaction.
Morton has been the revelation of a tour for which he was the last man chosen. He has observed the simple dictum of batting within his limitations, defending stoutly with a straight bat against worthy deliveries, driving strongly-and often hard into the pitch-when the length is right. His performances in the one-day internationals, where he disregarded the trauma of a first ball dismissal in the opening match to be West Indies' high scorer, and his solid 63 in the first innings of the second Test established a strength of character that was again in evidence on the second day here.
These were alien conditions for a cricketer raised in the heat and sunshine of the Caribbean with negligible overseas experience. But the 27-year-old Nevisian is driven by the realisation that he is not one of the favoured few-and by the desire to make up the wasted years of a troubled past. His history includes the infamous yarn about his grandmother's fictitious death so he could return home early from a tour of Sri Lanka and several run-ins with the authorities, both cricket and civil. Now settled by marriage and his religion, he has put such a background behind him and concentrated on what he does best.
His omission from the first Test eleven, in spite of his ODI form, was proof that not everyone is yet convinced of his credentials and that the retention of his place depends solely on the weight of runs. The injury that eliminated Ramnaresh Sarwan from the equation was an unexpected opportunity and Morton has seized it.
He entered 20 minutes into the dismal second morning at 111 for 2 after Shane Bond combined the disguise of a slower ball and the accuracy of a yorker to bowl Daren Ganga for a competent but, yet again, unfulfilled 38. For the next hour, Morton was mainly a spectator at the opposite end as Brian Lara battled to come to terms with the lack of form and preparation that resulted in his implausible sequence of failures in the first two Tests. To mount his rehabilitation, Lara reverted to the No.3 position for the first time since he accumulated his record 400 not out against England in Antigua in 2004. The 28 he put together on the opening day was by no means genuine Lara but it was at least an entrée of better things to come.
On resumption, he mixed a few aerial drives and cuts with a some trademark boundaries, a flowing off-drive, a rasping cut over slips, a delicate steer to third man, a vicious pull to mid-wicket. He and Bond were engaged in a stirring duel, during which he fell flat on his back swaying out of the path of a searing bouncer, but he came through that unscathed. The champion left-hander was just beginning to reveal the class and dominance of one who has scored more runs than anyone else in Test cricket when, to the palpable disappointment of the 1,000 or so spectators braving to weather in anticipation of a command performance, he was out.
Attempting to pull the gentle, teasing medium-paced swing of Nathan Astle, Lara only managed to get it on the bottom edge of the bat from where it deflected into pad and stumps. It was Astle's 50th Test wicket, in his 76th Test, and the second time he had claimed the West Indies premier batsman in the series. Lara's additional 55 were gathered from the same number of balls with nine fours to add to his three of the first day. His dismissal, as always, left the innings at the crossroads at 171 for 3 and was soon followed by the bizarre run out of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Morton, then 26, on-drove Chris Martin to the right of the left-handed Daniel Vettori at mid-on and twice shouted for the available single. As he charged down to the bowler's end, his captain briefly responded but then headed back for the safety of his ground. The two made the non-striker's crease simultaneously while Vettori casually lobbed the ball to the keeper to complete the run out. Standing umpire Mark Benson indicated that Morton should go but, as he headed for the team room, in understandably furious mood, proceedings were halted as third umpire Gary Baxter reviewed TV replays as to who had actually touched down first. It took ages to determine and was close enough for it to be called a dead-heat. But this was cricket, not horse racing, and Baxter ruled against the beleaguered captain, reducing the West Indies to 189 for 4.
It was now that Morton's temperament was confirmed. To be involved in a run out is disturbing at the best of times but doubly so when your partner is the captain and the match at a delicate stage. If anything, it seemed to stiffen Morton's resolve. He continued untroubled, relieved at the sight of Chanderpaul, along with his other colleagues in the players' area, rising to applaud his 50, reached with one of his eight boundaries. With an equally determined Dwayne Bravo, the partnership set things right again over the next hour and a half. It was worth 67 when the weather finally closed in and halted play just past the half-way point of the day.