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Tony Cozier in Dunedin
December 11, 2008
The signs on the opening day of the series weren't encouraging for West Indies. There was more than just a hint at tough work over the remaining nine trying to dislodge New Zealand's batsmen. Not one of the 444 balls the six bowlers bowled deviated perceptively either off the light green pitch or through the chilly air.
Jerome Taylor and Daren Powell threatened briefly with their speed and aggression with the new ball. Otherwise, they and the other two members of the seemingly obligatory all-pace attack - the wayward Fidel Edwards and the debutant Lionel Baker - spent most of their time aiming wide of the offstump with a 7-2 field to the three left-handers who contributed 183 of New Zealand's 226 for 4.
The 15.4 overs lost when clear, sunny skies clouded over and play was prematurely halted was a relief more to West Indies than the home team. The defensive tactics reflected a lack of confidence and proved ineffective against batsmen who indulged their liking for cuts and off drives. There were 29 fours across the small, lush outfield of the picturesque University Oval.
The story of the day was accurately summarised by the 20 overs of steady, but unthreatening offspin Chris Gayle felt obliged to bowl. Such prolonged spells by the captain are rare but he was rewarded with three wickets.
Awarded is perhaps a more appropriate verb. Tim McIntosh, the tall left-handed opener, and Ross Taylor were out needlessly slogging and the impressive Daniel Flynn, filling the No.3 spot for the first time, was five short of his hundred when victim of the experimental umpires' review system, in place in this series for only the second time in a Test series.
Gayle and the wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin shouted themselves hoarse in appeal as Flynn, beaten on the angle, was struck on the front pad easing forward. Indian umpire Amiesh Saheba, officiating in his first Test, understandably gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt.
Immediately Gayle made the T signal to ask for the television evidence to be reviewed by the third umpire, Rudi Koertzen who reversed the verdict. The entire process lasted perhaps 20 seconds and the correct decision was given.
It at least created a little excitement on a day that meandered along a predictable path. Whatever life there was occurred during the new ball spell and for a couple of overs in the middle of the second session during a contest between the Taylors, batsman Ross and bowler Jerome.
Jamie How, the most regular of the 13 openers New Zealand have used in the past two years, drove airily at one wide of the offstump and Shivnarine Chanderpaul gathered a neat low catch at point. It would be another two hours in the middle before the West Indies collected another wicket. McIntosh overcame his unsteady start, mainly against Edwards' loose offerings, before choosing to lift Gayle over mid-on.
It was a moment of carelessness by the careful opener but nothing to compare with the next dismissal. Ross arrived and was immediately put through a taxing examination from his namesake. Jerome had clearly done his homework on him, noting his penchant for playing across his front pad and aiming to leg early in the piece.
Ross has had seven lbw dismissals in his previous 23 innings and the bowler immediately set about attacking the stumps. Ross managed to get the bat down just in time to prevent another lbw demise but, Jerome lost his accuracy quickly and the batsman cut and flicked him for a couple of boundaries.
Then, for no reason except a sudden rush of blood to whatever part of the brain controls such things, he chose an ugly swipe at a straight one from Gayle outside the offstump. The ball inevitably went skywards to land in the waiting hands of Xavier Marshall, stationed 20 yards away at square leg.
It seemed a critical break but West Indies lacked the aggression to seize the moment. Gayle kept on wheeling away, increasingly veering towards the leg side only to be easily picked off for singles, and Baker was entrusted with more work than his inexperience merited, so intent on bowling to his packed off side field that he sent down three wides.
Flynn, neat and well organised, and the well-set Ryder were never troubled in a stand of 61 and, after the review system got rid of Flynn, Ryder assumed the lead role, passing his 50 with seven boundaries, mostly through cuts to the off side.