Jerome Taylor century transforms game
From the time John Dyson took over as West Indies head coach, the Australian has repeatedly drilled it into Jerome Taylor's head - and anyone else's who cared to listen - that he possesses the batting ability to become a genuine allrounder.
It has taken some time but the proof was indisputably provided at the University Oval here on Sunday with an innings by Taylor as exhilarating and critical as any by a West Indian of late, whatever his reputation or position in the order.
For two hours, ten minutes on another overcast, if less wintry, day, Taylor reeled off classic stroke after classic stroke on his way to 106 from 107 balls. The highlights were 17 fours and three sixes, two off Daniel Vettori, Test cricket's premier left-arm spinner with 275 wickets to his name.
His runs were gathered in all directions, mainly with fierce drives and wristy leg-side flicks, with a few neat cuts in between. Several were hoisted over fielders, those along the ground were threaded through defensive field settings. There was not the hint of a chance until he touched a catch to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum off Vettori.
By itself, it was truly special. The circumstances made it even more so. When Taylor arrived in the middle at half-past three, nearly half-way through the extended day, West Indies were in the course of one of their familiar wobbles.
They were 173 for 6, still 192 adrift of New Zealand's 365, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was stalled, only the four fast bowlers were to follow and there was ample time left for embarrassment, if not defeat. When Taylor departed, the arrears had been trimmed to 39 and the psychological balance shifted.
As so often in the past year, the unflappable Chanderpaul kept him company while he dominated a stand of 153. By the time Chanderpaul was last out attempting to take the strike, captain Vettori's sixth wicket, the deficit was down to 26.
Daren Powell saw to it that there was a happy ending to the day, bowling Jamie How and nightwatchman Kyle Mills with successive balls in the eighth of the ten overs New Zealand batted at the end.
Taylor's aggression changed the course of the innings, if not the match. It broke the shackles imposed on Chanderpaul who had become so becalmed that his inactivity aided New Zealand to build pressure.
His care was influenced by the loss of four wickets in the first session. But he was throttled to such an extent by a combination of Vettori's variations from one end and the persistent fast men from the other, that he made 5 in a restorative stand of 28 with the debutant left-hand batsman Brendan Nash that occupied 19 overs.
A change in bowling and Taylor's immediate impact shifted the psychological balance. When Mills was rested after a spell of six overs for five runs and the wicket of Nash, Chanderpaul took three boundaries in the left-arm medium-pacer James Franklin's first over.
At the opposite end, Taylor hoisted Vettori straight for two fours and a six. The shackles were broken and nothing could then contain Taylor. By tea, he was 53 and had swept past not only his previous highest Test score of 31 but also Chanderpaul who had a 30 overs headstart.
The new ball was introduced right after the break but, hard and shiny, it came faster off the bat. Mark Gillespie attempted to bounce Taylor out, placing a short leg for the catch, only to be hooked and pulled. Three sweet boundaries followed in his next over and Taylor reached his rare landmark from 97 balls with an exquisite cover drive off Franklin for his 16th four. His team-mates had all assembled on the boundary's edge for the moment to hail the achievement and join in his jubilation in the middle.
Soon, it was over, ending a partnership of 152 that bettered the West Indies record for the wicket against New Zealand, set 52 years ago at Christchurch by Denis Atkinson and John Goddard. As Taylor walked off, spectators on the grass bank and in the grandstand were on their feet in applause. They had been treated to a quality performance.
They were similarly entertained by Chris Gayle's breathtaking power in moving from 29 at the start to 74. But he was one of four wickets in the first session. Like Sewnarine Chattergoon and Ramnaresh Sarwan before him, he succumbed to a limp shot when his first hundred since 2005 seemed inevitable.
He and Chattergoon were undone by miscued hooks. Sarwan drove airily to be caught behind after earning a reprieve on a review of an lbw decision one ball earlier. Xavier Marshall flattered with his positive, eye-catching style but his dismissal to a bat-pad catch, awarded on the television review, was not unexpected after his scoring was stifled by tight bowling.
Nash replaced him and was dropped off his sixth ball by Ross Taylor, low and right-handed, at first slip off Mills. It was a welcome gift on his 31st birthday that allowed him to steady things but he and Chanderpaul became so becalmed that something had to give.
Since it wasn't going to be Chanderpaul, it was Nash. After batting with composure for an hour after his let-off, he steered Mills to gully, a shot of impatience. Denesh Ramdin quickly followed, the lbw decision to Vettori confirmed by a prolonged television review, leaving the vulnerable tail exposed.
Just how vulnerable was quickly obvious as Vettori removed Powell first ball and Fidel Edwards without scoring. He claimed his sixth wicket when Chanderpaul, out of partners, tried to paddle to leg to get the strike and was bowled. Never mind, there were 76 more runs to his tally.