West Indies v Australia, 1st Test, Bridgetown, 1st day April 7, 2012

A study in defiance

Kraigg Brathwaite provided Australia with a reminder of how much steel West Indies have added since Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson took charge of the side

Robert Samuels does not occupy a place of much glory in the long and undulating tale of West Indies cricket. The elder brother of Marlon, he played the last of six Tests in 1997, his contribution to the team as an opening batsman defined by the following nondescript digits: 372 runs at 37.20, one century. However Samuels accomplished one thing in that final Test, against Australia at the WACA Ground on a spiteful strip, patchworked by cracks. In an innings of 76 that lingered 332 minutes and 228 balls, he irritated the hosts and their champion bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne like very little before or since.

Fifteen years later, on the first day of the series between Darren Sammy's West Indians and Michael Clarke's Australians in Bridgetown, another stodgy Caribbean opening batsman scraped and scrapped while his opponents vented their exasperation. Kraigg Brathwaite is playing his seventh Test, and none of the previous six have suggested he is anything other than a man battling above his station. Upon losing the toss and bowling first at Kensington Oval, Australia's bowlers would have reckoned Brathwaite a possible avenue to their first wicket, certainly moreso than the more visibly talented Adrian Barath, who had announced himself with a coruscating debut century against Australia in Brisbane in 2009.

Yet Brathwaite did not allow himself to be intimidated by the stature of the team he opposed, the bowlers who had humbled India or the slips cordon that included batsmen the calibre of Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson. From the first ball he faced, Brathwaite shuffled sturdily into line, playing the majority of deliveries from the crease and leaving most directed wide of the stumps. He deflected singles here and there, and flicked a wayward offering from Ryan Harris to the fine-leg rope. If the tourists made a mistake in their new-ball tack it was to not bowl full enough, allowing Brathwaite's crease-bound approach to work for instead of against him. But there was no gap to be found between bat and pad, and no throaty lbw appeals against a batsman who made sure to get his blade down swiftly to cover whatever movement could be found.

Aiding the cause was an assured appearance by Kirk Edwards, the new vice-captain. Taking up a stance once used to good effect by Peter Willey against West Indies, he was as abstemious early on as Brathwaite, before unfurling his greater array of strokes with time. He attacked Nathan Lyon's spin adeptly, and also played the odd handsome drive. Once he had departed, Darren Bravo showed welcome signs that his touch was returning, his elegance and poise at a level far in advance of anything Brathwaite could produce. But still he remained, poking, prodding and persevering.

Brathwaite did offer his pursuers a few chances. On 10 he pushed a Peter Siddle delivery that held up off the pitch, and the bowler failed to gather an awkward chance in his follow through. Thirty-four runs later and Shane Watson procured an edge to one ball that Brathwaite chose not to leave, and Ponting's right hand stretched too far to accept the catch, leaving his wrist to make a doomed interception. At 48 Brathwaite appeared to snick David Warner's leg break to Michael Clarke at slip, but questions about whether a clear chance had been put down were silenced by the umpire Ian Gould's signal of byes. Two balls later Brathwaite raised his half-century, and acknowledged the applause of a crowd that had enjoyed his application - if not always his execution.

Australia's fielders were not quite so enthusiastic in their acclaim, finding themselves in a position loathed by cricketers so long as the game has been played: confronted by a batsman of limited range but tremendous concentration, they have nothing to do but be patient. The dropped chances betrayed wavering focus, and only served to make Brathwaite's stay all the more infuriating. Patience was a quality Clarke's men did not require too often during a summer's waltz past India at home, nor something they necessarily expected to have to employ against a team they have pummeled more often than not over the past 20 years. That state of affairs developed largely because few West Indian batsmen of similar limitations were inclined towards the sort of defiance offered by Samuels at the WACA, when he caused Australian tempers to fray, then tear.

So pronounced was the irritation at Samuels that Australia's diplomatic captain Mark Taylor was at the limits of his conciliatory powers to prevent Warne and McGrath from doing considerably worse than unload on Samuels with a constant stream of verbal barbs. Most of those revolved around the use of the term "loser" with various fruity adjectives thrown in. In their fury that someone as limited in strokeplay as Samuels had managed to survive for so long in enervating Perth heat, Warne and McGrath lost sight of the fact that they had few runs to defend, and that Brian Lara was at the other end. He and Samuels added 208 before they were done, and set the visitors on course to a face-saving victory at the end of an unhappy tour.

Brathwaite is unlikely to have faced the same intensity of abuse that Samuels received, given that the game's standards of on-field conduct are more closely monitored now than ever, by Cricket Australia as much as the ICC. And the Bridgetown pitch was about as friendly as Perth's had been spiteful. But the pressures of the occasion, the first day of the series at the ground graced by so many luminaries of the region, made his contribution decidedly comparable. By the time he finally left the scene, touching Siddle behind for Matthew Wade's first Test catch, Brathwaite had held up the visitors for 273 minutes and 199 balls, smoothing a path for those who followed.

In doing so he provided Australia with a reminder of how much steel West Indies have added since Sammy and Ottis Gibson formed their present captain/coach axis, and his team-mates with an example of exactly what can be achieved with a doughty attitude. How the Caribbean team's troubled progress over the past 15 years might have been different if more had offered the application of Samuels and Brathwaite is open to debate. How much its position in this match would have been weakened without Brathwaite's stern occupation is not.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • yokasi on April 8, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    Obviously, all the credit can't go to Sammy & Gibson only, but one must admit that the TEAM is showing plenty cojones over the last 18 months or so, a period that coincides with the ascension of this unjustly maligned duo. People forget or ignore that with Gayle, Sarwan & previous coaches, we hardly even came close to winning any game, regardless of the format. If we curse Sammy & Gibson when things go badly, fairness demands that we give them props when the team does well. Remember we went 2 years without a test win, even though we had the 'stars' playing at that time.

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2012, 16:34 GMT

    Doesn't rotate the strike enough when Gayle comes back he has to go. Barath and Gayle should open in England.

  • Balaji on April 8, 2012, 16:04 GMT

    Quite interesting. I have always been a fan of the Windies, and it hurt seeing the fall in standards over the last 15+ years. Somewhere there may just be a good competitive team by the middle of this decade, although we have seen too many false dawns. Lets keep our fingers crossed.

  • niyas on April 8, 2012, 14:48 GMT

    good for world cricket ... windies need to get bak their old form ...

  • StJohn on April 8, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    A very good start by West Indies and a shame the day's play was curtailed, as otherwise you could have seen them perhaps closing on about 220-3, which would have been great. However, the problem for West Indies is a brittle lower order - so often recently they have got off to good and solid starts and then the last 4 or 5 wickets have been blown away for about 20 - 30 runs. For that reason I'm nervous of WI getting much more than 300 from this position whereas many teams would now be expecting 400 plus. I hope I'm proved wrong though, but it'll probably need a big century partnership between Bravo and Chanderpaul.

  • Chris on April 8, 2012, 12:06 GMT

    i'm glad brathwaite occupies the crease for so long. however, the west indies need strokemakers too. yesterday edwards played himself to a strong position before unfurling his shots. had that bowler not taken a very sharp return chance i bet edwards and brathwaite would be still there, and even kraigg would open his shoulders because the red pea would start to look like a beachball coming at him. darren bravo is a wonderful talent, but he has no confidence now, and has been timid at the crease for most of his short career, allowing spinners to pin him down. with no strokemakers in the top order the opposition can keep pressure on all the time with attacking fields. chanderpaul is excellent and will show the others how to attack from defence, especially against spin. it's too bad west indies have to lose 3 wickets before he comes in; move him to #4. it's wonderful to bat out session after session, but the team still needs runs, unless they are playing for a draw from day one. WINDIES!

  • Dummy4 on April 8, 2012, 11:08 GMT

    @yocasi Even Sammy says he won't take the credit alone for the omprovement, the fresh new guys are coming up with heart, and let's not forget who is the team's atting coach, one of the legend os west indies cricket

  • Jamie on April 8, 2012, 10:35 GMT

    I'm looking forward to seeing how this developing Windies batting line-up will do when they come over to England next month. While I hope England win, if the Windies batsmen compete it will make for an interesting series, and their improvement can only be good for world cricket. It looks like Gibson and Sammy have done a good job, and identified some lads who can push on with a bit of discipline and application. Now all they need is some decent quicks!

  • andy on April 8, 2012, 7:45 GMT

    I cannot believe that any other selection panel in world cricket would leave out a player of Pattinsons quality in favour of the mediocrity of Hilfenhaus and Siddle. It has been proven that these two bowlers lack the quality to be played in the same lineup, and sadly will be proven again by this second string West Indies top order.

  • j on April 8, 2012, 5:58 GMT

    How they can have Lyon in the side when he never looks threatening an doesn't turn the ball is beyond me. Lyon is continuing in that long tradition of Australian spinners since Warne who can't turn the ball.

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