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Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Darren Sammy and their colleagues tested Australia like they haven't been tested for some time
April 8, 2012
Not since March 2009 against England had West Indies enjoyed the luxury of declaring their first innings closed. Not since Sri Lanka, nine Test matches and more than six months ago, had Australia's cricketers been made to sweat in the field like this. In their contrasting styles the old and new of West Indies cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Sammy, each found a way to enhance the visitors' sense of disorientation.
The Bridgetown pitch demanded a substantial first innings tally to do justice to its trueness of bounce and ease of pace, and after Kraigg Brathwaite, Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo had smoothed a path, Chanderpaul and Sammy made sure it was achieved. Their manner of doing so reflected the typical method of each batsman: Chanderpaul the ultimate survivor, Sammy the ebullient cameo artist. But they also demonstrated qualities in tune with the occasion, stretching Australia's patience and leaving their spin bowler Nathan Lyon, in particular, with plenty to ponder about his technique and mode of attack on these shores.
If Sammy's innings of 41 was no more substantial in volume than many of those he had previously played for West Indies, its manner was highly significant. Fairly bristling with attacking intent, and the confidence derived from his firm-handed contributions during the limited-overs matches that served as the entree to this series, Sammy advanced boldly towards the tourists at the fall of Carlton Baugh's wicket.
His first target was Lyon, who had to this point bowled tidily without impact on a surface that offered only a fraction of the spin he had found at the Three Ws Oval during the Australians' only tour match. Lyon has typically prospered via an enticing loop that finds the batsman short of the ball's pitch more often than not, but here Sammy leapt into him, pinging boundaries and a six over the bowler's head.
Still possessing the aggressive attitude that had launched his international career so successfully in Sri Lanka last year, Lyon did not shirk from tossing the ball high, but Sammy's attack narrowed focus on the bowler's apparent wrestle with his technique. In his approach to the wicket, the position of his front arm and the torque of his body action, Lyon gave Sammy little trouble picking his length and swinging accordingly. Turn was elusive, and while Lyon furnished his figures with a tail-end wicket, he spent most of the innings reminding locals more of Greg Matthews' destruction by Viv Richards and Richie Richardson on the 1991 tour than Lance Gibbs' feats in the 1960s and '70s. If that weren't unsettling enough, David Warner claimed the best figures of the innings, his leg breaks now less likely to carry the prefix "occasional".
Having forced Lyon's exit from the attack, Sammy turned next to Shane Watson, a commonly crafty operator on wickets offering little to others. Watson greeted his allround opposite number with a skidding bouncer that struck Sammy a fierce blow to the helmet, forcing its change. Now followed the most compelling passage of the day. Watson's next delivery was fuller, on off stump and inviting a cautious prod down the wicket. However Sammy, still somewhat dazed and destined to call for further treatment at the end of the over, chose now to be the right time to launch into the purest lofted straight drive for six, sending Kensington Oval into raptures and obliging Watson to resort to another bouncer and a Bollywood villain's stare next ball.
Having been looked over once again by the team physio, Sammy renewed his attack, forcing Watson to join Lyon in exiting the bowling crease, spanking him straight for four then depositing him uproariously into the Greenidge and Haynes Stand for six. Ben Hilfenhaus resorted to a less than edifying string of bouncers at a batsman who had suffered a blow to the head, but after one more straight six Sammy miscued a hook and was taken in the deep. His performance offered a staunch example of the attitude Sammy wants from his team, and he need only add a little more duration to his stays at the batting crease to become a bowling allrounder of genuine chops.
At the other end, Chanderpaul had simply done what he does, scratching his way to a substantial score via the legside nudges, third-man deflections and occasional forcing strokes that have driven all manner of international opponents - not to mention impatient spectators - to distraction. Apart from an lbw referral by Lyon when he was 85, Chanderpaul did not offer a chance for six-and-a-half hours, balls both good and bad treated without the merest trace of premeditation. Along the way he passed Brian Lara as the man to score the most Test runs at Kensington Oval, a marker of his persistence but also the commitment to the game that he had reasserted after Sammy and the coach Ottis Gibson sought to enlist him to their cause in 2010.
As the innings wound down, Chanderpaul's search for a 25th Test century was intertwined with another matter of some importance. Each ball the hosts kept Australia in the field would add to their fatigue when batting, and each run would enhance the hosts' chances of pressuring the visiting batsmen when their turn came to take the ball. Chanderpaul trusted the last man Devendra Bishoo, his fellow Guyanese, with a little of the strike, and was not harried into a risky single or an attempt to turn one into two. Clarke became as preoccupied with denying Chanderpaul as ending the innings, but his efforts to do both were thwarted: the 37-year-old former captain kissed the Bridgetown pitch and added a pesky 28 with Bishoo before Sammy called them in. Bishoo's innings meant that all 11 Caribbean batsmen had passed double figures for the first time in the region's history: a statistic to warm hearts.
Trudging off after 153 overs of sobering Caribbean reality, Clarke's team was weary but also a little more worldly-wise. Over the next three days, and the next three weeks, they must find ways of blunting Chanderpaul, and of sapping Sammy's enthusiasm before it filters completely through his team. The second day of the Barbados Test made these two tasks appear far more vexing than many might have predicted. Having given West Indies a foothold, Australia must locate the kind of resourcefulness not required in quite some time to prise them out.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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