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May 24, 2008
There are moments that can turn a Test match on its head, and the exact time when it occurred at Sabina Park was when Shivnarine Chanderpaul was struck on his. Chanderpaul copped a sickening blow to the back of his helmet from a Brett Lee bouncer, but despite apparently being knocked out by the hit, he got up, scored a century, and sparked a remarkable fightback from West Indies. The momentum carried into their bowling effort as Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell rattled the Australia top order like few Caribbean bowlers have since the early 1990s, reducing the visitors to 17 for 4 at stumps, and the match was suddenly burst wide open.
Australia ended the day with a lead of 136, with Mitchell Johnson on 4 and Brad Hodge yet to score. They were still in the stronger position but their grip had loosened considerably thanks to Powell and Edwards. Fast, swinging deliveries did for all of Australia's top four, none of whom reached double figures.
Phil Jaques got a thick edge behind off Edwards for 4, Ricky Ponting edged a superb outswinger to slip off Powell for 5, and Simon Katich was trapped dead in front by a fullish ball from Edwards on 1. Such was the concern that Johnson was sent out as nightwatchman with 20 minutes still to play, but he couldn't save Michael Hussey, who lost his bails to a cracking inswinger from Powell on 1. When the umpires offered Australia bad light with about eight minutes to play, they jumped at the chance.
Edwards and Powell were the heroes late in the afternoon but undoubtedly the towering star of the day was Chanderpaul. His 118 was not a huge century by his standards, but the circumstances must make it one of his most cherished. He was on 86 when Lee, coming round the wicket, dug in a short one that Chanderpaul tried to duck away from. It stayed a bit lower than expected, and as he turned his head it struck him.
Like a boxer receiving the knockout punch, Chanderpaul's body went suddenly limp and he crashed to the ground and onto his back. Lee immediately knew something was wrong and ran to the batsman to check if he was okay. A stretcher was brought out, a doctor and physio attended and several minutes passed by as the dazed Chanderpaul, who lost some of the feeling in his hands, regained his composure.
Not only did he bat on, but when he got another short ball he was confident enough to pull it away to take him into the 90s. When he brought up his century with a straight drive for two off Stuart Clark, the Australians understandably acknowledged his achievement. As he ran out of partners he tried for some late boundaries and eventually holed out to mid-on from a Stuart MacGill full toss, but by that stage he had already inspired his team-mates.
His play before the near-knockout should not be underestimated either. While his partners, notably Runako Morton and Dwayne Bravo, scored freely but struggled to control their aggression, Chanderpaul just kept poking and prodding. Plenty of his early runs came from guiding the fast men between slips and gully, and he gradually started to find confidence with his cover-drives.
He had adequate support from a couple of colleagues and his 128-run fourth-wicket stand with Morton caused concerns for Australia earlier in the day. When the fast bowlers overpitched, Morton bludgeoned drives back past them, his footwork leaving something to be desired but his power enough to mask any technical shortcomings. He hammered 14 off a MacGill over, including a straight drive to bring up his half-century and a well-controlled lofted stroke over long-on for six.
Morton, sometimes criticised for lack of patience, also showed impressive resolve against a short-pitched barrage from Lee, who peppered him with bouncers. One struck the batsman a hard blow on the shoulder but apart from that and an uncontrolled hook that flew off the top edge over the wicketkeeper's head, Morton evaded and defended capably.
A loose shot just before lunch ended his stay as he tried to drive MacGill over mid-on only to be snared by a diving Clark for 67. Bravo picked up where Morton left off, apparently still in Twenty20 mode after arriving from the Indian Premier League just a few days before the Test. He got off the mark with a towering six over long-on off MacGill and repeated the effort two more times with no more than wristy flicks off his pads.
Bravo looked promising but was also partly responsible for getting the battling Lee fired up with some cheap wickets. Bravo drove well away from his body with little footwork and edged Lee to Katich at first slip for 46 and the breakthrough sparked a mini-collapse as four wickets fell for eight runs.
Denesh Ramdin wafted outside off to get a feather behind in Lee's next over and Darren Sammy flicked lazily off his pads to midwicket to give Johnson his first success of the innings. Lee rounded off the passage by knocking Powell's leg stump out of the ground, and the mostly soft dismissals only served to highlight further the value of Chanderpaul's hardness.
His was the sort of effort that could not help but inspire his team-mates and judging by the opening from their new-ball bowlers, it might have done the trick. If West Indies can maintain their passion and further loosen Australia's hold on the match, the final two days of an already fascinating contest could be the best yet.