Courage under fire
The new spirit of the West Indies team, so encouragingly confirmed over the first two and a half days of the most daunting challenge in international cricket, was, yet again, squandered by individual rashness. One man stood above the negligence that led to the collapse of four wickets for eight runs just before tea that suddenly transformed a promising position into potential disaster.
One man restored West Indies' hope and stimulated a sensational fightback in the closing overs of an engrossing day. No one has epitomised the new attitude more starkly than Shivnarine Chanderpaul whose fighting qualities have been so well established that he has long since been dubbed "Tiger".
Throughout the 13 years since he entered the West Indies team as a fragile 19-year-old, he has set an example for every batsman, present team-mates and those to follow, that an innings is to be treasured almost as dearly as life itself. It was a credo ignored by his early partners yesterday.
Runako Morton has never played with more maturity than for his 67 but he wasted three hours of diligence with an unbecoming heave at Stuart MacGill, a waste compounded by the fact that it came minutes before lunch. Dwayne Bravo's typically bold attack included three sixes in his 46 off 60 balls but was ended by an expansive drive off a wide ball from Brett Lee. Denesh Ramdin and Daren Sammy soon went to equally loose strokes.
It left them to observe Chanderpaul's courage and determination from beyond the boundary in awe and embarrassment. In the midst of the breakdown, he took a shattering blow on the back of the helmet from a bouncer from Lee.
The contact reverberated around Sabina Park like a gunshot, a familiar sound in these parts. He instantly fell to the ground. The thousands in the stands watched in hushed anxiety. His wife, Amy, following the remarkable battle from the stands, shed emotional and understandable tears.
|Every man, woman and child rose to acclaim a sporting performance they will remember for as long as their memories do. Amy was not the only one shedding tears. So were big men, without a hint of embarrassment.|
For a few minutes, that seemed an eternity, Chanderpaul lay still on the pitch, immediately surrounded by concerned opponents of whom Lee was the first on the scene. Dr Akshai Mansingh, the assigned West Indies Cricket Board doctor, and team physio CJ Clark rushed to the middle. A stretcher appeared.
The consensus among all except Chanderpaul was that he surely could not continue. He was on 86 and his faltering team needed him. It would take something more serious than a stunning blow to the cranium to extract him from the middle.
He got to his feet, shook his head and satisfied the good doctor that he was ready to continue. Right away he was again middling the ball, nudging and pushing, manipulating the strike away from Fidel Edwards, the No. 10. A crowd shocked into silence by the upsetting events of the previous hour again rediscovered its voice.
Every Chanderpaul run was cheered as if it was winning the match. So was every block by Edwards. When, finally, a straight drive off Stuart Clark carried Chanderpaul past his 18th Test hundred, every man, woman and child rose to acclaim a sporting performance they will remember for as long as their memories do. Amy was not the only one shedding tears. So were big men, without a hint of embarrassment.
Nor were the tears, and cheers, over. Chanderpaul's heroics had clearly inspired his team as much as it re-energised their fellow West Indians in the ground. As Edwards and Daren Powell swept aside Australia's vaunted top order with their searing pace and swing in the final half hour, the depression of the recent years of decline seemed in the distant past. It might or might not be a fleeting wonder. But, my goodness, it was spine tingling.