Spirits are lifting but hard work remains
By the morning of the fifth day spirits had flown, sensing once again a forlorn return to the familiar. The captain Ramnaresh Sarwan and the opener Devon Smith were gone, it was 60 for 3, and the target of 287 shimmered up ahead in the distance. Could it really be that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was to be called in again to save the match?
In the first innings, he had been the hero. Not only because he had scored a vital century - his 18th - but he had done it under frightful circumstances. The sickening blow to his head from the Brett Lee ball stunned onlookers far more than it seemed to stun him. His inert body on the ground invoked every horror story of sports injuries. I was appalled that he was allowed to play even if he said he could, so my heart was in my mouth right through the innings as he transformed to legendary status by simply batting on, as we say, regardless.
It was typical of the Tiger, though, that same stoicism he brings to his cricket was evident. He'd come there to do a job and he was going to do it, no question about it. What might have seemed another day's work to him was evidently a source of inspiration to his team, as indeed are all acts of heroism.
For with an hour's play left on the third day after the West Indies innings closed on 312, they came out with an energy and purpose that was reminiscent of olden days - that "long-time something" whose return one spectator cherished on his banner. Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell seemed supercharged and looked - not for the first time in the match - truly formidable, spewing focus and speed consistently enough to take four wickets before poor light gave a reprieve to the bemused Australians.
They could not have anticipated this crumbly end to the day's play. It is not yet within the Australian psyche to envisage themselves as a weaker team than their 15-year record of dominance allows. The team has lost some of its finest players, and was also without Michael Clarke this match, and it is clear that this is a greener team than we have seen from the baggy boys from down under for years. That is not to say it is a weak team, it has just lost its veneer of invincibility, and this is what must have been drilled in to the West Indies players as they came into the series. It showed that they were not as intimidated by the sheer idea of playing against the world champions.
It was particularly evident in the manner of the bowlers. Speed again was the West Indian force, but again it became evident that the arsenal is not full enough to sustain the hostility. Unfortunately for the debutant offspinner, Amit Jaggernauth, his captain carelessly put him on simply to get slaughtered by a fully charged Andrew Symonds. It reminded me of the comment by former slow bowler, Rangy Nanan, that most West Indies captains don't know how to use spinners. It will probably lead to another long stay on the shelf for spin bowlers, especially given the success of Edwards, Powell and Dwayne Bravo, and the shine coming through on the injured Jerome Taylor.
Still, it was important for the team to know they have actually taken 20 wickets in the last couple of Test matches they've played. It had become a disturbing inadequacy of the team, one that more than anything else communicated the inefficacy of the attack. For not only did it expose a weakness, it exposed a weakness at the very pillar on which West Indies cricket built its proudest house.
So, here was the team with not just better bowlers, but showing more of a fighting spirit than had been seen in some time. Bravo commented that he felt the team was now more united than it had been before, and praised the assistant coach David Williams for instilling that unity. Many believe that enough time has lapsed since the coach John Dyson took over to warrant him some credit for the cohesiveness and the capacity to sustain the will to fight.
In any case, on the last day too much indicated that while there may be new cracks appearing in the Australia line-up, the old cracks in the West Indies team are far deeper and wider. At 82 for 6, with Chanderpaul too falling in a battle that was at least far more competitive than we could have imagined, it seemed clear what the end would be, and that there is much more work to do.
At 185 for 8, with Powell and Edwards slogging away fours and all, I wondered how far we were taking the idea that bowlers win matches. The day before, heady at the prospects for the fifth day, it was easy to hope with the target under 300, now even getting to 200 needed imagination; not even the team could provide that as it all ended at 191. Such is cricket.
Fortunately, the nature of the encounter was a welcome reminder of the beauty and intrigue of Test cricket, and that a game well contested is worth every minute of it.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad