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June 3, 2008
A fighting century from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul's trademark resistance saved the match for West Indies but not the Frank Worrell Trophy, which Ricky Ponting's men secured with a tense draw in Antigua. Australia have become accustomed to walking all over West Indies in recent years, but their domination deserted them at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, where they fell five wickets short of the ten final-day breakthroughs they required.
A couple of late successes gave Australia a sniff with the new ball when the match seemed all but over, however it was Chanderpaul who guided his team home and finished unbeaten on 77 to secure the first draw between the sides since 1995 - along the way he became the first batsman to make unbeaten fifty-plus scores in both innings of a Test on three occasions. For most of the day Chanderpaul had stonewalled with Sarwan, realising that their huge chase of 372, while tempting, was realistically out of reach. They seemed to have done the job and saw West Indies through almost to the final hour when Ponting's last gamble, throwing the new ball to Mitchell Johnson, paid off first delivery.
Johnson found some extra bounce and Sarwan, on 128, tried to fend the good bouncer and skewed a catch to Michael Hussey at gully. When Brett Lee added Dwayne Bravo, whose leading edge was snapped up by Brad Hodge at point, Ponting was no doubt having flashbacks of Sydney in January, when his men snatched a last-minute win against India. There was no fairytale ending this time and Ponting's conservative decision to give his attack just one day to dismiss West Indies had come back to bite him.
Skittling West Indies quickly was always going to be tough on a benign pitch, and although Lee gave it a good crack in the first session the defence of a familiar pair made the job even harder. Five years ago Chanderpaul and Sarwan were national heroes when they each made centuries up the road at the Antigua Recreation Ground to guide West Indies to the Test-record fourth-innings chase of 418 against Australia. The pair knew the situation was different this time; on that occasion they had more than two days to fight their way to the target.
Even so, Sarwan seemed to be aiming for victory before lunch when he hustled to a half-century from 68 balls. He was prepared to slash at risky aerial cuts through and over the cordon and he drove confidently. His problem was that at the other end, Lee was troubling his partners in another fast and fiery spell. West Indies lost three wickets before lunch and after the break their mindset changed; they were only interested in salvaging a draw. Chanderpaul was designed for this sort of task but for Sarwan it required a greater degree of urge control. His aggression had to be checked and to his immense credit the captain did the job superbly. He was a rock in defence but was still happy to punish loose balls, cover-driving well and cutting when given width.
Sarwan had one nervous moment on 92 when a fairytale finish beckoned for Stuart MacGill, who thought he had the key breakthrough in his final Test. MacGill, bowling better than at any time on the tour, drew Sarwan out of his crease with a ripping legbreak that pitched on leg and turned past the bat. Brad Haddin whipped off the bails and the Australians were confident, but the TV replays were inconclusive.
It was a perilously close call and given their misfortune with umpiring earlier in the game, nobody could begrudge West Indies when the third official gave Sarwan the benefit of the considerable doubt. At the time the Sarwan-Chanderpaul partnership was worth 49 but of more concern to Ponting was the time the pair had eaten up. Australia picked up no wickets in the second session and a worried Ponting even turned to the rarely seen medium-pace of Hussey.
Sarwan brought up his 11th Test century with a sweep for four off MacGill two balls before tea, reaching the milestone from 181 deliveries, and if he hadn't saved the game he had at least dragged it in from a dangerous Australian current. After the break it was more of the same and desperation crept in for Ponting, who changed his bowlers and field with increasing hopelessness as he searched for a crack that would lead him into West Indies' lower order.
That moment came with the new ball but Chanderpaul remained resolute. For a man who once spent more than 11 hours at the crease in a Test in Antigua, it was a task to be relished. Chanderpaul's half-century came slowly - it took 148 deliveries - and it wasn't until Johnson and the retiring MacGill dropped in a few bad balls that he finally loosened up, only to go into lockdown again when he lost Sarwan.
The pair had been forced to work hard following some early tremors. West Indies were set their lofty target when Australia declared at their overnight total of 244 for 6 and the visitors' spirits lifted even more with a pair of early wickets. Lee bowled fast and short and picked up Devon Smith without scoring when the batsman half-heartedly guided a shortish ball straight to Hussey at gully. When Stuart Clark chipped in with Xavier Marshall, who was softened up by Lee's barrage and feathered a Clark bouncer behind, West Indies were wobbling at 19 for 2.
Sarwan and Runako Morton steadied things with a 65-run stand when Lee was resting, but as soon as the spearhead returned for a second spell he ended the partnership with his first ball. Morton was simply too slow to react to a cracking inswinger that also cut back off the pitch and struck him dead in line, giving Mark Benson one of the easier lbw decisions of his umpiring career. Then came Chanderpaul.
By the close it was West Indies who were happiest with the result. After the first session they knew they had no real chance of winning and a hard-fought draw was a satisfying finish. Australia would be disappointed that victory eluded them, and yet they emerged with the Frank Worrell Trophy.
Their selectors have some thinking to do ahead of the third Test, with MacGill's departure leaving a gap in the attack. At least Simon Katich, who was off the field for most of the match after suffering bruised ribs during his first-day century, is likely to be fit for the series finale in Barbados. Australia enter that game with a 1-0 advantage and will be desperate not to finish it with a 1-1 series draw.