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Watching the second Test wend its way towards a draw, it occurred to Vaneisa Baksh that the most exciting cricket really comes from evenly matched teams
June 3, 2008
Watching the second Test wend its way towards a draw, it occurred to me that the most exciting cricket really comes from evenly-matched teams, even if they are not strong ones. The cricket is at its most competitive, twisting us into the knots we need to be in to keep watching for five days.
By the final day in Antigua, with Australia having declared twice, and West Indies never really sparkling, it had become onerous. Even when the captain Ramnaresh Sarwan made his 11th Test century it had a tired air, as if we had waited too long for him to convert another fifty to a hundred. Ian Bishop mentioned that Sarwan had experienced a good season on account of his three fifties and a century in the Sri Lanka series. That is true, but Sarwan has been playing for eight years, and is an exceptionally good batsman who should have been able to turn more of his 30 half-centuries into hundreds. As it was, he lasted until 128 - a necessary innings if only for pride and to keep the series alive with a draw - and alongside him was the rock, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Chanderpaul made another century in the first innings, and when the match ended with Ricky Ponting deciding it was not worth his while to plod on, he was 77 not out, having partnered Sarwan to guide West Indies to their first draw with Australia since 1995, and earning the Man-of-the-Match award. "Play it safe," he said, just try to last it out - an ethic that seems terribly at odds with the flamboyance associated with West Indies cricketers.
He held ground the way only Chanderpaul can in these times. In the first innings, his heroics had been simply another day's work to him, that stoic, workman's approach to the game that has empowered him above all in this team given to view their wickets as castaways. In truth, it was every man playing according to his nature during the series thus far. Nothing really new has emerged.
In the first Test, the bowlers did what had been longed for and reaped wickets, and by doing so went into the second match with a larger measure of hope. Yet the batting was indifferent, and cost a game that should have been the reward for four good days. This has been the nature of the West Indies team; when the bowling and/or fielding is true, the batting tells lies, and vice versa. Rarely do all the elements join the chorus, and this is not just reflective of the squad members.
At the barely scuffed grounds of the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in Antigua, what greeted them? They found a pitch that the journalist Garth Wattley described as "a lifeless, brown stretch of earth," adding vividly that "there was more discernible movement in molasses than off it [on the first day]".
To compete on this corpse, there were no recognised spinners, and five pacers with little difference among them. In a grand sweep, the selectors managed to deflate the momentum gained by the quicks in the previous match because they were asking them to ply their trade on a surface that absorbed their wiles without giving anything back. They also managed to suppress further what little hope there might be for spinners having a chance on the West Indies team, as they again communicated their vision that spin is part-time work for some batsmen.
One imagines pitch preparation aligned to the strengths of the home team, and one imagines selections based on maximising conditions that exist - desirable or not. Home advantage did not seem to be a worthy consideration for the administrators.
The result was a first day's play that was excruciatingly lifeless, as if the pitch had sucked away all the energy in its precincts. Spectators could not be bothered to come. There was no West Indian energy to come from off the field, as it did at Sabina Park. Even the fielders couldn't keep their focus, and under the circumstances, the fumbles were costly and painful to the hard-working bowlers.
To make matters worse, the drainage on the outfield was bad enough to lose two sessions on the third day, causing much lamentation over the enormous cost incurred to try to fix this problem repeatedly after it had become evident at the World Cup last year. It was embarrassing, and one wonders whether this had been factored into the decision to hold one of the matches on the ground. Poor umpiring decisions contributed to reducing the scores, a continuing source of debate over technology use.
For Ricky Ponting's men, it would be gratifying to hold on to the Sir Frank Worrell trophy even before they set foot on Barbados soil for the final match. The retirement of Stuart MacGill leaves Australia with yet another hole to fill, but they are a resilient bunch, with a cricket ethic that leaves them formidable even under pressure. The third Test may yet be the most revealing of what might be a turning point for both sides. If only the series was longer.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in TrinidadFeeds: Vaneisa Baksh
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala