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February 19, 2009
A Test match that was never meant to be held on this ground, but wouldn't have been held at all if the ARG hadn't been available, went down to the final hour. As the shadows encroached slowly across the field the chants from the locals grew louder. There hadn't been many of them present during for much of the game, but after the gates had been thrown open they cheered each dot ball that Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards managed to defend.
There were glove changes, bat changes, light checks and block after block. Finally, with four overs unbowled, the umpires conferred and offered the light. The batsmen celebrated as though it was victory and it was indeed a great escape. A "show of character" as Daren Powell put it afterwards.
"I said to the guys in the dressing room after the game that this match was a test of character. Coming into the game we only had Tuesday as a proper practice session and after that it was chaos with the run-up at the other ground," Powell said. "We came here and toiled in the sun as England made more than 500 and we only got 200-odd. When you look at the way [Ramnaresh] Sarwan and Shiv [Chanderpaul] batted, it was left to everyone who came after them not to let them down, we had to go out and play straight and draw the game."
Powell was full of bombast before the series, confidently predicted a 3-0 home win - and that still stands. He didn't stop there, either, with his assessment of England after this result. "It's a bigger wound they have now because looking at the position, if I was the fielding side, I would think I would win the game, especially with me and Fidel there batting. But we batted brilliantly and saved the game. England will feel bad now."
This was an epic effort to save the game, one in which they were outplayed for four days before finding their steel. They batted for four-and-a-half sessions on a surface that always encouraged the bowlers, even if it didn't break up as dramatically as expected. That, in itself, is a huge credit to the groundsman, Keith Frederick, after he had a mere 36 hours to prepare the track. He could have been in line for the Man-of-the-Match award, and after the presentations the groundstaff were awarded US$1000 by the WICB for their efforts, and the players honoured them with the match stumps. They deserved much more.
In the end the match award went to Ramnaresh Sarwan, but his 106 (and 200 runs in the Test) was looking as though it would be in vain as England chipped away during the final session. However, up stepped the lower order to hold their nerve in scenes of thrilling drama. Again, the draw has shown its capacity to be the most nerve-jangling of results.
Even in the frustrations of missing out on victory, Andrew Strauss acknowledged the value of this match. "After what happened at the Sir Vivian Richards' Stadium, to move seven days forward and see a thrilling climax it's a great advert for Test cricket after a pretty bad time for Test cricket."
However, the biggest result of the tense excitement is for West Indies. The victory at Sabina Park was obviously a colossal result for this evolving team, but holding on here will do even more for their confidence. Now they know they can battle back in adversity when few gave them a hope. They weren't helped by the weather, either, as just seven overs were lopped off the day at either end. The way Powell and Edwards were batting they might have seen them off as well.
Edwards had previous in such a situation. In a neat twist he was at the crease when it had appeared that the curtain was coming down on the ARG's Test status. Against India in 2006 he and Corey Collymore survived the tense closing moments as West Indies earned a draw at nine down. It could almost have been written in the stars, and nearly was as nightfall came moments after the players left the field.
"He [Edwards] did say to me 'why do I have to find myself in this situation all the time?' " said Sarwan. "He saw the funny side of it, it showed his character. He showed it in the first two days in the hot sun, running in and bowled quickly. He gives his best effort and it shows a different side of Fidel. He's a very quiet guy but also very funny."
For Powell it was a moment of redemption. Last year against Sri Lanka, in Guyana, West Indies were minutes from salvaging a draw when he drove at Chaminda Vass and was acrobatically caught by Muttiah Muralitharan at mid-off. He could barely drag himself off the ground, but what a contrast to today as he and Edwards marched off arm in arm, bats held high.
Throughout the closing overs there was constant encouragement from the dressing room, especially Sarwan who appeared to be living every ball. It has been said in the past that West Indies' sides have been fractured units, torn apart by internal squabbling. As England have found out recently there will always be differences, but the vital aspect is to pull together as team on the field.
They are still 1-0 up in the series. If that had been suggested at any point over the previous four days, it would have sounded a long shot. But there was always a sense that this famous ground had something special in store. The ARG didn't disappoint and that it was the home side which ended buoyant made it all the sweeter.
Graeme Smith was the last of South Africa's old guard. The roots of the new one need to grow deeper