West Indies v England, 5th Test, Trinidad, 5th day March 11, 2009

Take nothing for granted

Take nothing for granted. That was the mantra being chanted by increasingly anxious West Indians during the lunch interval at the Queen's Park Oval on Tuesday


West Indian nerves began to fray as England chipped away at the batting order © AFP
 

Take nothing for granted. That was the mantra being chanted by increasingly anxious West Indians during the lunch interval at the Queen's Park Oval on Tuesday, when just a couple hours earlier they were lolling off in their favourite vantage points in the stands with a dull draw and a series triumph over England taken for granted.

But it's only when an elusive goal is so very close that it suddenly appears to be so very far away. And desperation for that success can do strange things to people. Take Sir Vivian Richards for example. Ask anyone remotely familiar with his stature in West Indian and world cricket to characterise him, and adjectives like "aggressive" and "domineering" or even "arrogant" and "hostile" are more than likely to crop up.

Yesterday morning, though, as Kevin Pietersen blazed away to his 16th Test hundred (in just three-and-a-half hours, mind you) and Matt Prior plundered a half-century in helping England pile on 157 runs in two hours, the celebrated "Master Blaster" was close to being a nervous wreck.

Exaggeration you say? Well, picture it. The place already surprisingly cool with all this strong breeze that we've been experiencing for the last few days. Add to that an air-conditioning unit operating efficiently in our radio commentary box. Yet despite all that ventilation, the man who never lost a Test series as West Indies captain and took a particular pleasure in whipping England, was running out of napkins to mop his brow.

Only when you see such patent anxiety from a batting giant who stood and delivered haughtily and mightily against the very best in so many great arenas of the world can you appreciate how much passion and pride he has for the Caribbean game, to the extent that it borders on an obsession.

By the time James Anderson was running in for the first delivery after England had declared at 237 for 6 at lunch, you could feel the tension and pit-of-the-stomach trepidation among the locals at the same time that hope and anticipation of a minor miracle were keeping the visitors on the edge of their seats and beach towels.

Everything seemed to be pointing towards the sort of nerve-jangling drama that no hometown fan wanted yet were almost prepared to believe was inevitable given their team's oft-exposed vulnerability under pressure in recent years.

Why, it was only in the hastily-arranged third Test of this series that Fidel Edwards, for the third time in his career, was called upon to hold up the side in a prolonged last-wicket partnership, on that occasion with Daren Powell.

Speaking of Powell, what are we to make of him not being utilised for a single one of the 38.4 overs bowled in the England second innings? For someone in whom both the head coach and captain have reposed such unstinting faith and confidence so consistently, it was perhaps a telling omission. Maybe all the licks shared by Pietersen and Prior had Chris Gayle and then acting captain Denesh Ramdin confused.

Confusion certainly reigned when Lendl Simmons wasn't sure whether to continue to the pavilion, reverse his steps or stand and wait for a referral after Paul Collingwood's contentious catch at second slip off Anderson. By then it was too late to attempt to seek a reprieve from the man upstairs (TV umpire Aleem Dar, that is), but the frantic signalling from Simmons' teammates at the same time that the huddled English were waving him away merely added to the drama that has been long overdue in this otherwise tedious Test.

A few minutes later and you were hoping that Tantie Merle hadn't just walked in. There was her fellow Grenadian, Devon Smith, surviving an appeal for leg-before off Graeme Swann that the English didn't challenge, only for replays to suggest that the ball would have clipped leg stump. And what does he do two balls later? Pelt a big swipe and is palpably lbw, yet has the temerity to seek a referral that confirms his embarrassing lack of judgment.

By then both Tantie and Sir Viv were probably heading to the nearest pharmacy in St James for something to control their rising blood pressure. Pressure, boy. Enough can burst the strongest pipe.

It's almost too much to take. It certainly was for "Smokin' Joe", who steered clear of the commentary box in the afternoon session, especially after Ramnaresh Sarwan fell to Swann. Tantie Merle? Well she was probably lying down somewhere sapping her head with bay rum and maybe drinking some too.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad