His knowledge of the Guaracara Park pitch notwithstanding, Daren Ganga, the Trinidad and Tobago captain, did not bat first when he called right at the toss yesterday.
By the end of day one of this Carib Beer Series fixture against Guyana, he had been forced to second guess his risky choice. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, the appointed leader and deputy leader of both Guyana and West Indies, first spoilt the T&T skipper's plans with a century fourth wicket stand. And then, Sarwan and Travis Dowlin pressed on with an unbroken stand of 88.
To further emphasise the backfiring of Ganga's plan, Sarwan got himself a good century - 113 not out (237 minutes, 15 fours) - to leave his side with the edge on 257 for four. Exposed by more skilled and ruthless opponents at Test level in Australia, Sarwan returned to the familiar and more accommodating surroundings at Guaracara to get back into the runs. Regional cricket is no longer the proving ground for a veritable Test match veteran, even at age 25. But Sarwan's fifth regional century was of great value to his side in their quest for Carib Beer points. Ganga won't need reminding about that.
The first session produced two wickets, slightly less perhaps than Ganga might have hoped for at the start. Neither he, nor his bowlers Richard Kelly or Rayad Emrit, would have been pleased to see first Lendl Simmons at second slip, then Denesh Ramdin put down Narsingh Deonarine on zero and ten, respectively.
That first escape came in the same over in which Kelly, getting movement through the air and off the pitch, had trapped Krishna Arjune lbw with a full delivery with the total only eight in the seventh over. Deonarine, already with a century and half century this season, never seemed quite likely to capitalise on his escapes. He was somewhat loose and prone to rashness-like when Emrit pinned him down from the southern end, going round the wicket.
He was the opposite of Siewnarine Chattergoon, his compact fellow left-hander who found the boundary seven times, mostly with well placed and timed drives through the cover/extra cover region. Chattergoon went to lunch on 43, but not partnered by Deonarine. In the last over before the break, he soured lunch for his team by attempting to slog-sweep Dave Mohammed's left-arm wrist spinners, against the turn, only to sky a catch to Sanjiv Gooljar at short midwicket. Wasted completely was his stay of practically an hour and a half.
Deonarine's submission rescued the morning somewhat for T&T. But in the second session, Ganga had to deal with the greater problem of separating Sarwan and Chanderpaul. First, though, Chattergoon's innings of promise ended in more self-destruction in the third over after lunch. Enticed by Dwayne Bravo to chase a ball wide of off-stump, he slashed and edged into Sherwin Ganga's hands at first slip to leave Guayan at 65 for 3.
It was not going to be so easy, though, to remove the West Indian pair on a pitch now free of moisture and typically accommodating to the batsmen. And despite a shaky start, not untypical of Sarwan, the pair began to build the kind of solid first innings platform Ganga would have been gambling against at the toss. While Chanderpaul, square-on as can be, was his usually measured self, Sarwan, like Chattergoon, enjoyed himself with cover drives pleasing to the eye.
The encouragingly large crowd, which had assembled at Guaracara even before the first ball, were getting a bit of their money's worth, even if it was not yet Brian Lara at the crease. By tea, the partnership had risen to 64 and the total to 144 for 3. Sarwan had already collected six of his boundaries in making 51. The T&T spinners- Mohammed, Gooljar, rookie leg-spinner, and Sherwin Ganga - had been disciplined but hardly adventurous with their flight against batsmen against whom some risk needed to be taken to succeed.
Gooljar eventually did so. Just 17 minutes after the break, he drew Chanderpaul out of his crease for Ramdin to complete an important stumping on what was not one of his best days. Dismisssed for 44 (128 minutes, seven fours) after adding 104 for the fourth wicket with Sarwan, Chanderpaul left to decent applause, slightly more exuberant perhaps than the reasonably warm ovation which had greeted him on his entry.
At 169 for 4, the T&T bowlers had the chance to seize upon the opening surprisingly handed them by Chanderpaul. But Sarwan, fully settled and intent on cashing in much, much more, got more steady support from Dowlin, himself coming off a century against the Leeward Islands in the previous round. He finished on 33 and seems capable of adding significantly to that score. The crowd that arrives on day two could well see much more of him and Sarwan before Lara and company get their belated turn.