Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The West Indies continue to fight, and look like winning.

The fourth test between Australia and the West Indies is nearing completion and it has been the best match in ages. I have only written about day 1 so far, and I only have time for a brief discussion of days 2 to 4. Essentially, after Australia were bowled out for 240 in the first innings, Australia fought back. The West Indian first innings was an odd one, with the Australians taking wickets at one end, and Brian Lara looking majestic at the other end. All the Australian bowlers shared the wickets, with particularly good work from Bichel. Lara managed to score 68, before hitting a catch off Bichel. When it looked like the middle and lower order would combine with Lara to add enough runs to get the West Indies some kind of a lead, Brett Lee ran Jacobs out brilliantly for 26. Lee fielded off his own bowling, saw that Jacobs was out of his ground and threw down the stumps at the batsman's end before he could get back. I have seen many bowlers attempt this kind of dismissal, but this is one of the first times I have actually seen the bowler succeed. My compliments to Lee here. In any even, the West Indies also scored 240, and the two teams were precisely even on the first innings.

Australia's openers came out really firing, and Langer and Hayden put on a tremendous partnership of 273. Langer and Hayden both scored centuries. From there, Australia should have scored at least 500 and put the match out of reach. However, when Langer was out, Gilchrist (who had been promoted up the order - either because he was a player Waugh had faith in, or to unnecessarily get quick runs), Love and Lehmann were all out quickly. This left us with Hayden and Steve Waugh batting. Fine. I have faith in both these players. But then Hayden was stupidly run out. And then the tail was again out quickly. Glenn McGrath showed some resistance for the final wicket, but he was eventually out with the score on 417. Steve Waugh was not out 45, having not quite boosted his career average back to 50, although he is getting close (49.83). Basically though, it wasn't very impressive. Lehmann and Love failed under pressure. I would rather have one Ricky Ponting or Damien Martyn than both of them. The tail, which is supposed to be much stronger at batting than most tails, failed to support Steve Waugh when he was batting well, and he was stranded on 45 not out. The first job of tail order batsmen is to ensure that any specialist batsmen still not out can score to their potential. If a tail collapses quickly that effectively reduces the number of specialist batsmen from six to five. Here it reduced it from six to about five and a half. (Three and a half if you don't coun't Lehmann and Love. I am being cynical today). The middle order and the tail both collapsed twice in this match, which was not impressive. The target should have been at least 500

However, the West Indies were set 418 to win. No side has ever successfully chased a target that large to win a test match, and it should have been enough. But, the West Indian batting lineup is strong. Ganga, Lara, Sarwan, Chanderpaul, are all capable of scoring runs against most attacks. The danger in this series has always been that more than one of them would perform in the same innings.

The West Indies took the score to 0/47 at stumps on the third day, but Gayle, Smith, and Ganga were all out quickly on the second. Australia had Lara, Sarwan and Chanderpaul to get through, essentially. Lara put together a good partnership with Sarwan, but again Lara was out in the 60s when looking majestic, this time bowled by a big turning legbreak from MacGill. Sarwan and Chanderpaul then came together, and put on an outstanding partnership of 123. Sarwan eventually scored his second test century, a fine 105, before being caught and bowled by Lee. Jacobs was given out caught next ball, clearly incorrectly. (The umpiring has been terrible in this series). A bad break for him, but the West Indies were six wickets down with 130 runs still needed. It looked like Australia were close to being home. Banks was dropped - an easy catch at slip missed by Love off Lee - in the next over.

And after that, Chanderpaul continued to bat magnificently, and Banks supported him ably. By stumps, the partnership was 83 and the score was 6/371, with the West Indies needing only abother 47 runs and Chanderpaul on 103 not out, his eighth test century and second of the series. The West Indies really should win from here. However, given the Australian ability to come back from the dead that was demonstrated at times in the World Cup, nobody can write them off.

Australia have a habit of taking a wicket or wickets very early on a day, or very early in a session. To win from here, they need to to the same thing here. My strategy would be to throw the ball to Brett Lee and to tell him to bowl a couple of really fast yorkers and see what happens. Lee has the ability to rise to an occasion. I am thinking of the second VB series final against England a couple of months ago. England looked like winning, but Lee came back on and really pulled something special out of the bag to remove the last few batsmen and win the match for Australia. It wouldn't surprise me too much to see him do it here. It is also possible that his pace could make it easier to score runs and this move will lose the match, but it is worth a try. If the match is lost in such circumstances, I will not blame him so much as batting that went wrong in both innings. And Love will really rue dropping that catch.

If a wicket falls in the first 15 minutes, the finish of this match is going to be really exciting, with a win for either side or a tie all being possibilities. If Chanderpaul and Banks can bat out the first half hour, the West Indies will probably be home.

Meanwhile, in other cricket, there is a one day tournament going on in Sri Lanka between Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan. So far New Zealand have resoundingly beaten Pakistan who have resoundingly beaten Sri Lanka who have less resoundingly beaten New Zealand. As the tournament has bonus points that means that New Zealand are ahead of Pakistan who are ahead of Sri Lanka on the points table. Each side has to play each other again before the final of that tournament, so really anything could happen there.

Update: And the West Indies did win: the game. When Chanderpaul was caught behind off Lee after ten minutes of play, with only one run added to the overnight score, it looked like it might be Australia's day after all. However, Banks and Drakes batted sensibly to get the West Indies over the line without the loss of any further wickets. In an hour and a bit of good tense cricket, we had a couple of near edges, one mistimed pull shot which went up in the air and could have come down anywhere but came down away from the fieldsmen, one close but probably correctly not out LBW appeal followed by an enormous six from Drakes, two extremely close LBW appeals off successive balls (the first of which looked absolutely plumb, the second of which also looked out on the replay, but for which the Australians only appealed half-heartedly, perhaps because it wasn't as good a shout as the one the ball before) and a couple of French cuts near the stumps that went for four. I think Steve Waugh made a small blunder in not bringin Glenn McGrath on earlier. As it was he ended up bowling only one over, but it was a really good over. Still, very well played by the West Indians. However, Australia really should not have lost the match from a position where they led by 273 in the second innings with ten wickets remaining. The middle order batsmen did let the side down. Once again, Australia have lost a match after the series was decided.

The main thing that the West Indies can take from the series is the thought that their batting looks much improved. Ganga, Lara, Chanderpaul and Sarwan potentially form the nucleus of one of the best batting sides in world cricket.

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