8th December 2013
When the Sawdust Settles – match reviews
1st Test Match: New Zealand v West Indies at University Oval, Dunedin, New Zealand
New Zealand 609-9 dec (Taylor 217no, McCullum 113) & 79-4 drew with West Indies 213 & 507 (Bravo 218)
Elmer Bernstein’s superb theme from the perennial movie favourite The Great Escape is traditionally the opening number played by Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army’s itinerant trumpeter, on Test Match days featuring England on tour.
Sadly for travelling supporters the tune could be whistled and hummed with far more satisfaction in Dunedin this week than in Adelaide.
While hoots and boos rang out in the UK media at a second successive inept performance by England in the Ashes, across the Caribbean and beyond the West Indies’ fans were united in one cry:
It’s been an extremely frustrating and disappointing month or two for Caribbean cricket lovers, of which I count myself (despite my thoroughly British background) – the misconceived and ill-fated tour of India taking the West Indies seemingly back-to-square-one after a run of six successive Test victories.
Accepting a short-notice invitation to the Tendulkar circus may have seemed a good idea at the time to the WICB: a Big Top, Big Farewell for the Little Master – but the tourists only had themselves to blame for ultimately being cast in the role of the clowns.
Darren Sammy and co didn’t literally turn up for the two Tests in huge, clumsy shoes, sporting colourful make-up in a comedic exploding car, but they may just as well have done – since the wheels certainly fell off their cricket.
The batsmen in general were incapable of any serious application, and their wickets tumbled like prat-falling acrobats. The bowlers (Shillingford excepted) were little better. Their proffered fare being akin to a mixture of tame custard pies and squirty buttonhole flowers. The opposition, the crowd, and the world’s media laughed heartily for a while, before seeing Tendulkar off into a tearful sunset.
Did we expect much better in New Zealand? After the performance in India, probably not. It certainly didn’t bode well when in the 1st Test’s warm-up fixture the West Indies XI had to field 6 New Zealanders in their side (seriously? Yes, truly!).
With most of the squad still playing in the meaningless ODIs in India after the main event (Tendulkar wasn’t appearing in those games – so why on Earth were they necessary?) those who’d already travelled to New Zealand had to be supplemented by ‘guest’ West Indians to make up a whole team.
This sort of nonsense is usually reserved for Mickey Mouse weekend friendly matches that writers like Marcus Berkmann describe so wittily in books such as Rain Men and Zimmer Men – not proper games played as preparation for Test Matches.
The West Indies XI could have amounted to 6 bona fides if Kraigg Brathwaite’s visa had been organised. Chris Gayle’s injury in the first ODI v India necessitated his call up for the NZ tour – but responsibility for requesting his visa from either the NZ High Commission or via the NZC Board was smoothly passed from buck to buck, and ultimately fell through the kraicks. In an interview with New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB, Tony Cozier described the build-up as “a shambles”.
So far, so sadly familiar. After three days of the 1st Test many of us were writing Darren Sammy’s international playing obituary, and saw nothing but huge black clouds on the horizon for West Indian cricket.
And then something unusual happened. Somewhere, somehow a few players remembered how to play Test Cricket. Why this should happen at all is a mystery given recent performances, but to do so in the middle of an important Test was not only surprising but heart warming.
The week before the Test, the University Oval had experienced temperatures dipping below 10 degrees. Having just skipped off a plane from India where barometers had regularly touched 40, it was perhaps understandable the tourists’ heads and bodies were reeling from a 30 degree turn around. By the way, I will mention here that December is the wettest month of the year in Dunedin…
But for the Test Match the sun shone, and the scale hit 20 – encouraging the Kiwi TV commentators to suggest the tourists would be enjoying the local heat wave. It must have been a while since Chris Cairns, Craig McMillan, Simon Doull et al played at the Kensington Oval, where I doubt a chilly daytime twenty degrees has been experienced in a generation or three.
Warm(ish) weather to play in then – but the same old, cold performance by West Indies. Sammy won the toss and put them in (did he espy a green top?) – and New Zealand racked up in excess of 600. Gabriel was laboured, his pace dipping as low as the 80mph mark, and his previous ‘heavy’ ball now floating harmlessly onto the middle of the bat.
Tino was Tino: all heart and bluster, yet little to show for it. And Sammy himself was bemusing. Having bowled a meagre 21 overs across the two Tests in India, he now decided HE was the man to exploit the first morning conditions. With a previous Test best of 1-76 v New Zealand (and an average of 151.00 per wicket – that ‘onefer’ being the only one), clearly he was going to do the damage.
Having inserted the opposition, and with nearly-new ball in hand, the skipper bowled nine overs with it before lunch (9-3-30-0). Penetrating stuff! However blustering Best may have been, notwithstanding how stiff and possibly unfit Gabriel was, did they really only merit 6 and 7 overs apiece? One has to seriously question Sammy the captain’s misuse of Sammy the bowler.
This is not the first time he’s hogged the new ball. At Bridgetown earlier this year he bowled the most overs of any of the seamers on the first morning of the first Test v Zimbabwe. In one Test in India recently he opened the bowling immediately after both lunch and tea; and in another actually opened the innings’ bowling, demoting Tino to second change. Very curious.
Surely Sammy should be doing the donkey work, like Jacques Kallis or Shane Watson? Bowling the hard graft afternoon and evening session overs, when his strike bowlers need to rest and refresh themselves for ‘one last burst’? He should be the man his captain turns to to bowl dry. Perhaps Sammy and Sammy need to have a proper chat about his bowling role in the side?
The first innings batting of West Indies was predictable. Only Chanderpaul, as usual, showing how to bat in a game scheduled to last five days – as oppose to the Indian tour when the entire Test series only lasted as long. The innings stretched to 62.1 overs. In their four innings in India they managed 78, 54.1, 55.2, and 47. Sammy led the way there. Batting four times he made 25 runs (16, 8, 0 and 1) off 58 balls.
The irony to all of the above of course is this story, or at least this chapter, has a happy ending. And the lambasted skipper had a very big part in it too.
The hero was the lion-hearted Darren Bravo. The young man of the side. The left-hander likened to Brian Lara. THE future of West Indies batting we’ve been told. Also the guy in the top six who according to this correspondent was the most in need of being dropped. But what do I know?
Statistically, Bravo, despite an overall Test average before the match of 42.65, was averaging under 30 going back over the last eighteen months to the tour of England. Even the much maligned Ramdin has managed to average over 40 in that period, despite being deemed incapable of filling the Test no.6 slot. How England wish Matt Prior had achieved that figure over the same period!
But Bravo, supported by useful knocks by Edwards and Deonarine, and genuinely mature batting by Sammy, did enough to stretch the game into the last day. Where West Indies’ first innings lasted 374 balls, Bravo’s alone in the second soaked up 416 – with the little matter of 218 runs too.
Did I say he “did enough?” No, it was more than that. Much more.
This was a truly GREAT innings.
That the rain came was fitting. This was not a case of the weather intervening to deny New Zealand a victory that was rightfully theirs – more the downpour bestowing upon West Indies what they had truly earned: showering the visitors with the glory of a draw.
These huge black clouds on the immediate horizon of West Indian cricket could not have been more timely, or deserving.
Now, after the applause and the “Bravo’s” have died down, we will see whether the clowns have enough in them for a serious encore.