By Tony Cozier
At the Queen’s Park Oval
FOR all of the drudgery of the opening day – and the futile finale at Kensington Oval – as many as 10,000 were drawn to the Queen’s Park Oval yesterday in the hope of some genuine Test cricket.
It was the largest turnout for some time and, unlike Antigua and Barbados, the numbers did not depend on the travelling England supporters.
The stunning West Indies victory at Sabina, their great escape at the ARG and their commanding response to England’s mammoth total at Kensington Oval have combined to bring a new optimism that the years of despair are coming to an end.
The excitement of the cut and thrust that should be Test cricket was confined to the first hour and the last. What transpired in the interim was a travesty.
For seven consecutive overs from the northern end in the morning, Fidel Edwards generated the kind of controlled pace and hostility that have transformed him into a high-class Test bowler over the past year.
Andrew Strauss has been all but immovable since Sabina. It took one of the balls of the series, Daren Powell’s searing inswinging yorker, to dislodge him at Kensington. Now Edwards produced another to spectacularly knock back his exposed leg-stump.
Inside 20 minutes, another piece of inspiration came from another cricketer of unbounding energy and enthusiasm.
Dwayne Bravo, still awaiting final clearance for a full return following the operation on his left ankle, was on the field as substitute for Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Owais Shah, resuming the innings that cramp in his right hand interrupted the day before, pushed a ball in Bravo’s general direction at mid-wicket, put his head down and sprinted for the opposite end. Mistake.
Bravo, there as fast as Ato Bolden, swooped on the ball and, in one motion, hit the stumps with his underarm return. Shah run out again, as he was in Antigua and as he always seems likely to be. Bravo’s return to full duty cannot come fast enough.
It was a heartening start for the West Indies. But then Edwards came off, Chanderpaul returned for Bravo (had he remained off he would have to bat No.7) and the light switch was suddenly turned off.
Paul Collingwood was allowed to gather his second hundred of the series and Matt Prior marked his return to the team, and the arrival of his son, with his second. None has ever come easier, none are unlikely to again.
A proliferation of singles were gifted through simple taps to mid-off and mid-on, both stationed deep enough for the purpose.
There were honest spells from Lionel Baker, eventually rewarded with his first wickets in Tests, and Ryan Hinds, whose line was mostly leg-stump and outside from over the wicket. But the field was deep set and they were never threatening.
Brendon Nash’s left-arm medium-pace was given its longest workout of his career. Chris Gayle himself went through a few casual overs of off-spin. Lendl Simmons was given a go and Devon Smith had his first bowl in Test, his solitary over confirming why.
It was an exercise in futility, the object simply waiting for England’s declaration.
It was only after Strauss called his team in and decided to give his bowlers 19 overs to have a go at Gayle and Smith that the West Indies turned their light back on.
Gayle, the laid-back, lifeless captain on the field, was transformed into action man with a bat in his hand. Smith followed his lead.
This, at last, was the cricket that the diehards had come to see. For the preceding four hours, they would have been better down the islands or at Arima for the races or in the Botanical Garden watching the flowers bloom. It certainly wasn’t Test cricket. Ends.