By Tony Cozier
At the Queen’s Park Oval
THE final day of the Test series has effectively developed into the first one-day international.
The main difference through today’s 90 overs is that only one team, England, needs to win, desperately. The West Indies are one up and, as they demonstrated from the start, are fully and understandably satisfied with the draw that will secure the series.
England’s grip on the Wisden Trophy, as vice-like for the past nine years as the West Indies’ once was for the preceding 27, was all but finally prised apart yesterday by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash who extended their overnight partnership to 234 that, all told, occupied 82 overs and more than two sessions.
With similar methods and resolve, the two like-minded left-handers restricted the lead and the time England needed to secure an unlikely victory on a pitch that has yielded six individual hundreds, nearly 1,200 runs and 18 wickets over the first four days.
But they have nothing to lose except a rubber that, with one day remaining, is all but already lost. They must depend on their batsmen to rattle along this morning at breakneck pace, around 140 more by lunch, and on the West Indies batsmen to blow it in the remaining two sessions.
The first option is not implausible, especially as Kevin Pietersen is still in. Given the West Indies resilience throughout the series, the quality of the pitch and the proximity of their first relevant series triumph since 2003, the second most certainly is. There were times, not so long ago, when West Indian nerves would be jangling, even with such a scenario. Not so now.
This team’s self-belief has grown with every Test over the past 18 months and for Chris Gayle to hobble up to receive the Trophy tonight would be a further boost. Something quite remarkable would have to occur to prevent that.
Yesterday belonged to Chanderpaul and Nash but, for good reason, far more to Nash.
Hundreds have become commonplace for Chanderpaul. For two years, he has been Test cricket’s most immovable object.
This was his seventh hundred since June 2007. It was one of his scratchiest but there he was once more when the last wicket fell, 147 to his name after defiance for 361 balls, the eleventh of his hundreds that had the star against it.
This was no more than we have come to expect from the obdurate Guyanese. He has been around since he first shuffled into a Test match on his home ground of Bourda, aged 19, in 1994. Only Sachin Tendulkar of contemporary Test players has endured longer.For Nash, this is new ground. This is only his seventh Test (counting the Antigua abandonment) since his adventurous move less than two years ago from his native Australia to the land of his proud Jamaican parents and of his conception.
His first-class career seemed at an end when he lost his place and his contract with Queensland three seasons back after a promising start. Test cricket was then nothing more than a pipe dream.
But he believed in himself. His father and mother encouraged him to pursue his vision. When he was back as a fan for the 2007 World Cup, Jeffrey Dujon and Courtney Walsh backed him. It was all he needed.
There was no certainty he would even go past playing for Kingston Club. By dint of the hard work gleaned from his upbringing in the uncompromising environment of Australian cricket, he hopped quickly from Kingston, to Jamaica, to West Indies.
There were several obstacles in his way, not all of them on the field. Thankfully for West Indies cricket, he paid them no heed and simply concentrated on his goal.
He has been a revelation. He has provided the steel to the lower middle-order that once came from two like left-handers, Larry Gomes and Jimmy Adams.
This was his maiden Test hundred, the fourth time he has passed 50 in his eight innings. He set out on each of those from wobbly team positions. This was his third three-figure partnership. Like Chanderpaul, he thrives in a crisis.
The English media scurried around yesterday trying to identify the last white West Indian to score a Test hundred. Charlie Davis? Larry Gomes? Gerry Alexander?
Like Nash, they are light-skinned but all have the blood of the cosmopolitan mix of West Indian people. In this day and age, it shouldn’t really matter.
All that mattered was that he was the latest in a long line of West Indian century maker of all races and colours and mixtures.
Apart from himself, in this innings alone, there was one from a captain of African ancestry and another from his left-handed partner with forefathers from the Indian sub-continent. Long may it be so.