In what is easily the most competitive West Indies versus Australia test series duel since that famous 2-2 draw in 1998/99, both sides fought out a keen battle of attrition on the opening day of the second Digicel test at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, yesterday.
Winning the toss and batting first, Australia crawled to 208/5 at stumps.
The two “Shane’s” Watson and Shillingford were the standout players on the day, Watson with his 18th test half century and Shillingford, with his metronomic spell of off-spin bowling on his return to test cricket after a two-year absence.
Before the action bowled off, both teams made changes based on injuries and pitch conditions.
The West Indies’ thin batting line-up got even thinner when vice-captain and key number three batsman Kirk Edwards was ruled out.
He was replaced by Kieran Powell who looked out of his depth during the one-day series leg of the tour while Shillingford came in for Devendra Bishoo who was off colour in Barbados.
Australia, meanwhile, lost their injury-prone spearhead and first test Player-of-the-Match, Ryan Harris, and the bustling Victorian Peter Siddle.
They duly drafted in James Pattinson and left-arm spinner Michael Beer, which meant the baggy green boys have based their attack on two spinners for the first time since Jason Krejza and Cameron White played in a 172-run loss to India in Nagpur, in 2008.
Immediately drama occurred in the first over of the innings which is sure to give skeptics of the Decision Review System (DRS) further ammunition to question its legitimacy or at a minimum create a fresh grey area for the manufacturers and umpires in world cricket to query.
David Warner was given out caught behind by South African umpire Marias Erasmus to a delivery he didn’t edge, although an lbw shout on replays looked a creditable option.
However, in quite bizarre manner, Sammy withdrew his appeal for the supposed catch, citing it did not carry.
That decision raises an interesting can of worms. Warner was given out caught.
If Sammy had not withdrawn the appeal and Warner had challenged the decision as per standard procedure, it would have obviously been seen to be not-out in relation to the catch.
But for the Hawk-eye the LBW was ‘on field call’. The question is, would it have ‘stayed out’ as that is what the on-field call was, even though he was given out for something else. Or would the ‘on-field call’ specifically relating to the LBW be not out, meaning he was given not out.
In the midst of all the confusion, we essentially could have witnessed the first reversing of a decision (from out to not out) despite Hawk-eye saying ‘on field call’.
As the first session foraged on after that over, Warner, and his opening partner Ed Cowan, reached their second 50-run opening stand of the series on the stroke of the drinks break in the 13th over.
Just like that alliance in the first innings in Barbados – the duo scored the runs at a rate of four per over – combining a few forceful shots with aggressive running.
The home side then clawed its way back into the session accounting for both openers in the final hour before lunch that yielded a paltry 22 runs.
Shillingford, who made his test debut versus South Africa in 2010 at this venue, removed Warner with his fifth delivery of the morning edging a catch to first slip. Then 10 minutes before lunch, Cowan was adjudged leg-before to Roach, to a delivery from around the wicket that struck him below the knee-roll, although he reviewed it – leaving the Aussies 65/2 in the 25th over at the stage.
The second session resumed 10 minutes late with the score on 74/2 and in the first over after the interval, Ricky Ponting had to hurriedly get his bat down to keep out a sharp turning off-break, a further indication of the role spin will play throughout the duration of this test.
That Shillingford creeper proved to be the least of Ponting’s problems in the interim as Roach, the bowler who played a key part in him going through a two-year century-less drought (which only ended recently) proved to be his nemesis again.
Ponting, who scored one of his five career double-centuries the last time he batted at the Oval in 2003, tried to turn a straight delivery into the leg-side, but the ball took the outer edge where Sammy took his second catch of the day on the rebound after wicket-keeper Carlton Baugh had spilled it.
Captain Michael Clarke joined Watson who was holding the innings together and the duo clearly adopted a tactic to consolidate for the remainder of the afternoon session as Australia crawled to another 49 runs in 24.3 overs after Ponting’s dismissal.
Only in the 37th over when Watson played a savage pull and then a cut shot off Roach, did the Australians ever look to up the ante.
This period of play clearly brought the almost capacity first day crowd into a state of prolonged ennui.
This state of affairs seemed to propel the world famous “Trini Posse” to erupt into its traditional party atmosphere and a crescendo of Mexican waves were orchestrated across the five (5) respective multi-decker stands around the Oval.
Clarke started the final session as the aggressor thumping two eye-catching cover drives of Roach’s second over after the resumption.
However, before the partnership could move into third gear the West Indies dismissed both set batsmen in the space of 10 overs.
After surviving an extremely contentious DRS leg-before review off Shillingford (who was having an impressive day) Clarke failed to cash in on that reprieve as he managed to pull a Narsingh Deonarine delivery down the throat of deep mid-wicket for 45 (99 balls, 8x4s, 131 minutes).
The Watson/Clarke fourth wicket alliance was worth 84.
Shillingford, who was getting the ball to turn and bounce fairly sharply at this stage, should have had Mike Hussey caught behind three overs later, with the score on 173/4 in the 69th over, when the batsman was on five (5), but Baugh dropped his second catch of the day.
Crucially this time, he had no one was nearby to take the rebound.
The 29-year Windward’s `offie’ who was the second highest wicket-taker before the final of the on-going regional four-day season, finally clinched the prized victim of Watson for 58 (172 balls, 7×4, 227 minutes), caught sharply by Adrian Barath at bat-pad, leaving the game in the balance with the score on 178/5 in the 73rd over.
Hussey and wicket-keeper Matthew Wade then saw out the final 17 overs to take the visitors to the close without any further damage.
AUSTRALIA 1st innings
D Warner c Sammy b Shillingford 29
E Cowan lbw b Roach 28
S Watson c Barath b Shillingford 56
R Ponting c Sammy b Roach 7
*M Clarke c Shillingford b Deonarine 45
M Hussey not out 26
+M Wade not out 11
Extras (lb3, nb3) 6
TOTAL (5 wkts; 90 overs) 208
To bat: M Beer, B Hilfenhaus, N Lyon, J Pattinson.
Fall of wickets: 1-53 (Warner), 2-65 (Cowan), 3-83 (Ponting), 4-167 (Clarke), 5-178 (Watson)
Bowling: Edwards 13-7-28-0, Roach 18-4-77-2, Sammy 12-4-16-0, Shillingford 32-11-56-2, Deonarine 15-3-28-1,
WEST INDIES – *D Sammy, A Barath, K Brathwaite, K Powell, D Bravo, S Chanderpaul, N Deonarine, +C Baugh, S Shillingford, K Roach, F Edwards.
UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus, Ian Gould; TV – Tony Hill.