As the menacing steel grey clouds closed in from all directions on the Queen’s Park Oval on Thursday afternoon, it didn’t require Selma Husbands’ metereological expertise to know that the second Test had little time left before it was prematurely condemned to the anti-climax of a draw.
Yet, even then, both teams were aware that there was still enough time to rack up a few late psychological points to carry to Dominica for the final match, starting at Windsor Park tomorrow. The question was which side was bold enough to take them. The answer was that both were.
When the shower that soon became a deluge arrived, the daring of captain Darren Sammy who, until then, had a forgettable match, saw to it that they were with the West Indies, just, but with them all the same.
Michael Clarke’s second innings declaration sought primarily to embarrass the West Indies with a cluster of cheap wickets before the heavens opened. His similar closure in the first innings in the preceding Test at Kensington so unsettled the opposition they meekly capitulated to 18 for four, a prelude to defeat next day.
When Kieron Powell and Adrian Barath fell to Ben Hilfenhaus’ late swing within the first four overs, Clarke was achieving his purpose.
Sammy then trumped him by appearing at No.3 (his previous highest position in 39 Test innings was No.7) and pounding the threatening Hilfenhaus for six, four, four in the same over and Shane Watson for two more fours. He was unbeaten 30 off 24 balls when the end arrived and the momentum had shifted, slightly but significantly, to the West Indies.
Sammy’s elevation made an important statement. The West Indies, for once, had taken up a challenge. Such an approach is needed over the coming week if they are to achieve what was widely regarded as unachievable when the Aussies arrived, a share of the series.
They carry several problems into the Test – a tentative opening pair, a No.3 spot that needs to be filled in the absence of Kirk Edwards, a lengthy lower order – but they know they can match opponents not as formidable as they appeared from their 4-0 thrashing of India at home in the preceding contest.
Just as it had at Kensington Oval a few days earlier, the Queen’s Park fortunes twisted and turned with the unpredictably of Sunil Narine’s box of tricks.
On the slow, spinning pitch, Australia, batting first, had transformed 208 for six into 311 all out. The West Indies contrived to go into the opposite direction; after Shivarine Chanderpaul, one more time, and Narsingh Deonarine had seen them out of early trouble to the seeming comfort of 230 for four, they tumbled in familiar fashion to 257 all out.
In the circumstances, Australia’s 54 lead with two days remaining was enough to encourage their optimism of another victory. The equation was compromised by two factors – the weather that allowed only another 71.5 overs and high quality West Indies bowling, with the magnificent Kemar Roach to the fore, that stifled Australia’s eagerness to advance more swiftly (wickets went regularly and they could only manage an unsatisfactory rate of 2.58 runs an over).
Together they disrupted Clarke’s initial plan, compelling him to delay his declaration until the fall of the eighth wicket (effectively the ninth since the injured James Pattinson was even then packing for his return home).
With the murky light and the arriving rain, the option of either team pressing for victory had passed. Only a few late bonus points were on offer and Sammy’s timely bravado gained most of them for the West Indies. As the West Indies selectors’ monitor the final Test at Windsor Park over the coming week, their attention will be more on their next task, picking the team for the England tour that immediately follows.
It is a measure of the way series are now crammed into the packed international programme that the first of two first-class matches starts less than a week after the third Test in Roseau, on May 5, against Sussex at Hove. The second is two days later, against England’s reserves (the Lions) at Northampton, leading to the first of three Tests at Lord’s May 17-21.
The teams have had vastly contrasting fortunes in the two years since they last met, in two, hastily arranged, substitute Tests, in England in arctic May 2009. The West Indies players clearly were there under duress, hand warmers, rather than the usual sun glasses, their favoured accessory. They duly lost both matches by large margins.
Ten of the Englishmen from that series have stayed to subsequently carry them to No.1 in the ICC rankings (the odd man out is Paul Collingwood who has since retired); in contrast, the West Indies remain securely at No.7, only Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Fidel Edwards surviving from the 2009 Tests among those likely to be on the selectors’ list this time. And even Fidel’s latest back problem has raised doubts about his short-term future.
Chris Gayle, then captain, is still with the Indian Premier League (IPL), the dispute between him and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that has ruled him ineligible for selection unsettled and ongoing.
Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brendon Nash are on contracts with county teams, Denesh Ramdin and Lendl Simmons are carrying injuries, Devon Smith and Lionel Baker are out of the reckoning through performance, Sulieman Benn has been overtaken by a couple of emerging spinners and no one is quite certain of Jerome Taylor’s status, for both Jamaica and the West Indies.
Others who would surely have been in the reckoning (Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels and Sunil Narine) were uncertain of gaining a place and have chosen the IPL instead.
Shifting virtually overnight from the heat, humidity and pitches of the Caribbean to the completely alien environment of England in early spring can be a harrowing experience for the several young players Clyde Butts and his panel have at their limited disposal.
Several have had a feel of England in the warmth of later in the season but not against a strong, settled England team.
Darren Sammy and Carlton Baugh were in the 2004 (but not 2009) Test team. Narsingh Deonarine was there in 2009 without gaining a Test place. Kirk Edwards, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo and Asad Fudadin were on the ‘A’ team tour in 2010. Keiron Powell made heaps of runs for his school in England.
The Tests to come present an altogether more demanding challenge to the fledglings who now carry the West Indies standard. A strong finish to the current series against Australia would at least send them off with a boost of confidence, even if hand warmers again await them.