Windies need to blow up a storm
Such is the richness of West Indian cricket history and the scale of the Caribbean team’s success that most supporters are still unable to see the true starkness of the present-day reality, preferring instead to hope, and dream, of a return to the glory days – even just the competitive ones.
Despite a world Test ranking of eighth, just ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, there are many thousands who believe that captain Denesh Ramdin’s team has a fighting chance against South Africa when the first of three Test matches starts at Centurion Park on Wednesday. Every rational and logical indicator suggests they do not.
But that’s why we love sport.
Underdogs eat logic.
In 12 Test matches in this country since the first series in 1998-1999, the tourists have won one and lost 10. The 1990s was a wretched decade for Caribbean cricket. At the beginning of it, the West Indies were still good enough to beat Australia 2-1 at home and away. By the end of it, they suffered the most humiliating series defeat in their history when they lost all five Tests to South Africa under the insipid captaincy of their finest batsman, Brian Lara.
“I fear this tour will be just as difficult as the previous three; there is no reason to feel any different,” said Ian Bishop, one of the few able and willing to speak from the head rather than the heart. “The batting is so fragile … nobody can see it holding up against Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander, and others, in their home conditions,” Bishop said this week.
“Shiv Chanderpaul will be hard to dismiss but he is 40 now … he cannot do it alone and will need the others to rise to the challenge. Marlon Samuels has scored runs in South Africa before. Perhaps he will do so again. Opener Kraigg Brathwaite is an old-style Test batsman who enjoys batting for long periods of time, but it will be a huge challenge for him,” Bishop said.
“Assad Fudadin was called up in place of Darren Bravo when he withdrew for personal reasons and he averages 35 in first-class cricket. When Chris Gayle withdrew with an injured back, the selectors went back to Devon Smith, who is 33 and averages 24 in 33 Tests.”
If the batting won’t make the West Indies competitive, perhaps the fast bowling will? Five quicks have been named in the squad with Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor leading the attack and 25-year-old left-armer Sheldon Cottrell providing the raw pace. If they make the best of local conditions, might they at least put the South African top order under pressure?
“Jacques Kallis might not be there anymore, and there may be a new face or two, but there’s still Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis … there’s a lot of quality there. Roach had outstanding potential until he injured his shoulder a while ago and has not rediscovered the venom and pace which he had. Taylor is just returning to Test cricket after a break and Cottrell, while capable of genuine pace, is still up-and-coming. This may be a learning tour for him,” said Bishop, who was one of the most outstanding bowlers of his generation and claimed 161 wickets in 43 Tests for the West Indies.
Shannon Gabriel, with 137 first-class wickets in 52 matches at an average of 29, and 23-year-old Jason Holder, with 60 victims in 24 matches at a cost of 22 each, complete the pace quintet. They may spring a surprise, but nothing suggests they are capable of series- or even match-defining spells.
The unforgiving scoreboard
The first Test at the Wanderers was a close contest with just seven runs between the teams on first innings but Shaun Pollock’s 4-49 helped to dismiss the tourists for just 170 second time around and a youthful Jacques Kallis (57*) guided the home side to a four-wicket victory, despite the best efforts of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, who shared five wickets.
Threats of demonstrations and even riots before the second Test at St George’s Park in protest over the all-white composition of the national team led to United Cricket Board chief executive Ali Bacher directing the selectors to include Herschelle Gibbs in the starting XI. The man to make way was Bacher’s nephew, Adam.
South Africa galloped to victory within three days with Shaun Pollock (5-43) and Allan Donald (5-49) doing most of the damage as the tourists were bowled out for just 121 and 141, both in less than 40 overs. It led to captain Brian Lara issuing an unreserved apology to the people of South Africa and the Caribbean for “an embarrassing performance”.
More of the same followed at Kingsmead where Jonty Rhodes (87) helped to build another lead of 100-plus before Pollock’s 5-83 ensured a nine-wicket victory – despite a half-century in both innings from Lara.
Kallis produced one of his most compelling performances at Newlands, just failing to become the only player in Test history to score two hundreds and claim a five-wicket haul. Having made 110 in the first innings Kallis was given an hour after lunch to move from the 70s to another century but crawled slowly to 88 not out when captain Hansie Cronje put the team’s interests first and declared in pursuit of victory.
With an injured Donald unable to bowl in the second innings, it was Kallis who shared the new ball with Pollock and the tourists were wrecked by the close of play on day four at 93-6. Kallis finished with a career best 5-90 to seal victory by 149 runs.
To suggest that Lara’s team were playing for pride in the fifth Test at Centurion would be to suggest there was any pride left. But Walsh did his best with 6-80 only for Mark Boucher to score 100 at number eight to post a first innings of 313. There were only two scores in double figures when the West Indies replied with 144 – Lara’s 68 and Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 38. Donald took 5-49. Again.
The collective Caribbean spirit had been crushed, although Gary Kirsten made absolutely certain of it with a gruelling 134 from 305 balls in the second innings. Rhodes was like a cat with its first mouse, smashing 103 from only 95 balls to equal the South African record for the fastest Test century. The West Indies target was 569, another humiliation in itself. Instead of the pacemen, it was Paul Adams who finished them off for the final time claiming 4-64 for a 351-run victory.
Graeme Smith (132) and Kallis (158) contributed most to a monster total of 561 at the Wanderers but it was Lara’s double century on the third day that provided the most relief and pleasure. Finally! But even so, the tourists were still 150 behind, a deficit quickly turned into a target of 378. It was far too many — Pollock (4-31) and Makhaya Ntini (4-53) completed the 189-run win.
There were three hundreds for the home side in the second Test with Gibbs (142), Kallis (177) and Kirsten (137) combining for an even more intimidating 658-9. Despite second innings centuries from Ramnaresh Sarwan (114) and Chanderpaul (109), the tourists were still overwhelmed by an innings and 65 runs.
In the context of everything that preceded it, the New Year draw at Newlands could be regarded as a West Indian triumph. The runs flowed again for South Africa with centuries for Jacques Rudolph (101) and Boucher (122*) in a total of 532, but Chris Gayle (116) and Lara (115) responded in kind with a total of 427.
Gibbs (142) and Kallis (130*) increased the lead to 440 but Lara (86) and Dwayne Smith (105) counterattacked in thrilling style to reach 354-5 when stumps were drawn.
Runs flowed freely once again in the fourth Test with Smith (139) and Gibbs (192) sharing an opening stand of 301 and Kallis (130*) completing a record aggregate (712) for the series in a total of 604-6. Ntini’s 5-49 helped to enforce the follow-on and a 10-wicket victory duly ensued.
The solitary Caribbean success on South African soil was much celebrated and cherished at St George’s Park, where veteran Chanderpaul ground out 104 and Marlon Samuels made 94 in a total of 408 before Dwayne Bravo claimed 4-24 when an out-of-sorts Proteas side was bundled out for just 195. Despite managing just 175 second time around, the lead was too substantial and Gayle was able to lead the partying for a famous win by 128 runs.
Dale Steyn (4-60) dismantled the first innings at Newlands but, for once, the home side didn’t have things all their own way with the bat, with the West Indies notching up 243 against the Proteas’ 321. Chanderpaul (70*) bravely held the second innings together and there was a real sense that South Africa might falter in pursuit of 185 for victory on a wearing pitch. But Smith hammered 85 from just 79 balls during one of his many epic run-chase innings.
The third Test was as one-sided as any between the teams with South Africa prevailing by an innings and 100 runs. Having dismissed the tourists for just 139 at Kingsmead on the back of Pollock’s 4-35, Smith (147), Ashwell Prince (123*) and AB de Villiers (103*) created intolerable pressure with a total of 556-4 declared. Steyn completed the rout with 6-72.