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CARIBBEAN - cricket

Date March 10, 2006 Compliments of the Nation News

by TONY COZIER in Auckland

THE WEST INDIES began the second day of the opening Test yesterday (overnight Eastern Caribbean time) hoping that their three leading batsmen could match the bright morning sunshine and lift the gloom that descended over the innings in the closing few minutes of the previous evening.

Within quarter-of-an-hour, the situation became distinctly dimmer with the dismissal of Brian Lara for five. It deepened 40 minutes later when captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul followed for 13.

From 51 for three, the score had declined to 90 for five, leaving vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan and the young tyros down the order - the two Dwaynes, Bravo and Smith, and Denesh Ramdin - to prevent New Zealand securing a match-winning lead on a pitch that was markedly easier, if by no means flat, than it had been the day before.

In the hour-and-a-quarter to lunch, Sarwan, batting fluently, was 59 and had found a solid partner in Dwayne Bravo who aided in a partnership of 70. He was unbeaten on 28 with the West Indies 160 for five, behind by 115 after adding 109 runs from 28 overs in the session.

The overnight presence of Lara, who was forced to appear when three wickets fell for two runs at the end of the day, attracted a few hundred more spectators than the few scattered around Eden Park yesterday.

A peerless, trademark off-driven four off left-arm swinger James Franklin held immediate promise but a miscued pull off the first ball he received from the pacer Shane Bond - his 12th overall - brought his undoing. He was through the shot too early and provided a comfortable catch to the substitute at midwicket.

Chanderpaul was in long enough to gather three fours to third man with his favoured cut shot but was then dislodged by a poor ball from Franklin, angled down the leg-side. It found a fine edge on the left-hander's attempted leg-glance and the 'keeper gathered the catch.

By then, Sarwan was well established, prospering with cuts over gully and sweetly timed drives through cover and straight. But he too might have fallen before lunch, Chris Martin failing to hold a firmly struck return catch when he was 42 and the score 122 for five.

An overthrow that earned him five carried Sarwan to his 50 from 71 balls with eight fours his main scoring shots.

The series got under way on Thursday with a bizarre, not to say farcical, opening day.

Contested in mostly sunny, but chilly, weather on a what was once known as a "sporting"pitch - and one prepared in a concrete tray off-site and dropped into the middle a few days earlier - it proceeded at a breakneck clip influenced by the hangover of the preceding One-Day Internationals.

The statistics were a fair guide to the pace of the contest. There were 44 fours, scored from every part of the bat in every direction on the field, and two sixes in the 326 accumulated from the 86.1 overs. The counter-balance was 13 wickets.

It began with the rarest of dismissals, the run-out of an over-eager batsman on debut, backing up so far that the deflection from the bowler's left hand found him well short of his ground.

It continued with a bewildering mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly as New Zealand, sent in, posted a competitive 275 against the weakest West Indies bowling side I can recall in a Test match, further diminished by a left hamstring strain that limited one of its number, Jerome Taylor, to eight overs.

Ian Bradshaw, the left-arm seamer who claimed three wickets, was on debut at the age of 31.

Dwayne Smith, the lively medium-pacer pressed into service because of the known inability of Dwayne Bravo to bowl similar stuff, doubled his number of Test wickets with three.

Taylor had one to add to his previous three but Fidel Edwards, the spearhead of the attack with 53 wickets from his 20 Tests, didn't take another and was punished to the tune of 76 from 15 overs for his waywardness and his penchant for pitching too short.

The day ended with the tumble of three West Indies wickets for two runs in the space of nine balls in the closing minutes that left them 51 for three.

At the centre of the drama through the last two sessions was Scott Styris, a doughty all-round cricketer the West Indies came to know at first-hand when he marked his debut Test in Grenada three years ago with scores of 104 and 69 not out.

He entered in the penultimate over to lunch with captain Stephen Fleming undone by a testing delivery from Ian Bradshaw that found the outside edge on the way through to wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin.

The ball was darting around this way and that off the greenish surface, uncertain bats were being passed and edges found with frequency and, with New Zealand 70 for four from 26 tentative overs at the first interval, the West Indies clearly held the upper hand.

First Nathan Astle, a seasoned and combative opponent, then Styris changed the course of the innings and possibly the match with a deliberate assault.

Astle was given ample opportunity by Taylor and Edwards to reveal his liking for the pull and the cut that brought most of his ten fours in 51 from 57 balls.

They were excited by the two blows that Astle took to the grill of the helmet in the last two matches - in the fifth ODI from Edwards, early in his innings yesterday by Taylor. But it was the wrong policy.

Astle's merriment ended when he chased an outswinger from Smith and was caught by Ramdin.

Brendon McCallum, the ebullient wicket-keeper, arrived to play a shot-a-ball and then had his off-stump knocked back by Smith offering no shot at all.

Daniel Vettori, a good enough left-hander at No. 8 to have two Test hundreds to his name, guided Smith to first slip a few overs before tea so that New Zealand went to the second interval 216 for seven.

Off 27 overs in the session, their batsmen had collected 26 fours against their Taylor-less opponents that forced the use of Smith, like Bradshaw before him, for 13 consecutive overs.

Styris was 58 entering the last session and confidently advanced to his hundred with handsome strokes off both front and back foot. The left-handed Franklin and Bond remained with him as valuable runs were added, Chris Gayle accounting for both, the former to substitute Runako Morton's magnificent two-handed catch at slip. Styris was still unbeaten when the innings ended. But his day's work was not over.

After Gayle and Daren Ganga got through testing opening overs from Bond and Franklin to put 47 on the board, Fleming turned to his alternatives, Chris Martin and the batting hero.

Soon, Chris Martin got one to lift more than Ganga expected and he parried a catch to gully. At the opposite end, Styris accounted for nightwatchman Bradshaw and Gayle to catches off the outside edge.

A day that had started so promisingly for the West Indies had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.


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