Tales from two test match scenes
Events of the closing of 2015 made it in conscience difficult to wish our readers a happy new year, from the West Indies cricket perspective. Things have been bad and for the most part expected to get worse before any serious possibilities could arise towards improvement one way or another. To be rather candid, in our right senses the tour to Australia has been undertaken as a grim and burdensome commitment. Our players do not appear to possess the pedigree to compete against the Aussies on credible terms. West Indies are outgunned in batting, bowling and fielding. Therefore, we started under severe disadvantages. In no way could anything more than a semblance of competitiveness have been expected. How did things turn out? The first Test at a climatically chilly Hobart must have made our players homesick for the comforts of a few home-made Christmas rum punches. Australia drummed up 583 for 4 declared – a huge recovery after being down 121 for 3 at lunch on Boxing Day.
Hand warmers or not, West Indies bowled very badly. Shawn Marsh, 182, partnered with Voges, 269 not out, to amass 449 to post 438 for 3 at stumps and later to enable 583 for 4 at lunch on the second day.
In very meek fashion, only Darren Bravo, 108, aided and abetted by Kemar Roach, 31, showed any resistance in taking West Indies to 223 in 70 overs. The follow-on brought little for supporters from the Caribbean to cheer. We were bundled out for 148 in 37 overs – in which Kraigg Brathwaite's 94 shone like a lovely beacon. It was sad that he failed to get a hundred, largely because of an absence of partners willing to endure with him. Pitifully we lost by an innings and 212 runs.
Come the 2nd Test at Melbourne, and with the weather far more godly, it was hoped that West Indies would have won the toss and at least enjoyed their innings. What did we have? Holder won the toss and elected to bowl – after his bowlers had demonstrated in no uncertain manner an anaemic condition at Hobart. Australia embraced West Indies' generosity by piling up 551 for 3 declared in 126 overs. Smith, 134 not out, Voges, 106 not out, Burns, 128, and Khwaja, 144, emphasized why the Aussies have posted more than 500 runs in a string of five first innings at home. It did not help West Indies that a few highly takable chances were put down – most notable being Marlon Samuels' let off granted to Khwaja when he was only 4 off Jerome Taylor's bowling.
Samuels disgraced the scorebook further with a duck headlining a necklace of low scores: Kraigg Brathwaite 17, Chandrika 25, Blackwood 28, Ramdin 0, Holder 0. It was all bitterness until debutant Carlos Brathwaite, 57, and Bravo 81 saw the score to 271, of which Roach added 22.
Steve Smith chose to bolster to Australia's lead of 280 rather than enforce the follow-on. His second declaration in the match came on 179 for 3, offering West Indies a target of 460. From 83 for 2 there ensued a glimmer of hope when 100 was added for the 5th wicket, our first in the series. But the plot unraveled as Ramdin perished for 59 to make it 250 for 6 and Holder went for 68 in 86 balls at 253 for 7, proceedings ending on 282 all out, leaving Australia winners by 178 runs and 2-nil up in the series.
At time of writing West Indies were 248 for 7 in the heavily rain affected 3rd Test at Sydney where they again won the toss. The innings was illuminated by Kraigg Brathwaite, 85, Bravo, 33, and Carlos Brathwaite, 69. Samuels was again a sore disappointment as he was run out in abject fashion for 4. That was the position after three waterlogged days and only one day left.
England, South Africa in run feast
In a parallel series England made South Africa pay dearly for sending them in in the first Test at Durban. A recovery from 49 for 3 and 174 for 4 saw England to 303 – Taylor, 70, Bairstow, 41, Compton, 85.
South Africa in the course of this saw their key bowler Dale Steyn injured while taking 4 for 70 alongside Morkel 4 for 76. They were reduced to a reply of 214 all out in which Broad 4 for 25 and Moeen Ali 4 for 69 swept all before them except Elgar who carried his bat right through the innings with 118 not out.
Seeking to squeeze their opponents out of the match, England then compiled 326 in 102 overs. Compton 49, Root, 73, Taylor 42 and Bairstow 79 set a formidable fourth innings target of 416 in respect of which South Africa failed to measure up. They foundered for 174 – only Elgar, 40, and Devilliers 37 being worthy of mention. Finn and Ali did most of the damage for England, putting them one-up in the series.
This set the stage for the New Year's Test at Cape Town where South Africa have been traditional winners. Cook won the toss for England who reached 223 for 5 via a painstaking effort from Hales, 60, Compton, 45, Root, 50.
From this point ensued a remarkable 6th wicket partnership between Stokes and Bairstow. They took the score to 317 for 5 at stumps on the first evening and continued on the second day to 622 for – a world record of 399 for the 6th wicket. Astonishingly, Stokes, 259, and Bairstow, 150 not out, smashed their tally at upwards of five runs per over. Cook was able to declare at 629 for 6 made off 125 overs and 5 balls.
The perilous position of the world No. 1 team, following their recent disastrous tour of India, impelled Hashim Amla to assume a strongest of stands with his back to the wall. Not without some luck, he broke a spell of low scores by grimly posting 201, his 4th in excess of 200, in 477 balls, consuming 11 hours 43 minutes. Amla fell at 439 for 4, assisted by De Villiers 88, Elgar, 44.
Amla's heroic performance inspired the youthful Temba Bauvuma to gather his first Test century, 102 not out in tandem with Chris Morris, 69 – the pair engaged in a 174-run 7th wicket partnership.
South Africa declared on 627 for 7, two runs behind England, and it remained to be seen how things would unfold after England's marathon stay in the field which occupied 211 overs on the 3rd and 4th days – all told, over 14 hours!
Eventually the match ended in a draw, but not before England staved off several alarms on a pitch suddenly coming to life. Final scores: England 629 for 6 declared and 159 for 6, South Africa 627 for 7 declared. Lots of runs from highly determined batsmen! One wonders whether West Indies were watching.