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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Celebration of West Indies cricket-Cricket classics


When I was first introduced to the game of cricket, I felt it was a boring game which is played over five days and it looked  silly, when I realised that even after five days a result may not be possible. So, what made me fall in love with the game? I have to thank the Calypso kings for that as their game just captivated my imagination and made me a cricket aficionado. The cricketers, who played for the Caribbean team in that era didn't seem like they were coached to bowl with mechanical bowling actions, or were the batsmen seemed to have gone through the MCC coaching manuel day and night to improve their technique, but they played a instinctive brand of cricket. The bowlers would bowl fast and if the ball was there to be hit, the batsmen would smash the cover off the ball. I still remember the days when commentators would be dumbfounded by Richards playing across the line on a pitch with sideways movement, or who can forget all those glares by fast bowlers which seemed to suggest that if the batsman wouldn't get out, he may have to soon find a place in the hospital.

So for the next few days, I would  look at  the  glory days of West Indies cricket and certain issues which are affecting the game of cricket in West Indies. Today, I would look at the glory days of West Indies cricket by writing an article on the very first match played between West Indies and South Africa at Bridgetown Barbados in 1992.


Backdrop

It was a historic day for cricket as for the first time, the Saffers were playing  the West Indies. After finding themselves isolated due to apartheid, the Saffers had just made a comeback into the test arena . Yes, they did play the World cup in 92 and a one-day series against India, but it was the first test match they were playing since the ban was lifted. It was funny to see 10 of the 11 players in a team making their test debut! The only player, who had previous experience of playing test cricket was Kepler Wessels  as he had already played for the men from down under.

Just before the test match, there was an interesting development of Barbados cricket fans deciding to boycott the game. Now, you may think that it was because of West Indies playing a side made up of white players from South Africa, but that wasn't the reason for the boycott. The real reason was, the fans were upset that there weren't too many players from Barbados and the selectors made them more angry by dropping Anderson Cummins of Barbados.

Selection issues
West Indies

The main issue was of course the dropping of Cummins. In his place, Walsh made a comeback into the side after being dropped from the West Indian side for the World cup in 91/92. The reason for Walsh being dropped for the WC  was he couldn't field! It wasn't like Cummins was  Jonty, Junior, or Colly to be selected for his fielding alone and when it comes to bowling, he won't be able to hold even a candle in front of Walsh. In an interview, the modern day great batsman SRT even said that sometimes he found Walsh more difficult to face than Amby as his action was such that he struggled to pick the length. No wonder, Walsh went onto take 77 wickets at just 20 on the barren tracks of the subcontinent. The Windies selectors had other ideas as they picked Cummins for the WC as he could field!! Thankfully, the selectors dropped Cummins and gave Walsh a chance against South Africa. The people of Barbados though, didn't take the non-selection of Cummins lightly and boycotted the match.

Adams made his debut in the match for West Indies. I hated Adams as a batsman, as his batting was ugly to watch, but early in his career, he played more than a few vital knocks and even in this test, he played a crucial knock in the second innings. A few even touted him as the next Larry Gomes, but unfortunately after tasting success early in his career, Adams lost his way.


South Africa


For the Saffers, test cricket was a new experience as leaving Kepler Wessels, none of them had test match experience. Cricketers like Kuiper, Peter Kirsten, Donald and co. had already played lots of fc cricket yet, because of apartheid, they missed out on playing test cricket.

The South African line-up was on expected lines, though a few eyebrows may have been raised when Meyrick Pringle's name was seen on the team sheet. He could occasionally swing the ball like a banana,  but also had the tendency to bowl rubbish. Snell was another inconsistent bowler who got picked in the side, but he could occasionally be a wicket-taker. The Saffers could have gone for the present coach Corrie Zyl as he was said to be a bit more consistent than Pringle or if available, the tearaway quick Schultz, but instead they went with Pringle.


West Indies's first innings


South Africa won the toss and surprisingly chose to field. In the 90's, the pitch at Barbados was still quick, but what made the strip for this match more interesting was its unevenness. Most would have expected the team that would win the toss to bat first as it was never going to be easy to face Amby and Walsh on a crumbling pitch on the last day, but perhaps Wessels wasn't sure about batting first as he had a team which lacked test match experience.

West Indies made a good start in their first innings with Haynes, Simmons, Arthurton and Richardson getting useful scores, but the Windies lost six wickets for just 20 odd runs and were bundled out for just 262 runs. The West Indies line-up also included a certain player by the name Brian Charles Lara. He played couple of glorious shots through the off-side, but those were the days, when he was too flashy and as expected threw his wicket away. Snell showed that he maybe inconsistent, but can take wickets as he took a four wicket haul. The White lightning supported him well by taking couple of wickets.

South Africa's first innings


South Africa's reply was led by the gutsy Hudson as he made a magnificent century against the fury of Walsh and Amby on a wearing pitch. Hudson was said to be a religious man, but on a cricket field, he had unflappable temperament which in turn helped him to tackle menacing fast bowlers like Walsh and Ambrose in his debut test. Kepler Wessels gave him good support, but other batsmen found it diffcult to handle the uneven bounce in the pitch. The key point though is, they got a vital first innings lead of more than 80 runs. On a pitch that was deteriorating quickly, it was a very handy lead.


West Indies's second innings


Lara showed his class by getting a vital half century, but the rest couldn't support him and soon the Windies looked dead and buried as they were eight wickets down, but had a lead of just over 100 runs. It needed someone to play out of his skin against the likes of Donald and co. It was the perfect opportunity for a gutsy player like  Adams to come to the party. Adams played really well as he added crucial runs with the tailenders and finally, the Windies set a target of just over 200 runs.  Watching Adams bore everyone with a bat in hand would make me think of how on earth did the selectors pick Adams? The side was made up of Bajans, who could play attractive cricket, but here was a man, who was a scrapper and would drive away the spectators. It doesn't mean that I didn't rate him as a player, but  in a team made up of players with flair, he was the odd man out.


South Africa's second innings

Nowadays, a target of 201 may look rather easy, but those were the days when Amby and Walsh or more famously known as Wambrose were still around and the pitch was getting more and more uneven.  The Saffers lost couple of early wickets including that of Hudson,  but the two veterans in the side Wessels and Peter Kirsten took the Saffers closer to a famous victory as at the end of the fourth day, they were well placed at 122 for the loss of just two wickets. Both batsmen had to work very hard to get their runs and it can be seen by the fact that they scored their runs at a snail's pace against some incisive bowling by Wambrose.

The last day

The interesting story before the final day's play was, the Saffer bowler Pringle got so over-confident that he said to Lara, tomorrow after winning the match, there would be a huge party. Lara replied to him by saying that I do hope you won't have to bat to hit the winning runs, but yet again Pringle showed his over-confidence by saying that he wouldn't be needed to hit the winning runs. Now, he must be in hibernation as at that time everyone knew that with Amby and Walsh around, any score could be defended. Moreover, there was no need to wake up couple of sleeping lions from deep slumber.

Wicket-keeper Richardson on Pringle's over-confidence,

"Meyrck Pringle even bought a few bottles of champagne in anticipation of the win. When we fond this out, he was admonished for his over-confidence and the bottles were banished from the view, we ended up giving them to the West Indies team in the end" Cricinfo

Pringle's comments seemed to have woken up both Walsh and Amby as they stepped up a gear and that was the end of South Africa! Not a single loose delivery was bowled as they kept hitting the top of off-stump. The pitch was playing tricks on batsmen too, as more than a few deliveries were keeping low. The Saffer batsmen had no answer to it as they fell like a pack of cards. Finally, poor Pringle came to the crease and I am sure the Windies would have said a few words to him. I am also sure that batsmen who faced the Wambrose combination must have had nightmares of both bowling to them for a long time. Amby picked up six wickets and Walsh four as the Saffers were bundled out for the just 148 runs. Astonishingly, eight wickets fell for just 26 runs. Among the bowlers, Amby picked up couple more wickets than Walsh, but I would like to point out that it was Walsh, who started it all by removing both the overnight batsmen Wessels and Kirsten. Whenever I think of Walsh, I always feel that he was a touch underrated as unlike so many fast bowlers which includes Amby, he constantly played on barren tracks of the subcontinent and got lots of wickets. Of course, Amby was more deadly, but he could be moody.

It was no doubt a great test match, though unfortunately the match was played in front of empty stands as the fans boycotted the match. The Saffers were shell shocked by the defeat and that was perhaps the reason behind them getting slaughtered 3-0 in the one-day series. The one off test also showed that West Indies still have a good team and in that test they also played with the kind of flair that was usually associated with the men from the Caribbean. The match also showed a sporting wicket would help in producing edge of the seat matches. 

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