BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – Sunday was the South Africans’ turn to suffer from sunburn and toil in the field. The West Indies had their best day in international cricket for some months when they lost just three wickets and scored 338 runs on the third day of the Second Digicel Test after starting on 86 for 1.
By the close they had put together a healthy response to South Africa’s 543 for 6 to be 424 for 4 with their premier test player and batting bedrock, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, on an accomplished 151 not out. They are 119 runs behind and have six wickets in hand, inclusive of Dwayne Bravo – the other not out batsman – on 21.
Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash centuries left the Proteas so disheartened that Ashwell Prince tried to whip up the energy level by borrowing a vuvuzela – the controversial instrument prevalent at all football World Cup games – from a South African fan in the Party Stand and blowing it at his teammates. It provided a spontaneous moment of mirth on an otherwise despondent day for the Africans.
Prince – who made only 9 in the South African first innings – could have also been blowing in frustration at missing out on a Warner Park pitch which was so batsmen-biased that in 263 overs (147 for the South Africans and 116 for the Windies) it produced a mammoth 967 runs for the loss of just 10 wickets. That is an average of 3.6 runs per over and 96.7 runs per wicket. There have been five centurions and two of the ten wickets to fall were via run outs. Batsmen and bowlers are likely to disagree on the worth of the pitch but test cricket as a game is not likely to benefit from a proliferation of such surfaces.
This match has not been a contest between bat and ball as much as it has been a contest between the batsmen and their will to overcome boredom and score runs. It is an endeavour for which Chanderpaul has dedicated his entire life and he would not have let the opportunity for him to register his 22 test century slip by easily.
The Guyanese who is closing in on his 36th birthday is participating in his 125th test and may not have batted on a more batsman friendly surface since his debut 16 years ago.
At the end of the day he had accumulated the 151 runs in his usual studied manner after starting his innings in uncharacteristically shaky fashion when he sparred at deliveries outside the off stump and rushed his shots. He successfully negotiated that testing initial period of fast bowling and rebounded from being floored by a Dale Steyn short ball which crashed into the grill of his helmet to drive, cut and pull with more characteristic leisurely timing and aplomb.
As he and Nash constructed their 220 run fourth wicket stand the South African fielders began to resemble the West Indians the two days before when three of their own batsmen – Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers – romped to centuries.
The West Indian left handed pair moved the score from 151 for 3 to 371 when Nash was run out by de Villiers as he briefly explored the possibility of a run and had a direct hit find him short of his ground.
While Chanderpaul never diverted from his usual manner of run accumulation, Nash played positively on a pitch which encouraged such an approach and a small but vocal crowd which willed them on. He struck 14 fours and a six in his 114 which was made from as few as 148 deliveries.
Fans have become accustomed to Chanderpaul’s modest celebratory gestures, they would have seen it 21 times before – he is, after all, the fourth highest West Indian century maker in tests. Nash’s was more exuberant.
Once he pulled to the boundary to move from 99 he pumped his fist before he had completed the run then leapt in the air and waved his bat at his wife, mom, dad and four month old daughter in the stands. When she is old enough he will tell her about the day in 2010 when he scored a father’s day century for her. Chanderpaul’s two sons too would be pleased their dad’s effort on the day.
Narsingh Deonarine did not manage to score his first test century but he looked well set to so do before an attempted half cut/half drive found the inside edge of his bat and struck his stumps. He had made a well paced 65 from 131 balls with five fours and a six to add to his overnight partner – Chris Gayle’s even 50 from 84 balls (8 fours) before the big Jamaican left hander was out in similar fashion.
The major theme in this match thus far has been the embellishment of averages for batsmen and bowlers wishing their captains would not call on them to provide fodder for batsmen. Dale Steyn (20-3-70-1) and Morne Morkel (21-5-87-2), when they were asked to bowl manned up and tried as best they could but against even a West Indian lineup which was demolished for 102 in the previous Test they found wicket-taking bordering on impossible. 263 overs, 967 runs, 10 wickets and five centurions. And there is, almost certainly, more of the same to come. Fielding sides simply have to bide their time and await a merciful declaration. Given the challenges the West Indies have had batting in Test for some time they may want to press on until all 10 wickets are gone but that could take quite a while.