Much maligned and mostly under-rated.
But captain Darren Sammy today saved the West Indies a few embarrassing blushes on the second day of the first Test against Zimbabwe at Kensington Oval.
West Indies were in danger of conceding first-innings lead on home soil to Test strugglers Zimbabwe, playing their first Test in over a year. At 151 for 6 in pursuit of 211, Sammy arrived and did what he normally does. He attacked. And for once, he survived long enough. The result was a 69-ball 73 that turned the game and sent Zimbabwe into defensive mode, like Marlon Samuels’ assault in the morning had done. It also gave West Indies a sizeable lead, the importance of which was driven home when Zimbabwe lost three quick wickets towards the close.
Both innings came when Zimbabwe were in a position to exert pressure, but couldn’t, largely due to one bowler consistently leaking runs. Samuels had targeted Graeme Cremer, not allowing him to settle as he took 32 off 26 deliveries from the leg-spinner. Brendan Taylor persisted with Cremer, over his other specialist spinner Ray Price, and Sammy took further toll. Forty-seven of Sammy’s runs came off the 28 balls he faced from Cremer. In contrast, Price bowled just 27 deliveries to Sammy and Samuels combined, and conceded only seven.
All Sammy and Samuels wanted to do was to hit boundaries, which is what Zimbabwe allowed them to do, with Cremer serving up long hops and over-pitched deliveries. All the four sixes Sammy hit came against Cremer, as did most of his fours. When Cremer bowled full, Sammy powered him straight down the ground. When he dropped it short, he was pulled over midwicket. Samuels cut and pulled Cremer despite the bounce in the pitch, and also stepped out to drive him against the turn through midwicket. By the time the restrictive Price was given more bowling, the damage had already been done.
Denesh Ramdin played an important knock, giving solid support to Sammy during their century partnership for the seventh wicket. Then, after Sammy chopped Hamilton Masakadza onto his stumps shortly before tea, Ramdin patiently built the lead further along with Tino Best, who became Kyle Jarvis’ fifth victim to end the innings.
The part-time medium of Masakadza had claimed Samuels as well, off what proved to be the last ball before lunch. Samuels was in imperious touch on his comeback from facial injury, but could not resist going for one more boundary, and edged Masakadza to the wicketkeeper. Until that moment, Samuels hadn’t let West Indies feel any strain after the big wickets of Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo. He had come out and gone after the bowling so clinically that it was Zimbabwe who felt constrained enough to let Price start with a defensive line outside leg.
Jarvis had given Zimbabwe an early opening when he switched to round the wicket and had Bravo edging to the wicketkeeper in the ninth over of the day. At 43 for 3, West Indies should have been made to grind for their runs. Samuels and Gayle had other ideas.
Samuels hit Cremer out of the attack. Gayle drove the seamers through extra cover and down the ground, although he was far more watchful compared to Samuels. He was leaving them alright outside off stump and defending solidly. It needed something out of the ordinary to dislodge him, and the debutant medium-pacer Tendai Chatara provided that. First ball after the first drinks break, he produced one that reared up at Gayle from short of a good length, and carried to second slip off the glove.
Samuels was not going to change his approach despite 81 for 4. Shivnarine Chanderpaul added still more solidity to the batting and the duo’s partnership went past 50 in next to no time. Zimbabwe turned to Masakadza and Price and the pace of scoring came down with lunch approaching, before Samuels threw it away after reaching a fifty in 67 balls.
West Indies slipped from 144 for 5 at lunch to 151 for 6 soon after, as Chanderpaul under-edged an attempted pull off Jarvis to the wicketkeeper. Two overs later, Cremer was brought back, probably to lure Sammy to his fall. Only, Sammy wasn’t to be lured today.
It was Tino Mawoyo who was lured into chasing a wide, full away-swinging delivery in the eighth over of Zimbabwe’s second innings, only to edge it to Sammy in the slip cordon. It was the first ball Shannon Gabriel bowled, after Kemar Roach and Best had been far too short with the new ball.
Zimbabwe’s day, which had begun so promisingly, was to end on a worse note. Masakadza failed to keep his gloves away from Shane Shillingford’s first ball, a seemingly harmless short delivery which carried to backward short leg. Vusi Sibanda tried to turn Shillingford to the leg side, only to offer a tame return catch off the leading edge. After a day on which they could have taken a morale-boosting lead, Zimbabwe are now struggling to avoid defeat on day three. (Cricinfo)††