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Much-needed fillip for a once proud nation
The Australian team with the Frank Worrell Trophy they won on the Caribbean shores. (Reuters)

Half a world away from the Australian rain forest where Phil Tufnell’s antics were said to be popularising cricket more than anything taking place on the field, the West Indies were breaking a world record in Antigua that has stood for just over 27 years. Set 418 runs in their fourth innings by Australia, the world champions, they won with seven wickets down and the singing of a joyous Caribbean in their ears.

The feat now consigns the 406 for four, scored by India in Port-of-Spain to beat the West Indies in 1976, to second place, a fact that will surely grate with Steve Waugh’s team, who, 3-0 up in the series, were no doubt expecting a clean sweep, the first Australia would have inflicted on the West Indies in the Caribbean.

It is an epic achievement, especially against the marauding Aussies, and must rank among the greatest team efforts, whatever the sport. It may not register on the Richter scale of lounge lizards watching the celebrity mulch on ITV, but for a once proud region it will be a much-needed fillip.

Cricket’s popularity in the Caribbean has waned, but the glamour of a world record will renew interest in the game.

The fourth innings of Test matches are notoriously difficult. The pitch, with four days wear and tear, is usually at its least reliable. Yet while centuries from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul standout, important cameos came from lower down the batting order.

Vasbert Drakes, well known to supporters of Sussex and Nottinghamshire, struck the winning runs as he and the 20-year-old Omari Banks, making a stabilising 47 in only his second Test, added 46 for the eighth wicket. It was a crucial stand after Chanderpaul, nibbling at one outside his off-stump, was dismissed by Brett Lee in the fourth over of the morning.

Back in April 1976, when hundreds from Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath helped India score that 406 for four in Port-of-Spain on a turning pitch, the outcome was felt to be a freak unlikely to be repeated in a hurry. But covered pitches and the use of loam soils that remain tightly bound means many pitches today do not deteriorate as rapidly as once was the case. Wrist-spinner Stuart MacGill’s figures of one for 149 in the last innings are surely testament to that, though as a bowler, MacGill cannot turn the screws like Shane Warne.

A lack of wear in the pitch was not the only factor in Australia’s undoing as tempers boiled over in a match that also saw Jermaine Lawson reported for chucking.

The most obvious flashpoint came in the final session of play on Monday when Glenn McGrath, allegedly upset at a comment made by Sarwan, gave the batsmen a protracted piece of his mind. According to some sources, McGrath felt Sarwan had said something about his wife, Jane, currently undergoing treatment for cancer. If true, Sarwan should be punished. There is sledging and there is pure malice, the latter having no place in cricket.

The incident left Australia trying to get even rather than getting wickets, a practice their coach John Buchanan believes makes them vulnerable. “It happens to us occasionally when either an individual on the other side confronts us in a sense of challenging the emotion of the players,” Buchanan said.

“When that happens we tend to lose our composure and move away from game plans. Teams can take advantage of that and that’s partly what happened.”

While many feel McGrath’s outburst was probably justified, James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, was critical of the players’ behaviour.

“It’s all very well playing the game in the right spirit when things are going your way,” Sutherland said. “But when things aren’t, that’s when the real test is on. If you can’t carry yourself in the true spirit of the game at those times, perhaps you need to have a good look at yourself.”

Coming from an Aussie, it is as close an admission that Australia are appalling losers. Waugh, though, at least had the good grace to say: “It was an outstanding team win by the West Indies. To chase 400 is a magnificent performance and I take my hat off to them.”

The Daily Telegraph

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