| Australian captain Steve Waugh during a practice session at the Bourda Oval in Georgetown Wednesday. (AP/PTI)
Georgetown (Guyana): Steve Waugh will become cricket’s most-capped player when he plays in his 157th Test match against the West Indies in the first Test at the Bourda Oval here tomorrow.
The tenacious 37-year-old, battling to prolong his Test career before a majestic century against England in the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney in early January, is now firmly back in charge as the Aussies attempt to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy in the four-Test Caribbean series.
Waugh will pass another celebrated Australian cricketer Allan Border (156 Tests) in the Georgetown Test but has played down its significance.
“I’m aware that I’m about to become the most capped player in the history of Test cricket, which is nice, but as they say records are made to be broken and someone will go past it,” Waugh said Wednesday.
More pressing for Waugh is to get the Australians away to a winning start against the West Indians, who again are in a mess of their own making.
Former West Indies captain Carl Hooper has pulled out of the series, reportedly saying he won’t play under new skipper Brian Lara. And 28-Test opening batsman Chris Gayle was left out amid reports that the West Indies Cricket Board deemed him ineligible after playing in an ICC-sanctioned double-wicket competition in St Lucia.
Team vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan is unavailable through injury and Gus Logie is the caretaker coach for the series after Roger Harper was dumped in the wake of the World Cup.
“It’s difficult but this is the reality of the situation. The players will have to dig deep, obviously we all have to dig deep and try to get the players to play together as a team,” Logie said.
Lara scored three centuries — one of them 213 in Kingston — to help the West Indies to draw the 1999 Caribbean series 2-2 and looms as the Windies’ great batting hope.
Waugh will be without two main bowlers, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, who between them have dismissed Lara 17 of the 40 times against Australia.
“He’s a great player, there’s no doubt about that, and great players can overcome plans,” Waugh said of Lara, who turns 34 during this series.
“The Test matches we’ve lost have been because someone’s put their hands up and played a great innings,” Waugh said.
“That’s what motivates a player like Brian. He likes to play against the best bowlers so he’ll be up for this series.”
The West Indies will be looking to the emergence of their younger brigade, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels and Darren Ganga to share the batting burden with Lara.
Another key to whether the West Indies can be competitive is in the bowling. Mervyn Dillon, Pedro Collins and youngster Jermaine Lawson have the task of bowling out the powerful Australian batting order twice to win Test matches.
In six Tests played at the Bourda, Australia have won three, the West Indies two with one drawn.
The West Indies new-look team will have only one training session together before the first Test after an apparent mix-up over travel arrangements sent a group of players flying around the Caribbean on a detour.
West Indian officials were at a loss on Wednesday to explain why four players were sent backtracking to Jamaica after playing the final of the Carib Beer International Challenge final in Barbados on Sunday instead of making the short hop direct to Guyana.
Jamaica is roughly three hours’ flying time west of Barbados while Guyana is just over one hour directly to the south.
The result was that late on Tuesday only seven of the players arrived in here.
“Seven players arrived last night, four Jamaicans, two Barbadians and one Antiguan,” said manager Ricky Skerritt, adding that travel arrangments had been made in conjunction with the Jamaica and Barbados cricket boards.
West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Carlton Baugh, David Bernard, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Pedro Collins, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon, Daren Ganga, Wavell Hinds, Ridley Jacobs, Jermaine Lawson, Marlon Samuels, Devon Smith.
Australia (from): Steve Waugh (captain), Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Martin Love, Darren Lehmann, Adam Gilchrist, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Andy Bichel, Stuart MacGill.