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The Electronic Telegraph 1st Test: Australia v West Indies
Reports from the Electronic Telegraph - 22-26 November 1996

Day 1: Belligerent Healy fuels Australia's renaissance
Christopher Martin-Jenkins

RECENT history repeated itself on the opening day of the Australia/West Indies series at the Gabba when Australia's vice-captain, Ian Healy, counter-attacked against tiring bowlers in partnership with the iron-willed Steve Waugh to give his side a much better start than had seemed likely when Courtney Walsh took two wickets in two balls early in the evening session.

From 196 for five, Australia recovered to 282 for five, much as they had in their first innings of the series 20 months ago in Barbados when Healy came in at 194 for five and first with Waugh, then with the temporarily discarded Brendon Julian, guided his side to a total of 346. They would have settled for something similar here after Walsh had put them into bat, no less a gamble than it usually is against a team with Shane Warne on board.

The pitch had a good but not excessive growth of even grass. It was hard but not especially pacey and the bounce was beautifully even. Moreover, the weather, by Brisbane standards, was relatively fresh. All this did not prevent the toss being a charade, because Walsh had determined to bowl first and Mark Taylor would have been every bit as certain to bat, knowing that his great wrist-spinner has taken 30 wickets in his three Tests here at 10 runs apiece.

For much of the day the cricket, before a crowd of just under 17,000, the biggest first-day attendance at the Gabba for 20 years, was grimly attritional. Australia lost their new opening batsman, Matthew Elliott, in the fourth over, and only with great good fortune in the first hour or so did the dogged captain and his brilliant young number three, Ricky Ponting, hang on for the rest of the morning.

Until Curtly Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin got some outswing with the second new ball late in the day, Ian Bishop was the only man to swing the ball more than a fraction. But he was also the weak link, too inclined to drift wide either side of the wicket and with his remodelled, front-on action, significantly less fast than he was before his back pain began. The other three all moved the ball about off the seam and Walsh and Ambrose were particularly unlucky.

Later in the day the instinct to bowl short, especially, and especially culpably, at Steve Waugh, became too hard to resist, although Benjamin produced an excellent seven-over spell in mid-afternoon in which he took one for 11. He removed Ponting after a feisty innings in which he hit with an all-Australian certainty between mid-off and mid-on. His 150-ball, 208-minute innings deserved to be a maiden Test hundred, for all that he had been dropped in the gully by Robert Samuels off Benjamin when 81.

Ponting had joined his captain when Ambrose beat the struggling Elliott with a good length ball pitching around his off-stump. Elliott got a thin edge, although, needless to say, he looked amazed to be given out. Cyril Mitchley got this right and so, much later, did Steve Randell when Courtney Browne, who kept wicket admirably, went up with the slips in concerted appeal when Steve Waugh played at least two inches inside an away-cutter from Ambrose.

It was a good day for the umpires, not least because, in modernising their once bucolic ground still further, the Queensland authorities decided they could not afford the extra 2.5 million to install an electronic screen which would show replays. But the local members have a spanking new grandstand at the Vulture Street End and the press, who for years have sweltered here in a Turkish bath of a box, have a small but well-equipped replacement with air-conditioning so fierce that a pullover is de rigeur.

Australia were 82 for one at lunch, thanks to Ponting's quality and Taylor's ability to hang on when he is out of form. Feet and bat were not working in unison, but he left the ball alone whenever he could and inched his way to 19 by the interval. He resembles both John Edrich, for his courage and unflappability, and the less celebrated Hugh Morris, who might have played many innings such as this if Graham Gooch and others had had more faith in him.

Having weathered the storm and started to square cut productively, Taylor got a bottom edge to a pull after three hours batting. Ponting, 56 not out at lunch, was by now hitting the ball with the same crisp panache once shown by Doug Walters, yet with a tighter defence. He is going to score a great many Test runs in the next 10 years. He, too, was out to a pull, the ball moving away from him off the seam so that he dragged it to mid-on.

From 146 for three, Mark Waugh, who accelerated fluently and responsibly, added exactly 50 with his twin either side of tea, before Walsh got him out with a shortish leg-stump ball which Waugh, pulling, bottom-edged to the left of the agile Browne. Walsh followed up expertly, steaming in and pitching the next ball on a length on middle and leg. The bounce and the angle were too much for Michael Bevan who stabbed hurriedly and spliced to third slip.

Enter Healy in his 82nd Test to drive and cut his way to 47 not out at almost a run a ball. Both he and Waugh took full toll of the overs Carl Hooper was required to bowl to rest the big men and avoid over-rate fines. He turned the ball not a centimetre, but Warne should be a different proposition.

Day 2: Healy hits new heights to blunt West Indies attack
Peter Roebuck

SOON after tea the singing started. A vibrant Brisbane crowd could contain themselves no longer. Ian Healy and Michael Kasprowicz, two of their favourite sons, were at the crease. Healy had rallied his team with a fighting hundred, the first made in Australian colours by a born- and-bred Queenslander. Kasprowicz had scored his first Test runs. The West Indian renaissance had been checked. Life had no more to offer. And so they started singing Waltzing Matilda.

It has been quite a match for Australia and for a supposedly embattled vice-captain. Healy's unbeaten and chanceless 161 took 356 minutes to compile and was the highest score recorded by an Australian stumper since the whole thing began in 1877. It was his third first-class century, all of them scored while playing for his country. Only two other Australian wicketkeepers have scored centuries, Rod Marsh (3) and Wayne Phillips. Sorry about the statistics; for once they tell the tale.

This was a remarkable innings. Walking to the crease after two wickets had fallen in successive balls, taking guard with his team in trouble, given time to settle as the West Indians omitted to recall their place men and, helped by diligent partners, Healy seized the initiative and refused to let go. It was a typically feisty effort by a pragmatic player who relies on cuts, pulls and clouts to leg to bring in the runs. Sometimes Healy reminds a fellow of a nail scraping down a blackboard but he scores runs at the vital times and is an undiluted team man. He plays like a handy cricketer and has the record of a great one.

Not that Healy worked alone. As usual Steve Waugh gave stern service to his side, frustrating and exhausting the pacemen with his gum tree defiance. As soon as he appeared the faster men abandoned the plan hatched in the back room and started pounding the middle of the pitch. Waugh attracts bumpers as mosquitoes attract spray. These West Indians still have not rumbled him, though they have seen him often enough.

Waugh's piercing partnership with Healy was critical. Until they came together the West Indians had been putting to proper use a pitch suffering from the sun's neglect (it has been snowing in Canberra). Hardly bothering with bouncers and keeping an off-stump line they had forced the Australians to fight for their runs. Perhaps they pitched a yard short yet there was a purpose in their play missing in recent years. By allowing themselves to be provoked by Waugh they lost their heads and possibly the match.

Chastened and cursed, not least by their coach Malcolm Marshall, the West Indians bowled a fuller length on the second morning, containing the batsmen to 23 runs in the opening hour. But they are not the force of yesteryear and cannot sustain an assault.

Although they bowled impressively, Curtly Amb rose and Courtney Walsh cannot deliver deadly yorkers and snorters rising at the batsman's shoulders, deliveries calculated to break a team in an hour.

As soon as they rest the attack loses its menace. Ian Bishop bowled like an archdeacon and Kenneth Benjamin wasted too many deliveries. Also the West Indians lack tactical wit and variety. Carl Hooper's drooping off breaks were delivered with an apologetic air and did not inconvenience the batsmen. Jimmy Adams was not given a bowl.

Hooper does not relish bowling and is not much of a bowler. He serves a purpose, that is all, and the purpose is no longer enough. Australia's total was nothing new. In five of their last six Test matches, the West Indies have conceded scores beyond 400. Either they must renew their pace attack or find some variety. Alone in the world, they rely entirely on pace. England tried it at Lord's last year and ran out of ideas by noon, an hour earlier than usual.

West Indies' preference for pace is not entirely a matter of choice. Not since Lance Gibbs has the Caribbean produced a top-class tweaker. At least the reserves, with four slow bowlers in their ranks, are doing well in Sri Lanka. Someone may emerge. Five years ago, everyone thought leg spin was dead.

Much to his chagrin, Steve Waugh did not survive the morning. Bishop tried his luck around the wicket and a tentative back-foot stroke sent a low catch to first slip. In former times a tumbling of wickets might now have been expected.

Alas the old bones were aching and the tail wagged willingly. By the time Paul Reiffel obligingly pushed a return catch a further 61 runs had been added. Shane Warne hooked a tiring Walsh for six and generally moved behind the ball with fresh determination until he was caught and bowled as he pulled. Kasprowicz and Glenn McGrath, whose batting average is among the lowest in the history of Test cricket, played down at the wrong line. Healy left to an enthusiastic ovation from a healthy-sized crowd (11,571).

West Indies had missed their chance. Unsurprisingly, retribution followed as Robert Samuels edged a cutter and Sherwin Campbell was held at third slip as he flashed off the back foot. Only a rash of no-balls - umpire Cyril Mitchley is so particular that certain bowlers seemed likely to become ``Cyril Killers'' unsettled the Australians as they probed away.

Only the sight of Brian Lara working hard until stumps gave any solace to a West Indian team determined to put up a fight. Significantly, all the Australians wore their green caps on the field. No longer are the West Indians able to resist a gifted and united team.

Day 3: Taylor chooses Warne strategy
Christopher Martin-Jenkins

SEVERELY put to trial by Ian Healy's outstanding innings of 161 not out and the early dismissal of Brian Lara, the West Indies responded with character in the first Test at the Gabba yesterday, but they could not sustain their fight sufficiently long.

On the verge of safety, they lost their last seven wickets for 28 in 12 overs on the third day against relentless Australian bowling.

Coming together at 77 for three, still 402 behind, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had put on 172 for the fourth wicket, Hooper making his sixth Test hundred and his vigilant little partner his ninth fifty in 12 Tests.

The Guyanese alliance was broken, however, when Hooper fell to a brilliant catch by Ricky Ponting, sparking an Australian fire, which burnt away seven wickets in 12 overs.

That left Mark Taylor with a delicate decision. The West Indies had been 231 for three at tea, only 49 away from saving the follow-on, so he cannot have expected a choice of whether to enforce it.

When the West Indies were out three runs short of the necessary target, the alternative was to bat a second time on a perfectly true pitch in the hope of making the best possible use of Shane Warne's wrist spin on the final day.

Against England two years ago at Brisbane Taylor chose to bat again and Warne in due course proved him right. This time, half an hour from the close of the third day, he followed the same course.

Quite apart from Warne's contribution - he bowled 65 overs without taking a wicket in this and his preceding match before winning two lbw appeals late in the innings with flippers Glenn McGrath, Paul Reiffel and Paul Kasprowicz had already outbowled their West Indies counterparts.

The West Indies, in three of their last four Tests - twice against England, once against New Zealand and again here - have conceded more than 400 in their first innings.

Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh are formidable bowlers still, but Kenny Benjamin and Ian Bishop were relatively innocuous after the hardness had gone from the new ball.

The fast men wasted too many short-pitched balls on Steve Waugh, who simply gets out of the way and waits for the ball to cut or drive. Bishop eventually had him caught at slip from round the wicket, but they never found the right ball for Healy, whose third Test hundred was eventually the seventh highest scored by a wicket-keeper in a Test match.

You might have expected Les Ames, Johnny Waite or Alan Knott to have been among the top six, but in fact the list is headed by double-hundreds from two Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan - Taslim Arif, Imtiaz Ahmed and Brendon Kuruppu. Then Dennis Lindsay, Ian Smith and Clyde Walcott follow.

There was immense personal significance in Healy's innings, because there was a genuine possibility that he might have had to give way to his recent replacement in India, the ambitious and talented Adam Gilchrist.

The West Indies started the third day at 61 for two and lost Lara in the eighth over of the morning when he edged a pull.

Chanderpaul nearly played on to Warne before he had scored, a quick kick with his left foot saving his stumps at the last moment, but thereafter he played admirably.

Hooper can control bowlers, but not always himself. Yesterday he waited for the ball to hit and only rarely lifted it, notably when he pulled Warne for six and wafted Steve Waugh over extra cover for the four which took him to 99.

He had reached 50 with a risky single to mid-on and now he called for another, only for McGrath to hit the stumps with a close-range, under-arm throw.

The replays suggested that his bat was on and not over the line when the wicket was broken, but the third umpire rightly gave him the benefit of his doubt. So Hooper completed an unlikely second century in successive Tests, 14 months apart.

Day 4: Warne's revival keeps West Indies at bay

IT is fashionable in Australia to suggest that Shane Warne is not the bowler he was. It did not look likely on the fourth evening of the first Test at the Gabba as the West Indies set about the implausible task of making 420 to beat Australia in a minimum of 119 overs. Warne looked as dangerous as ever, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Coming on at 25 for no wicket, Warne at once galvanised what had by necessity been a somewhat pedestrian day. Australia worked towards a position from which they could declare against accurate, defensive and pragmatic West Indian bowling, whereupon Brian Lara's brilliant start and the bold but measured way in which Sherwin Campbell also met the challenge, promised much for the last six hours of the game.

Nine wickets for Australia perhaps seemed more likely than 331 more runs for the West Indies on the last day, but I doubt if the bookies were ruling out anything, even a second Brisbane tie.

The duel between Warne and Lara will no doubt be a compelling theme throughout this series. Yesterday Lara, getting right back on to his stumps to cut, or skipping out to drive whenever he was not meeting the leg-break with his front pad, had the better of the first skirmish. No matter what the television commentators might say to support their preconceived theory, however, the only visible evidence to date that the operation to Warne's ring finger has made him a less likely matchwinner amounts to fewer googlies and rather more long-hops than normal.

Whatever the outcome here, Australia are apparently certain to be without Steve Waugh in the second Test starting in Sydney on Friday. He neither batted nor bowled yesterday as a result of the groin injury sustained while bowling on Sunday. His brother Mark came closest to solving the problem of how to score fast against accurate pace bowling on a slowing pitch. It did not help that two of the Australians, Matthew Elliott and Michael Bevan, were trying to justify their selection, nor that Ambrose, Walsh and Benjamin seldom bowled an over without at least the two over-the-shoulder balls now permitted.

Ian Bishop was deservedly the highest wicket-taker because he chose to pitch the ball further up and try to make it swing. An inswinger accounted for Elliott as he drove, his body making a bow-shape in the process to let the ball though the gate, and he later had Ricky Ponting caught from a fine leg-glance and Waugh, rather less deservedly, as he cut at a wide ball to end a characteristically flowing innings.

Taylor also fell cutting - he has made only one fifty in 12 innings this season - and Bevan was dropped at slip by Lara off Bishop before he had scored. Taking 25 balls to get off the mark after his first innings duck, he seemed to have settled and had pulled Ambrose for two fours in succession when a third attempt from a hunched position merely hoisted a catch to deep square-leg.

Ian Healy had no such inhibitions and drove and cut with panache after tea to allow his captain to declare when Paul Reiffel ran himself out, with dextrous assistance from Browne.

The West Indies batted for the second time with 29 overs of the day remaining. Sherwin Campbell and Robert Samuels gave them a steady start against fast bowlers striving in vain to get much spark from a slowing pitch.

The sight of Warne ripping the ball out of the rough towards the off-stump, however, stimulated the attacking instincts of Samuels. One of four left-handers in the top six, he pulled with the spin for four and six and was then dropped at deep square-leg by Reiffel, only to edge the next ball, a barely-turning leg-break, to Taylor at slip.

Australia and Warne were on their way, not least to the relief of Taylor. His decision not to enforce a follow-on certainly conceded the immediate moral advantage, but the occasional unreliability of bounce 24 hours later suggested he had been right. The West Indies need to score at a rate of 3.53 runs per over, faster than the average for the game, but giving his bowlers ample time if they were good enough. He knew, of course, that most things are possible for Lara and that only two teams have made over 400 to win in the fourth innings.

Day 5: Bevan takes his chance to open up West Indies

AS THEY so often have since Shane Warne became a Test player, Australia finally found a way of winning. Despite hot weather, a good pitch and worthy batting, they beat the West Indies in the first Test in Brisbane by 123 runs, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Glorious visions of a cavalier assault on the target of 420 to win departed with Brian Lara 14 overs into the day's play, but Sherwin Campbell stood between Australia and victory for almost seven hours in all before he was ninth out for 113.

The compact little Barbadian's second Test hundred kept Australia in the field until the start of the final hour of the game. Campbell's feet do not go very far back or forward against the fast bowlers, but he is dead straight in defence and he played the spinners with admirable judgment.

His resilient and alert batting was the main reason that Warne himself, though he bowled for much of a sweltering day from the Stanley Street end, added only one more wicket to his success the previous evening.

More out of luck than of form, Warne's load was effectively shared by Michael Bevan, whose left-arm wrist spin was often only slightly less venomous.

Bevan's three wickets, one fewer than he managed in 86 overs for Yorkshire last season, came at important moments and will take him into the second Test on his home ground on Friday in a more confident mood after his disappointments with the bat. Glenn McGrath's fast and precisely directed bowling was again a key to an Australian success, as was the fielding of everyone.

They must immediately refocus on Sydney where, on a pitch said to be sparsely grassed, Australia might play two specialist spinners against a West Indian side with none. Peter McIntyre is one of a party of 13, and Greg Blewett returns in place of Steve Waugh, whose injured groin could take two weeks to recover.

The omens for the West Indies do not look good, but their dignified captain, Courtney Walsh, said after the game that the spirit of his team remained good.

Taylor, as ever bright, open and sensible in victory, agreed with Walsh that Ian Healy, who led the side off the field at the end and was man of the match, had turned the game with his first innings of 161 not out.

Taylor would have batted had he won the toss, though he was surprised by the amount of moisture in the pitch at first. ``There was so much playing and missing that five wickets might have fallen in that first session,'' he said.

He had fewer doubts about not enforcing the follow-on than had been the case against ``the Poms'' two years ago. ``This time the pitch was better, some of our bowlers had not had much bowling because of injuries, and they might have got a couple of batsmen in and got to 200 for two or something, which would have made it all of a sudden a very different game.''

Australia might then have had the tricky last day. As it was the West Indies started on a positive note and maintained it more or less to the end.

Walsh said that they were going out to win the game, but there was a certain confusion about tactics in the minds of more than one batsman, not excluding Campbell, who scored in little flurries of stylish drives though the covers or off his legs.

Lara, in brilliant form again, outscored him at first, but he and Campbell had seen off McGrath when Reiffel, suffering from a neck strain and less acccurate than usual, came on to take the all-important wicket. Slashing at a ball angled across his bows, Lara edged fiercely towards second slip where Mark Waugh clung on two-handed in front of his face.

Carl Hooper batted for 55 minutes but he became Bevan's first victim, three overs before lunch, when he attempted a gentle paddle-sweep and was caught by Healy as the ball lobbed up off the back of his bat.

If Hooper's departure to an inappropriate shot was no great surprise, that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul seven overs into the afternoon was, because he of all the West Indians is temperamentally suited to a rearguard. Playing forward a fraction limply to McGrath, who had just moved round the wicket, he edged onto his stumps via his front pad.

Jimmy Adams, offering no stroke, was unlucky when umpire Randell decided that a ball hitting his front pad at full forward stretch was certain to hit the stumps. Courtney Browne followed him with a breezy innings ill-suited to what should have become the single-minded pursuit of a draw. He was out hooking at a leg-side long-hop.

Ian Bishop, the best of the tail, was defrocked when Bevan got a ball to leap at his gloves out of the rough and Ricky Ponting caught the rebound at short leg.

Campbell survived his most awkward moments first when his bat flew from his grip as he top-edged a pull at Warne, and then, at 112, when a mass appeal for a pad-glove catch at silly point off Warne should probably have been upheld.

Instead he was given out on the back foot to a chinaman, despite apparently getting an inside edge. The little breaks mainly went Australia's way, but one can only admire their united resolve.

Ten innings have passed now since the West Indies last scored 300 against Australia.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk