Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Survival battle


IN FULL FLOW: West Indies batsman Jermaine Blackwood powers an on-side shot during his knock of 63 on debut at the Queen's Park Oval, yesterday, on the third day of the second Test against New Zealand. --Photo: ANISTO ALVES

Mark Fraser

Trailing by 239 runs on first innings, the New Zealand batsmen trimmed their deficit down to 166 by the end of the third day of this second Test at the Queen’s Park Oval.

Opener Tom Latham (30) and Kane Williamson (38) carefully steered their side through 34 overs to close another warm day on 73 for one. Their bowlers removed the last three West Indies wickets for four runs to curtail the home team’s lead that had threatened to reach 300.

It was a hard day for the bowlers, the West Indies attack toiling without success after Jerome Taylor removed New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum in the seventh over. McCullum, opening in place of the unwell Hamish Rutherford, was given out lbw after being struck on the full. He challenged umpire Ian Gould’s decision without success.

But the Windies pacers were getting little from the third day surface, and captain Denesh Ramdin ended the day with the all-spin, pairing of Sulieman Benn (13-5-17-0) and Chris Gayle (7-2-19-0),used for the first time in the match.

Their New Zealand counterparts had toiled similarly and had to contend with a confident debutant determined to make a good first impression. Jermaine Blackwood, 22, was given his Test cap on the first day by Brian Lara. But he had to wait for the third morning before getting his first knock at the highest level. He responded by getting 63.

It was not a chanceless innings, Blackwood being put down at bat/pad at least once by Latham off slow bowler Mark Craig, and he successfully challenged the umpire’s decision for lbw to Williamson when on 35.

Picked after a steady regional season and recent performances against the Bangladesh A team where he made centuries and not just cameo fifties, Blackwood showed no lack of confidence against Test match bowling.

“I played each ball on its merit and if the ball was there to be hit, I hit it,” he explained later. That attitude was clear from the moment he dispatched innings top wicket-taker Trent Boult (30-6-75-3) back overhead for six.

The diminutive Jamaican’s other boundaries in a two hour, 26-minute effort that contained six fours and two sixes were executed with similar confidence, none moreso than the bullet off-drive off Boult which brought up the 200 lead after lunch.

Blackwood at the time was in partnership with his captain Denesh Ramdin (32, four fours) in an eighth wicket stand that eventually realised 76 at a rate better than three runs an over. A Blackwood prod at an Ish Sodhi leg-spinner which was edged to wicketkeeper BJ Watling eventually ended the stand. “A pretty wonderful feeling,” was how he described the experience.

Earlier, Blackwood had been eased into his innings by the veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul. “Going out there and batting with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, I felt confident enough,” he said. “For the first over, I felt a little bit nervous but after that I started to feel much freer and Shiv was out there telling me just to back my ability.”

The pair had come together 46 minutes into the day’s play after Kemar Roach—the second nightwatchman the Windies used in the innings—had been removed by Boult via a Jimmy Neesham catch.

Chanderpaul and Blackwood however added 47 more runs to the lead which was already 112 when they came together. But the sudden end to the innings prompted by the dismissals of Ramdin, Blackwood and Taylor upset the home team’s plans somewhat. “Happy to have lead,” Blackwood said but, “we wanted about 50 more runs, unfortunately we didn’t get that.”

Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel will need to make the batsmen play more if the their side is to do according to Blackwood and “pick up some wickets, and try and create pressure.” Just as when they batted, success today will have come through much patience.