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West Indies shade opening day
26 Dec 2007
By: Richard Dickinson


West Indies reached 281 for 4 on the first day of the First Test in South Africa at St.George's Park, Port Elizabeth thanks to a fine team effort led by the blitzkrieg Chris Gayle and the unusually composed Marlon Samuels. South Africa's bowlers mostly struggled, and Dale Steyn was guilty of the bowler's cardinal sin when he had Samuels caught off a no-ball early on. The overstep cost 80 runs.

The opening bowlers had been hopelessly wayward, a great disappointment after Graeme Smith had shown his confidence in them in deciding to field first. Gayle, captaining West Indies in Ramnaresh Sarwan's absence, would have made the same choice, but soon became grateful he did not get the chance. Makhaya Ntini's opening 7 overs cost 48, Dale Steyn's opening 5, 34. Gayle, back after a hamstring injury, was chief pillager, though Daren Ganga was not left entirely in his wake, scoring 33 from 57. Gayle brought-up his half-century from just 42 deliveries.

Andre Nel, however, offered tighter control than Ntini and Steyn, and in the 17th over, with the partnership already worth 98, prised out Ganga. The batsman flashed hard at a wide delivery not full enough for the drive, and got a straightforward outside-edge to Mark Boucher. Smith immediately introduced Paul Harris, and Gayle greeted him with a flowing drive through mid-off. Attempting a repeat performance next ball, the ball did not grip as the first had on the opening-day surface, and the edge went sharply to Jacques Kallis at slip. The burly all-rounder made no mistake.

Nel and Harris kept a lid on Runako Morton and Samuels, with the exception of Nel's 7th over when Samuels struck two fierce boundaries. Steyn's second spell was much improved on his first, and in the last over before lunch he produced one which drew the drive from Samuels and moved away. The ball went straight into Smith's bucket hands at first-slip - but then everyone noticed that Aleem Dar had his right-arm outstretched. It should have been 130 for 3 at lunch, but at 130 for 2 (from just 27 overs) West Indies had enjoyed a fine start to the series.

In the second session, South Africa reined in the manic scoring-rate. Kallis started the job, recalling his glory days of the just-outside-off-stump line. Steyn and Ntini took the cue from him, and both improved their figures considerably from the opening session. Finally, Ntini reaped the rewards, as a full, straight delivery spat off the pitch at Morton. It took the handle of the bat and looped to gully, giving Ashwell Prince an easy catch. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with a batting average over 20 runs higher the three ahead of him combined, strode to the crease.

The surface had proved slow, with little seam, just like most of the Bourda wickets Chanderpaul had grown-up batting on. He did not disappoint, unfurling his characteristic merciless dead bat, imperturbable concentration and once more utterly unorthodox stance. None of the South African seamers, nor Harris, could break through, and the Morton dismissal was the only time a wicket even looked like falling in the session. South Africa would have been content with the scoring-rate, 60 from 28 overs.

The evening - despite a short shower at tea - provided much of the same. Play was interrupted briefly as the rain returned, but Kallis and Harris bowled 10 overs at the start, and as their spell drew to a close Chanderpaul had a 76-ball 14, Samuels a 140-ball 48. The patience of Chanderpaul was nothing he had not demonstrated many times before, but an extremely commendable effort from the often-impetuous Samuels, like so many recent West Indies batsmen in possession of a stop-start Test career.

Steyn and Ntini were recalled from the 66th, however, and while they did not repeat their errors to the extent of the morning session they once more gave runs away at a disappointing rate. Nel came back on as the new ball approached, and perhaps made the mistake of giving words to Samuels. It appeared to wake the batsman from his slumber, and Nel's 16th, 17th and 18th cost 24. Harris was punished too, as his 16th went for 12.

When Ntini and Steyn were brought back for a third time they finally hit their straps. Steyn, 80 runs later, produced a near-identical delivery to Samuels, this time keeping his foot behind the crease. Kallis took another fine catch off the slightly thicker edge to second-slip. Dwayne Bravo was tested to the full as Steyn moved the ball away from his bat sharply, and Chanderpaul likewise from Ntini's trademark sliders across the left-hander. They survived to the end of the 84th, however, and Umpires Dar and Russell Tiffin finally decided to offer the light to the batsmen.

With Chanderpaul still at the crease the sky is nearly the limit for West Indies tomorrow. Should South Africa winkle him out early, however, they know that two all-rounders in Bravo and Darren Sammy plus wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin are all that remains of the batting. In which case, they would fancy their chances of keeping the tourists below 350. After some of the dismal bowling today, that would be a minor triumph.

West Indies 281 for 4
Chris Gayle 66, Marlon Samuels 94, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 43*

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