WI-SA: Like he was never away

Following the contractually shorn West Indian second string’s valiant efforts in Guyana, built upon twin double centuries from Wavell Hinds and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, South Africa’s second Test in the Caribbean began at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, with the return of Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and – more iconic than all three together – national hero and talisman Brian Lara. Donovan Pagon retained his place in the side following Ryan Hinds’ injury, whilst Devon Smith, Daren Ganga and Narsingh Deonarine missed out from the eleven who played at the Bourda.

Whilst Lara returned to the side, Chanderpaul kept the captaincy – a job he had performed at regular intervals for his provincial side, Guyana, and it was Chanderpaul who elected to bat on winning the toss. Suitably restored to the opening and number three slots, Gayle and Sarwan combined to show the West Indian supporters exactly what they hadn’t missed out on last week. Both men perished inside the opening half-hour of the day in near-identical fashion, as their aggression paid zero dividend against the hostility of Makhaya Ntini. Gayle fell first, hooking the seamer, only to gain a thick edge skywards which was well judged by Mark Boucher behind the stumps.

A handful of deliveries later, Sarwan followed his fellow rebel back to the pavilion in near-identical fashion, the edge carrying higher and harder, but coming to the same conclusion as Andre Nel held at deep fine leg. Thirteen for two was not the scenario that Lara had likely desired to make his return to the West Indian fold, but one where the Trinidadian’s powers had more chance than he may have wished to shine. After a sedate start, Monde Zondeki’s introduction into the attack provoked a change in Lara’s gear.

A combination of erring in length, generous width and Zondeki’s natural pace provided ample foundation upon which to gather runs apace, the seamer’s first two overs costing 23 runs as Lara played the aggressor to Wavell Hinds’ (32) solidity and speed between the wickets – the antithesis of the opener’s display on the South American mainland. It took the return of Ntini into the attack to remove Hinds, courtesy of an outside edge into the hands of captain Graeme Smith at slip, but not before 95 had been added for the third wicket.

Chanderpaul, maintaing his role at number five, joined his fellow experienced campaigner for the largest partnership of the day – one more than Hinds and Lara had contributed – before the left-arm spin of Nicky Boje made a crucial breakthrough for the tourists. Attempting a straightforward defensive push, Chanderpaul only succeded in directing the ball back to the South African bowler and prising the opening into the West Indian resistance that the tourists needed.

Donovan Pagon, having impressed greatly during his cameo in the first Test, then came – and went – as Ntini took his fourth wicket of the day, a searing yorker penetrating the youngster’s defences. Dwayne Bravo was to last little longer, as South Africa seized the initiative through Andre Nel’s reverse swing, deceiving the all-rounder and catching the inside edge on its way to leg stump.

Alongside now-centurion Lara, Courtney Browne stood between the tourists and the West Indian tail – Pedro Collins, Reon King and Daren Powell – and significant pyschological first-day triumph, however at stumps, that was still the case. The wicketkeeper and his veteran counterpart combined to see off twenty overs of South African pressure to reach the close of play at 281-6, the match very much in the balance with four full days to play, on a pitch with plenty of encouragement available for bowlers willing put enough effort in

Lara’s unbeaten 159, his highest Test score at his home ground, is his 27th, taking him clear alone – above Gary Sobers – at the top of the West Indian list of all-time Test centurions, and alongside Allan Border in joint fifth amongst all nations. South Africa, meanwhile, will look to their batsman – if and when the task of displacing Lara from the crease is completed – to provide the edge that their seam attack (bar Ntini) lacked throughout the first day if they are to avoid falling behind in this series.

West Indies 281-6
Brian Lara 159*, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 35
Makhaya Ntini 4-59, Andre Nel 1-43

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