Benn on the road to redemption but Proteas take advantage – Digicel Cricket Update

Sulieman Benn has had a torrid two weeks leading up to the First Digicel Test. He was accused of insubordination and was ejected from the field by his Captain, Chris Gayle, in the Fourth Digicel One Day International in Dominica. There were calls across the Caribbean for him to be banned from cricket for varying periods. The team management instead fined him his match fee for the offending game and declared the matter closed.

Redemption, though not entirely complete, was swift.

Shane Shillingford bowls on debut - Brooks La Touche Photography and

Shane Shillingford bowls on debut - Brooks La Touche Photography and

A few minutes before 5pm on Friday afternoon, Gayle stood on the field in front of the Brian Lara Pavilion and applauded as Benn led the team off following his second career five wicket haul in Tests which helped to curtail South Africa to 352 all out after the resumed on their overnight 70 for 3. Admiration, applause and congratulations from the straight talking Gayle do not come cheaply. Benn earned every clap of Gayle’s hands. The usually fierce Benn responded by removing his cap and cracking a smile. He would have been pleased with his work and the support of his teammates, not in the least, Gayle’s.

In the days leading up to the match, when questioned about Benn’s inclusion in the squad, Gayle defended it and even declared that he was not at loggerheads with the spinner as the two are friends but he needed to be upbraided.

Gayle is renowned for his uncompromising style and, when Benn was sent off in Dominica, he could have kept the matter quiet and blamed the bowler’s absence on his crook knee. The captain opted to make the issue public and reprimand Benn in the strongest possible language but he must have then played a role in his retention in the Test squad. Firm, fair and fearless actions like these is why he has won the admiration of his men.

Umpire Steve Davis checks the light meter reading - Brooks La Touche Photography and

Umpire Steve Davis checks the light meter reading - Brooks La Touche Photography and

Benn is not the most compliant and demure figure in world cricket – but it is his fiery and in-your-face persona which helps to dispel the impression that the Windies team is one which does not play with the requisite passion and desire.

While Benn refused to follow his captain’s instructions and bowl over the wicket in Dominica, he did not shirk at the Queen’s Park Oval on Thursday and Friday. Benn ambled in and uncoiled his left armers on 282 occasions during the 47 overs he delivered in the South African innings.

Their final score though represented a significant recovery from 107 for 5 and it means that they hold a distinct advantage over the home side. The recovery was formed by three diligent half centuries from wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher (69), AB de Villiers (68) and Ashwell Prince (57).

While Boucher marshaled the lower order in a most expert fashion to push the score past 300 and further, the recovery from the tenuous 107 for 5 was engineered by de Villiers and Prince who put on 122 in 35.2 overs to take the score to 229 for 6 when Prince tucked the first delivery of Gayle’s only over in the innings to leg slip.

The left hander had spent the previous 118 deliveries in the company of de Villiers as the two wrestled the advantage from the Windies with thoughtful and cautious batting.

Graeme Smith is caught by Dwayne Bravo at slip - Brooks La Touche Photography and

Graeme Smith is caught by Dwayne Bravo at slip - Brooks La Touche Photography and

After both were dismissed, Boucher teamed up with fast bowler, Dale Steyn, for an eight wicket stand of 86 which deflated the Windies until Benn returned to remove the latter for 39 (106 balls, 4×4, 2×6). Benn added the wicket of Morne Morkel to his bag of five before medium pacer, Dwayne Bravo, secured Boucher’s wicket ten minutes before the scheduled close of play to close the innings.

Bravo’s wicket was the only one which did not go to a spinner as debutant offie, Shane Shillingford, took 3 for 96 from his 35 overs which were delivered with the confidence, guile and aggression of someone much more experienced than he actually is.

From 107 for 5, the West Indies could have been aiming to discard the Proteas for under 200 but they were reminded that the African side is the one of the world’s finer units on the Test circuit. Surrendering when under pressure is not a course of action which has allowed them to be as highly ranked as they are. The West Indies now have the not so inconsiderable task of overhauling 352 and retaking the advantage.

If the batsmen apply themselves as Benn did they are likely to find success as he did. Batting at the very top of the order, Gayle may now look to Benn’s most recent performance for inspiration. It has been quite a two weeks for a man stalked by a seemingly unshakable disciplinary demon throughout his career.

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