Cricket: Perry's bit-part in Lara's finest hour

It was one of the great Tests, especially for a 30-year-old debutant
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The Independent Online
WEST INDIES might not quite have expired by the end of the opening day in the Second Test at Kingston but the only people yearning to watch them were probably undertakers. The team were 37 for 4, again staring down both barrels at abject defeat, and the sombre mood in the dressing- room merely reflected the melancholy of the whole Caribbean.

They had collapsed hopelessly in the last hour after dismissing Australia in the early part of the day. That evening Nehemiah Perry, who at the age of 30 was playing in his first Test match, rang his brother to arrange delivery of a complimentary pass for the following day. The conversation only confirmed that by now it was impossible to give away tickets.

"He told me that he had better things to do," Perry said. "He had decided that he would be much better off sleeping instead. He said that it was obviously another defeat and that it was all just so embarrassing he didn't want to be there."

What Noel Perry missed by deciding to go to the land of Nod rather than Sabina Park was not only a revival of miraculous proportions but also one of the greatest of all Test innings. West Indies did not lose a wicket on the second day and Brian Lara, their maligned captain who was being cast as a spent batting force, compiled a delectable double century. Nehemiah Perry, at least, watched every ball.

"I sat there and I couldn't take my eyes away. I knew how determined he had been the previous evening. He had been intent on not getting out and while it was a very quiet dinner at the hotel we all knew Brian was still there. It was simply the best innings I've ever seen and I told him that.

"He wanted to get a century at Jamaica. He's been in every paper, every headline and he was the one who was being blamed for everything. But he kept the respect of the players, everybody likes him and people forget that he can't carry the batting all by himself all the time."

Lara's eventual 213 from 344 balls and the immense fifth- wicket partnership of 344, mostly in company with the stoic Jimmy Adams (Pedro Collins having retired hurt with the score at 56), transformed the match. West Indies bowled out Australia in their second innings for 177, needed only three runs for victory and duly won by 10 wickets.

A run of six consecutive Test match defeats, in none of which they were remotely combative, had been dramatically halted. If the resplendent Lara and the gritty Adams were largely responsible for effecting this, the contribution of Perry was impressively significant. He took six wickets in the match, including 5 for 70 in the second innings, and probably convinced the West Indies selectors that spin bowling must be part of their future. Nehemiah Odolphus Perry demonstrated that he is more than a cricketer with an exotic name (though he is known, incidentally, as Johnny).

International recognition has been a long time in coming. He has been on a couple of A tours, went to Sharjah in 1995 without playing but generally has been quietly ignored since he first appeared for Jamaica in 1987 and spending several summers playing league cricket in England.

"It's always been pace, pace and more pace so for all those years I was never surprised not to get an opportunity," he said. "When they started to pick some spin again the selectors went for other people so I kind of thought it might have passed me by. But I'd taken 17 wickets in three games at Sabina Park this season, we'd lost the First Test in Trinidad and things were bad. Also our tail kept folding up and I can bat a bit late in the order so I had a feeling I was in contention."

Perry was pleasantly surprised by what he found when he joined the squad. They might, perhaps indeed should, have been dejected after the pummelling they had received. Instead they were upbeat and thought they had the beating of Australia. "Everybody was relaxed, we knew we had to get in there and lift ourselves and be more aggressive."

It went as well as it could have done in the first part of the first day. Australia recovered somewhat from 46 for 3 but were all out for 256 and Perry, starting nervously, took the wicket of Mark Waugh with an off-break which turned considerably and crept.

"I probably gave it a bit too much loop in the first innings," he said. "I allowed the Waugh brothers who are the best batsmen in their side the chance to come forward and then go back if they wanted. You've either got to make them do one or the other and that's what I was set on doing in the second innings. I pushed it through a bit more but still got some turn."

Perry might have been the new boy but he was unafraid to proffer his wisdom. He mentioned to Lara at one point that the captain might like to switch Curtly Ambrose to the Commentary Box End, advice with which the captain concurred, and constantly emphasised in the dressing-room the importance of staying in the game.

"I've always felt I had something to give," he said. "I think we can beat them now if we up the killer instinct." He should know the Australians will not go quietly, if at all, but his part in cancelling the funeral arrangements marking the death of West Indies cricket will never be forgotten.