West Indies in Australia 2009-10 December 20, 2009

West Indies' positive energy

The difference between the West Indies' performance in Brisbane and those in Adelaide and Perth was surely not by coincidence

You can usually get a pretty fair inkling of the way a sporting team is faring from its demeanour in its off-duty time, away from the stresses of the battles, on the field and off it.

So it has been with the West Indies of the past decade or so. With only fleeting exceptions, there was a surliness that reflected the chaos and controversy that have brought the region's once powerful game to its knees.

Stern-faced players have gone on strike and boycotted official functions. With board presidents they have publicly traded insults. They have complained about selectors, coaches, groundsmen and itineraries. The captain has rubbished Test cricket.

Such discontent was carried into play with inevitable consequences.

Against such a background and the sound thrashing dished out by Australia in the first Test in Brisbane - a month after the end of the second players' strike in four years - it was obvious that something had changed between Brisbane and the second Test in Adelaide to transform the ridiculed easy-beats into tough competitors.

The difference between their performance in Brisbane and those in Adelaide and Perth was surely not by coincidence.

Reports had filtered through that, far from becoming depressed by the appalling criticism that followed their heavy first Test defeat, they had been motivated by it.

The captain, who copped most of the censure, was adamant that "negative energy is the last thing we need right now".

"We are just starting to try to regroup as a team," Chris Gayle said.

Finally, through the baffling magic of the internet, confirmation of one reason for the turnaround was revealed in a ten-minute clip on YouTube of a function in Perth last Monday night. If you can, it is well worth watching.

There, three West Indian players had taken over the stage, and the band, and were entertaining teammates, their Australian opponents and guests - and, clearly, themselves - with impromptu reggae and calypso, dance moves and stand-up comedy.

This was two nights before the decisive final Test in Perth. The West Indies already knew that Shivnarine Chanderpaul, their essential and dependable middle-order rock, and Adrian Barath, the young tyro opener, were both injured and would be missing.

Contrary to pessimistic expectations, there have been a lot of good things out of Australia, individually and collectively. Gayle, still only 30, and Bravo, 26, have been at the core

On the surface, there was no cause for skylarking and laughter. The stunning revival in the drawn Adelaide Test a week earlier was surely in jeopardy of being undermined by such setbacks. Usually, the mood would have been doom and gloom.

After the Brisbane 'disaster' (his word), Gayle responded to a chorus of calls for his head with the defiant retort that he was "the right man to lead the West Indies through this challenging period."

It was an assertion he backed with his 165 in the second innings in Adelaide, unbeaten from first ball to last for more than seven hours. While there was never any doubt that his strongest supporters were his players, his innings now won over most of the doubters on the outside as well.

So it was not surprising that he should have been the leader of the trio on stage in Perth.

Within a few days, he was to the fore again, now in the heat of battle. His breathtaking 104 off 72 balls, with its six long-range sixes, was a clear and instant reply to Australia's intimidating 520 for 7 declared.

Nor was it any surprise that his lively sidekick on stage was Dwayne Bravo, the heart and soul of the show as he is on the field.

While Gayle has established himself as indisputable leader in the past fortnight, Bravo has shown himself to be not only the key allrounder but the tactical lieutenant.

His allround credentials were already established by the time his left ankle could take no more and had to undergo surgery a year and a half ago.

His Adelaide hundred, his exceptional spells of controlled swing and stamina in the second innings there and again in Perth and his dynamic fielding have emphasised how much he was missed in the interim in series against New Zealand and England, home and away.

He is what I imagine his fellow Trinidadian dynamo of the 1920s and 1930s, Learie Constantine, must have been like.

But there is more to Bravo than his batting, bowling, fielding and infectious enthusiasm. His tactical sharpness has been evident through the Tests in Australia.

He had noted from the preceding series in the West Indies that the left-handed Simon Katich moves so far across his stumps he can be vulnerable off his legs.

Repeatedly, Bravo bowled that line and set a fielder round the corner. He passed the word on to the other bowlers.

In Brisbane, the deflection he found was fine enough for wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin to make a tumbling leg-side catch. In the second innings in Perth, Ravi Rampaul exploited the same weakness and bowled the opener around his legs.

When Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain winged by Kemar Roach's second ball in the first innings, emerged in the second at No. 8, Bravo sprinted to the young tearaway to point out that he needed a fielder under Ponting's nose at forward short-leg.

It was a self-evident move but no one else seemed to notice. The position was immediately filled and the impressive Roach immediately sealed the deal with his throat-seeking bouncer that was fended into Travis Dowlin's waiting hands. Excited by the execution, Bravo rushed to embrace the bowler in a bear hug.

Prior to the Australian trip, Gayle and Bravo both spoke of having to make choices between Test cricket and the lucrative Twenty20 tournaments that are mushrooming everywhere.

The latter seemed the preferred choice. Indeed, both now remain in Australia to play for state teams in their so-called 'Big Bash'.

Events of the last few weeks in Adelaide and Perth should be sufficient to rekindle their spark for the traditional form. Twenty20 tops up the bank balance but can't match the personal fulfillment of batting for seven hours or manning a spell of 15 consecutive overs in the team's interest.

Contrary to pessimistic expectations, there have been a lot of good things out of Australia, individually and collectively. Gayle, still only 30, and Bravo, 26, have been at the core.

They now need to combine to carry such developments forward-and not simply on a stage behind the mike.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years