West Indies in Australia 2009-10 December 23, 2009

West Indies encourage optimism

Doubters certainly remain, but West Indies' spirited transformation has encouraged optimism everywhere for the resurgence of their cricket

Chris Gayle summed it up neatly.

"I think people look at us now and think a bit differently, based on how we went about this series, even though we lost 2-0," the captain said after the final Test against Australia on Sunday.

Of that, there can be no doubt. West Indies might have been starting out from a rock-bottom base but their spirited transformation from familiar innings defeat in the first Test to genuine, competitive scraps in the last two on perilous, foreign soil has earned a new respect. It has encouraged optimism everywhere for the resurgence of our cricket, for so long in such a state of chaos and controversy that its demise was widely feared, indeed promoted in some quarters.

Doubters certainly remain. They are wary that another disruptive flare-up in relations between board and players' association is never far away. They point out that this Australian team is ordinary by comparison with its immediate predecessors and, in any case, that we have been this way before.

Were the Australians not similarly pushed to the limit in the previous seriesin the Caribbean? Wasn't the Wisden Trophy regained from England after nine years only nine months earlier? Remember the home series against Sri Lanka in 2008 was shared.

The difference is that such performances depended almost entirely on the usual suspects - Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the runs, Fidel Edwards, Jerome Taylor and Dwayne Bravo for the wickets. Not a single new player settled into place. This time, Sarwan and Chanderpaul each missed a Test and hardly contributed. Taylor broke down after nine overs. Edwards wasn't there at all.

Instead, a set of newcomers - Kemar Roach, Adrian Barath, Travis Dowlin and Narsingh Deonarine, especially, but Ravi Rampaul and Gavin Tonge as well - capably filled the breach. Two relative newcomers, Brendan Nash, the intrepid little left-hander, and Sulieman Benn, the lanky left-arm spinner, continued to add vital balance. Most decisively, spirit and determination, glaringly absent in the plunge towards the bottom rungs of the Test cricket ladder, resurfaced in Australia, time and again.

The change was most noticeable in Gayle himself. Just six months earlier, he revealed that he was an avowed Test cricket sceptic, a self-confessed devotee of Twenty20 cricket and a reluctant captain who later joined the general strike in the home series against Bangladesh.

Now, according to Peter Roebuck, originally his sternest media cricket, he "saved the series" with his leadership and his contrasting hundreds in Adelaide and Perth.

Many had found the wholehearted and frequently expressed support of his players difficult to comprehend. The harsh view was that they were comfortable with his laid-back attitude that did not demand of them the necessary discipline and hard work. Whether so or not, he now found himself supported by David Williams as coach, West Indian rather than Australian, and Joel Garner, a legendary West Indian cricketer, as manager.

They had under them several players bursting with enthusiasm and commitment. Dwayne Bravo, the key allrounder, was returning to Test cricket after an ankle operation for the first time in a year and half. Fifty50 and Twenty20 was all he had had in the interim and Tests are still acknowledged as the real measure of a cricketer. Dowlin, Roach and Tonge were only there through the absence of the leading players that had offered them their chance against Bangladesh.

Deonarine, Barath and Ravi Rampaul were teenaged prodigies from different eras who, in contrast, had been denied their break after joining the strike. It was ten years after Deonarine first turned out for Guyana aged 16 and two and a half years since his handful of Tests against Sri Lanka and South Africa. Rampaul's first match for the West Indies was an ODI seven years earlier. There were 35 more in the interim but this was his belated Test debut. Barath, the current boy wonder, was on his first major tour. All made their marks.

Bravo was inevitably in the thick of everything, a crucial hundred in Adelaide, telling spells of controlled swing and cut there and in Perth, a super catch here, a super catch there, tactical suggestions everywhere. "What a cricketer," Bill Lawry, the former Australian captain, gushed on TV commentary as Bravo snared one of his catches.

As Ricky Ponting can attest, Roach emerged as a bowler of menacing, controlled pace and cricket sense. He is just 21 and only the bane of fast bowlers, injuries, can prevent him from spearheading the attack for the next decade. Barath, aged 19 and his reputation already known in the Caribbean and internationally through the Champions League in India a month earlier, marked his debut Test in Brisbane with a dazzling 104 (out of a 187 total). His prospects stretch further into the future than even Roach's.

Deonarine only made the Test XI in Australia because a hand injury eliminated his mentor, Chanderpaul. His second innings 82 in a testing situation in Perth confirmed temperament to go with talent. Yet none of these typified the new spirit quite as strongly as Dowlin.

A stalwart in the Guyana middle order for a dozen years, Dowlin's modest average of 30 informed him of the truth that any dream of Test cricket was unrealistic. Suddenly, the Bangladesh imbroglio turned the dream into reality. Strength of mind ensured it did not become a nightmare. There were scores of 49 and 95 in his second Test, an unbeaten 100 in his second ODI. But the opposition was only Bangladesh. Australia would be the real test.

It was ... and how. Twice, only the misfortune of others opened a spot for him. Ramnaresh Sarwan's stiff back brought him into the pivotal No.3 position in Brisbane. His rejoinder was the first innings top score, 62, when he was second in, last out. In Perth, Barath's strained hamstring meant he had to go in first with Gayle, an unaccustomed role at any level. He filled it like a master, 55 spread over three and a half hours, the ideal counter-balance while his skipper blasted his memorable 102 off 72 balls.

At the age of 32, Dowlin proved that experience and character are as critical as youth and talent, just as another late starter, Ridley Jacobs, had done. Judged on his lack of style rather than his surfeit of substance, Jacobs was only picked for the Test team at 31 after a string of failed younger alternatives. In the 65 Tests in which he kept wicket and made runs, he proved as reliable a player as West Indies had.

Dowlin knows from recent experience that he is unlikely to continue for nearly as long as Jacobs. In between Brisbane and Perth, he was sacrificed for the return of Sarwan, the automatic choice for No.3. Had his batting been as careless as his fellow Guyanese he would surely never wear the West Indies cap again.

Three years ago in Pakistan, Sarwan, then vice-captain, was shocked when captain Brian Lara informed him on the morning of the second Test that he was dropped and told to "reflect and come back strong". Had there been another Test in Australia, Gayle would have had every right to follow Lara's example. His back better, Sarwan returned to the XI in Adelaide for Dowlin. His batting there and in Perth reflected a recklessness that was inappropriate to the team's needs and in contrast to its new approach.

There was a slack drive to cover in the first innings in Adelaide. In Perth, with a decisive third day ahead and his presence vital, he greeted the second ball with an extravagant drive that sliced a catch to gully. In the second innings that would decide the match and the series, with Gayle and Dowlin already out, he chose an ambitious cut to the last ball to lunch that edged a catch to the keeper.

Sarwan is a quality player with an undeniable record of winning and saving matches. His 105 was pivotal in the record victory over Australia in Antigua in 2003. His 102 led the West Indies home in Port of Spain last year to level the series against Sri Lanka. His 128 held the Aussies at bay through the last day in Antigua six weeks later. Before his recent aberrations, he had enjoyed an outstanding 2009 with three hundreds and a double in six Tests against England.

More is expected of such a senior player than he exhibited in Adelaide and Perth. If he hadn't noticed, people are looking at the West Indies differently now. Just check with his captain.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • giovaughn on December 26, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    all in all i am quite pleased with the teams performance. we had so much going against us & still we exceeded everyone's expectations. we could have easily won the series 2-1 if players like Ramdin & Sarwan had put out greater effort. i think we might have have given them a blackwash if Taylor Edwards & evryone was fit for the 3 matches!! im still a bit dissapointed in Bravo. i think he should try to do better in his batting. he is too careless & reckless. his bowling was not too bad. Rampaul Tonge & Sammy still have a lot to learn but they have given me hope. Nash Gayle Roach & Benn were impressive. they really tried hard to do well. with Samuels ban expiring & Taylor Fidel & Bharath coming back the series vs South Africa should be exciting.

  • Derek on December 26, 2009, 0:17 GMT

    dontalon , have you ever hear of Collis King?

  • krishna on December 25, 2009, 4:33 GMT

    Question: are the windies turning the corner? Answer is NO,but make no mistake about it ,they are certainly looking in the right direction ,never before in the last ten years of the demise have i ever seen such unity or tactical strategy,and purpose,yes!,this windies team has finally got the message ,thank joel garner for that ,the australia series has ended and i think sarwan should be dropped from test cricket until he sjows more commitment to the team cause.On another note this team appears to believe in thier ability,of course it does not guarantee wins but i truly believe that this team is no longer a bunch of wanderers and celebrities ,and we have chris gayle to thank for that,lets keep our fingers crossed ,the next honourable move depends on W.I.C.B. lets hope they stop suckin the life out of cricket in the caribbean ,and silence the australian and english ingrate critics who have enjoyed a demise that has lasted ten years!thank god its over!and the aussies know it!

  • Len on December 23, 2009, 19:29 GMT

    Tony Cozier still does not get it does he? there has to be more critical analysis of WIndies if we are to develop. Gayle blasted a quick century in the last test as if it was a one-dayer when he should have been looking to save the Test first and then take it from there. Dowlin, Deonarine and Sarwan all got in, but could not go on to a big score. The bowling still fails to understand that if you cannot get wickets then you at least try to build up pressure by bowling maidens. this they found hard to do as they were still bowling too short, allowing the Australian batsmen to pull and cut them to pieces. Garner should also tell Gayle and Kemar Roach to stop shouting their mouths off and get on with playing. In case you missed it Gayle, YOU LOST THE SERIES 2-0. The truth is that until WIndies acknowledge the importance of discipline on a CONSISTENT BASIS NOT JUST ONE MATCH, they will NEVER develop their capabilities to the maximum level.

  • Kirwin on December 23, 2009, 18:35 GMT

    Good analysis of the batting. We also need to look closely at the bowling. We have to remember that we surrendered over 500 runs in thye Perth test with some slack short bowling. No matter how good (or bad) the batting may be, in order to win test matches, we need to consistently take ten wickets per innings, because we constantly lose these matches by consistently losing 10 wickets per innings. If we have Fidel, Jerome and Roach fit and playing in a match we have a realistic chance of winning. We should keep Rampaul and Tonge in the pool as well, as modern fast bowlers are known to easily break down. Benn is a good spin option as we can see on bouncy pitches. One more important thing is pitches in the Caribbean need to be prepared to suit our final 11.

  • Nat on December 23, 2009, 16:46 GMT

    And they say we have not talent left in the Caribbean. The performance of the WI in the last two tests were very encouraging. I fully expected them to be beaten by the Ausies, all I wanted them to do was fight and push them all the way which they did after the first test. I am convinced that if we had a fit Taylor or Edwards or, better still both we would have beaten the Ausies. I am so pleased with the newcomers to the team, they all stood up to be counted, Nash reminds me of Larry Gomes, he is almost un-noticeable but before you know it he has 20 or 30 runs on the board. I agree with Tony, Sawan really needs to look at the way he gives his wicket away crucial times. Gayle I believe has silenced his doubters, of that there can be little doubt. There is plenty there to work with, let's hope the WICB get it act together and put systems in place harness that talent and, PLEASE! NO MORE DISPUTES, YOUR ARE DESTORYING OUR GAME AND TESTING PATIENTS. (FOR GOD SAKE! GET A GRIP).

  • don on December 23, 2009, 11:18 GMT

    I like players like Dowlin who get in and stay in and Bravo is my favorite. Here in Barbados they don't rate him (BRAVO)and certain pundits say that he should not bat at 6-7. But no young test batsman who debuted after Gayle and Sarwan has a better test batting record than him & I think only Edwards has more wickets. He's is the best all round cricketer West indies has produced since Sobers. ( I get stick for this). It's good that players from the non major islands in the caribbean are now coming through and Barbados T&T and JA must start to notice that they need to get back to basics. Barbados ,for instance, has not produced a truly world class test cricketer since Haynes and Marshall. 32 YRS ago. The recent tour was encouraging but the WI administration must realise that this current cadre of players will not take the WI back to the higher regions of world cricket; they dont have enough time and too much water and bad blood has passed under the bridge.

    Sylvan Spooner

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