The rise of West Indies?
From Gopal Rangachary, India
While the cricketing world spent the last week rejoicing at the end of Australia's era of domination, and celebrating the definitive Tendulkar innings, a quite extraordinary set of events were quietly unfolding themselves in Napier, New Zealand. No - it wasnt that Chanderpaul got a first ball duck, or that Chris Gayle batted 5 sessions - but that the Test match, and hence the Test series ended in a draw.
Well - the basement battle between two uninspiring sides ended in a draw. Nothing to write home about you would think. But, especially if you were Tony Cozier or one of the long suffering West Indies cricket journalists, this was a red letter day. For the first time in 13 years, and after 17 series (since the English summer of 1995), West Indies were NOT beaten in an overseas Test series ( of course let's leave the pseudo Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh out). To put this in perspective, for the entire duration of Saurav Ganguly's Test career, West Indies lost every overseas tour they went on.
Chanderpaul is the only West Indies player to have tasted anything but defeat in this period. A closer reading is even more depressing. In the 60 matches that were played across those 17 series, West Indies won just 4, drew 6 ( of which 4 were rain-affected) and lost the other 50 matches. What is most mind-numbing is to recall that West Indies were unbeaten in 27 test series in the preceding 15 years (1980-1995). They fell off a particularly steep cliff didn't they?
There have been a few false dawns in these dark days of West Indies cricket - particularly at home. They have won Test series against Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka , England and New Zealand, and shared one with Australia. Despite the Perth heroics of de Villiers & Co., they still hold the record for the highest 4th innings target chased. Lara has played several memorable innings, Chanderpaul many valiant ones, Courtney Walsh became the leading wicket taker in world cricket and even Chris Gayle has a Test triple hundred. However, with the West Indies, it has seemed every step forward was inevitably followed by three longer ones backward.
That said, there is some reason for cautious optimism in the Chris Gayle era - A first ever Test win in South Africa, a drawn Test series against a decent SL side, a Test series against Australia which was much more competitive than was anticipated, and now this drawn one in New Zealand . Of course the backdrop to this has been the Bradmanesque efforts of the under-appreciated Chanderpaul in this period, but there have been other signs of life - Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor are a handy bowling partnership, Dwayne Bravo is enthusiastic and talented, and the fielding and the general way that the West Indies seem to be going about their business has significantly improved.
There are many areas to fix though, scarcely a series goes by without wrangling between Digicel and Cable and Wireless (although the toxic West Indies Players Association and the obnoxious Dinanath Ramnarine seem to have evaporated), Allen Stanford has funded the game, but muddied the waters, and the regional infighting seems to grow in inverse proportion to the team's performance on the field. Darren Powell shouldn't see the inside of a Test ground again, and surely there must be someone other than Dinesh Ramdin and Carlton Baugh. Chris Gayle needs to find an opening batsman who will be a partner rather than a one-night stand. However this draw against a mediocre New Zealand side may just be the beginning of the era of the era of West Indies submission.
If only that maniac, John Bracewell had been around as NZ coach, the West Indies may even have won it.