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In March 1986, Graham Gooch’s 129* off 117 balls just got England over the line in what was reduced to a 37-over ODI against West Indies. Earlier in the tour, they had recorded their other victory by winning a four-day game against Jamaica. They lost the five Tests and the other two ODIs by massive margins, as well as four-day games against the Windward Islands and Barbados, and weren’t exactly impressive in the four-day games against the Leewards or Trinidad.
What we have just witnessed was as one-sided as the slaughters to which England were subjected twenty-odd years ago.
Back then, all we had to go on were the reports in the papers and the live radio commentary . The captain was David Gower, regularly pilloried along the lines of his being horizontal were he any more laid-back. The tabloids especially delighted in using words like “spineless” and accused the team of failing to try and of lacking guts or pride, and stopped only marginally short of calling for the ritual disembowelment of the captain as prelude to flaying alive the rest of the squad on their shameful return home. Sound familiar?
I could not then accept that the England players were quite as contemptible as the reports said. The charge which could be laid against them was defeatism: they were beaten before they even got on the plane because they expected to lose, which sure enough they went ahead and did.
After the Test series in the Caribbean, Chris Gayle intimated to several of the press party that the prospect of a swinging ball in a cold English May was not one that he or his players were relishing. The West Indies turned up like teenagers to a cinema showing “Bowlers of the Living Dead”, expecting to be scared out of their wits. It is to England’s credit that they largely managed to make the fantasy all too real. Anderson delivered high-class swing at pace, and if Stuart Broad’s command of the bouncer is not as sure as Joel Garner’s was, Ramnaresh Sarwan is unlikely to feel much like arguing the toss over it. And then there was the horror of Swann, all the worse for being unexpected.
I hope that’s what happened, anyway. I don’t want to live in a world where the failure of Shivnarine Chanderpaul to average 100 in a series can be used as evidence that he is not trying his damnedest for the team the way he has done throughout his infernally dogged career. I don’t want to believe that the younger players in the West Indies team aren’t storing away their hurt with a resolution that one day they will be stronger and better-equipped to make England pay.
Part of England’s problem in 1986 was that their captain was a rational man whose realism led him to the conclusion that his team were not good enough to win and was unable to pretend to them that they could. He was replaced later that year by Mike Gatting, the kind of optimist who believes that both sides start the game at 0 for 0 and either team can win. The following winter, Gatting’s team - which couldn’t bat, bowl or field - won the Ashes.
Chris Gayle’s brand of leadership is not what West Indies now need: they need someone who will lead a charge over the top in even a hopeless cause. The obvious choice is Dwayne Bravo, but an Englishman is bound to point to Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff as evidence that charismatic, swashbuckling all-rounders do not necessarily make good skippers. So why not Fidel Edwards?
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