Gibson targets gradual improvement
It was an interesting question put to Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach. What would he consider to be a successful series for his side in England? Gibson started by admitting the visitors would have a tough time against the No. 1 Test team in cold conditions, before finishing his answer with a witty retort. "The last time we played at Lord's, I was in the England dressing room, and the game was over in two-and-a-half days. If we can take this Lord's Test to four days, that will be great," Gibson said pithily.
Gibson cannot, and does not, have a defeatist mindset. He was simply being realistic as he made it clear immediately that West Indies have a far better chance during the ODI leg of the tour considering the squad would be bolstered by the return from the IPL of first choice players like Chris Gayle.
"It seems that not much is expected of us, which is good, in a sense. We can just go out and play and enjoy our cricket," Gibson said from Hove, a day after landing in England. "We know what we are capable of. The Test series is going to be tough but we believe we have a one-day team that is more than capable of winning the ODI series. The one-day series is where I think the success is more likely to happen."
However Gibson assured that West Indies would aim to be competitive during the three-Test series, starting at Lord's on May 17. Gibson, who was the England bowling coach during West Indies' 2009 tour, has taken the same kind of approach he learned under Andy Flower. Gibson has remained his own man, taken hard decisions and not relented despite the outside pressure since taking the coaching reigns with West Indies. His public criticism of Gayle as soon as he took over is still raw.
Gibson has laid emphasis on installing a professional platform in the West Indies dressing room, giving priority to fitness above anyone and anything. He did not relent when a senior batsman like Ramnaresh Sarwan was dropped after a bad bout of form; he only played the hardworking Ravi Rampaul in one Test against Australia as the fast bowler was not completely fit.
Gibson's biggest supporter in the team has been Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, and the coach's right-hand man. Today Gibson sat to his left and Sammy vocally described the respect for his coach.
Though 'Gayle v WICB' dominated the headlines over the last 12 months, in the background Gibson and Sammy worked hard to establish an atmosphere where every player put the group ahead of himself.
Even though West Indies did not cause any major upsets, they have come close. Last year during the Test series in India, in Delhi and then Mumbai, the batsmen posted a good first-innings score only to lose their spine in the third innings; the same mistake was repeated in Barbados against Australia this April. They lost both those series.
England, and England in May, will not be forgiving. The same cold and damp conditions experienced in 2009 have been forecast this time around, too. Only three players - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Denesh Ramdin and Fidel Edwards - in the current 15-member squad toured England on the last trip. Still, the visitors are not exactly shivering in the cold. Sammy is not bothered by inexperience or the elite status of the opponent. He believes his fast-bowling attack, comprising Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and the young, untested Shannon Gabriel, is capable of giving England a scare.
"Oh, yes, no doubt," Sammy responded, when asked if the fast bowlers can cause problems for England's batsmen. "We have been taking 20 wickets in Test cricket for the last year-and-a-half. I must give coach Gibson credit for that. All the bowlers commend him on the work he has been doing with the bowlers. We are a much improved bowling team. The conditions up here do tend to aid fast bowling and swing bowling and I am quite confident that our guys can put the English batsmen under pressure."
At the same time Sammy willingly admitted his own top order is more than vulnerable, as seen against Australia during the three Tests at home earlier in April. "It is a fair comment. Stats don't lie. Our top order did not click against Australia, but the selectors have shown faith in two of them [Adrian Barath and Kieran Powell]. They are quite young, they are still learning on the job. Yes, they will fail sometimes. But there is one thing we won't do and that is give in. We are going to come out there and work hard for every run and every wicket."
Gibson, too, echoes Sammy's words, but highlighted the fact that it is important to erase errors to make progress. "If we can eradicate some of those mistakes, I think we've shown enough of ourselves that we can be competitive here in England."
Despite England's lukewarm Test form, losing 3-0 against Pakistan and then fighting back to level the series in Sri Lanka, both Gibson and Sammy are not under any illusions. Both agree England are No. 1 in the Test rankings for a reason. They said they are more concerned with getting their own house in order.
This is part of the new culture, Sammy pointed out, which someone like Gayle will need to fall in line with: the culture of discipline, hardwork and focus and team bonding.
"Guys work hard for each other," Sammy said. "Ever since coach Gibson came on board he has tried to instil the professional attitude. One of our team mottos is to display a positive, can-do attitude at all the times. As you could see the way we have played recently, normally when we have had our backs against the wall we would kind of crumble. But so far, somehow we have found a way to get out of the situation. That is because of the constant drilling of the team, that is why that is happening. The whole mindset about doing it for the West Indies people, the guys are taking it on board. That is at the forefront of our minds."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo