West Indies can feed off Best
Darren Sammy could not stop smiling, and at times even had to hide his chuckle behind the West Indies cap, as his team-mate Tino Best responded to questions at the end-of-series media conference with a fresh exuberance and vivacity, normally amiss in modern athletes. Best might have spoken for only a few minutes, but each thing he said he showed how he was enjoying every moment of his comeback.
West Indies can hire psychologists and devise as many plans as possible to take that crucial next step which is essential to start winning. Or they can just turn to Best and learn from him how to enjoy a day at work. To excel at work, it is critical you first enjoy it. That is how you bring passion to what you do and get immersed in it. It is a lesson in life that comes with experience.
Before this match, Best had featured in only 14 Tests. He is 30. He still does not have a five-wicket haul. His batting average before Saturday was nine and a highest score of 27. If there was claim to fame moment, it arrived during the Lord's Test in 2004 when Andrew Flintoff baited Best with "mind-the-windows-Tino" after he had charged Ashley Giles, the former England left-arm spinner, unsuccessfully. Best was soon stumped and Flintoff belly-laughed.
Importantly, Best laughed with the world and that allowed him to keep the wick of competition inside him burning. Now he revealed how his friends back in his native Barbados had asked him to keep working hard, keep bowling fast and keep smiling while being ready for the next call-up which came when Shannon Gabriel was injured.
Best quietly practiced in the background in Nottingham and arrived to Birmingham expecting to warm the benches considering Fidel Edwards had been declared fit. However, it did not take Best much time to leave a new mark although even his team-mates were not ready for the kind of innings he unleashed on Sunday.
"We all know what Tino Best is like - whatever he does I guarantee you it is full of excitement and dramas," Sammy said. "I remember while we were warming up the coach said 'Tino, I need a 25 from you today. And I'm not talking about 25 overs. I know you are going to give me that.' And he went out and gave the coach 95. That was very pleasing to watch."
As Best crossed his maiden fifty, celebrating by unleashing that wonderful smile, people felt he might go for the slog. Until then Best had occupied most of the strike leaving Denesh Ramdin, West Indies' most experience player in the absence of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, stranded in the 60s.
But once he crossed fifty Best slowed down and encouraged Ramdin to his century. And when he himself was in the 90s, he started taking singles cautiously. Unable to withstand the pressure, he went for the long handle and paid the price. Yet the smile remained as he returned to a hearty applause from everyone at the ground. Best let out a big chuckle when asked if he was thinking of promoting himself in the batting line-up to strengthen the weak middle-order. He then joked about breaking his own record.
Best then returned with the new ball in hand, started with a no-ball but bounced back with two wickets during aggressive spells of fast bowling. He seized his moment. That is the message West Indies need to take from his success.
West Indies competed well with England in many sessions across the 11 days of cricket that were possible in the three-Test series. There were some individual successes too, most notably Marlon Samuels. However, at crucial moments such as the final morning at Lord's when England returned to chase a small target having lost two quick wickets previous evening against a fierce spell of fast bowling from Kemar Roach, West Indies could not grasp the opportunity.
Then at Trent Bridge on the second morning, after both Sammy and Samuels had worked hard to rebuild the innings on the first day, Sammy threw his wicket when the need was to keep the innings building. The series was finally lost during the subsequent third-evening collapse having kept England to a manageable lead.
Sammy conceded that West Indies were competent, but did not "compete long enough." What he was pleased about, though, was the never-say-die attitude his men showed in the final Test which Sammy and Ottis Gibson have been drumming into them throughout the series.
"The sessions of play we got, we dominated. The way Tino and Ramdin played for us, not forgetting Marlon the way he batted throughout the series. We said we would come here with a never-say-die attitude and that last-wicket partnership was just a perfect example of the attitude we have," Sammy said. "It was great to watch and on that same flat wicket we got five wickets. With more play, you never know what could happen."
Best's hunger is the type of passion more evident in this team led by Sammy and something they need to build on in the forthcoming series against New Zealand in the Caribbean. "My inspiration honestly came from Fire in Babylon," Best said referring to the recent film about the great West Indies team of the 1980s.
"My people back in Barbados, in my community, just kept telling me 'don't give up, you can bowl quick. Don't sulk about not playing for the West Indies; try to perform on a consistent basis for Barbados and you give yourself an opportunity to get that chance.' I just put my head down, ran in quick for Barbados and people took notice and said he's a bit more mature than before and I got my chance."
He also heard from an old friend again shortly after his innings ended. Yesterday immediately after Best threatened to hit the ball into the Bull Ring in the heart of Birmingham, Flintoff was on Twitter. "Nnnoooooooooo TIno ! He went for the windows to reach his 100 ! Well played sir, great entertainment (t)ake a bow." This time it was no joke.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo