England v West Indies, 3rd ODI, Trent Bridge July 7, 2007

West Indies deserve to smile

The big one: Daren Powell dismisses Kevin Pietersen © Getty Images

With every wicket their bowlers took, there was an increasingly tangible sense of relief from West Indies. Relief that their tour was nearly over; relief that, for once, they were making good their talent: relief that they're not as bad as all that. With an emphatic 93-run here against an uncertain England, after a tour which has seen them lurch from the inspired to the insipid, no one will deny them a rich celebration tonight.

And it's been some time coming. Ever since they arrived here in May, every body and their uncle have criticised their performances, fitness and results. Even their chief executive, Bruce Aanensen - shortly to be replaced - attacked his own team, calling them no less than incompetent. Perhaps it was an inspired piece of reverse psychology because, ever since, West Indies have bristled with intent and purpose and, in truth, made England look every bit as poor a one-day side as we suspected.

As much as Chris Gayle has tried to flat bat accusations that his spat with the board has, in some way, reinvigorated his side, it quite clearly has done just that. In the Tests - not withstanding Shivnarine Chanderpaul's flood of runs - their performances descended into disinterest and apathy, fuelling the depressing discourse of their decline. Bullied 3-0 in the Tests - and without their captain, Ramraresh Sarwan, in the engine room, few gave West Indies much hope of beating England at the shorter game. Fewer still expected Gayle to raise the series trophy 2-1 this evening, yet that is what has happened. And they're smiling. What a transformation.

Gayle's broad smile and exuberant celebrations at every wicket rubbed off on his team-mates. This was the West Indies at their bubbling, brilliant, irresistible best

In the end, it was a comprehensive win today, once again led by Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell who relied on their most basic, primal ability: bowling faster than most. Powell, in particular, has been nothing short of revelatory this series - in fact, ever since the two Twenty20 matches at The Oval - bowling at genuine pace and with enviable control. Where was all this during the Test series? In addition, Gayle had Edwards to call on when the going became slow, or a wicket was needed - and his extra pace today was a welcome shock factor, something England lacked in spades. Yet again, England are back to their tried and failed 1990s method of medium-pace allrounders who offer little in either department, and yet again they scratch their heads and plead for patience.

It's been a summer of two halves and for the tourists to have turned around their fortunes so dramatically speaks volumes of Gayle's laconic leadership. Though he has publicly stated that he's keeping the seat warm for Sarwan, perhaps West Indies respond to someone of his softly-softly manner, a man who will always voice his opinions but, in the same breath, not alienate himself from his team-mates and friends. His broad smile and exuberant celebrations at every wicket rubbed off on his team-mates. This was the West Indies at their bubbling, brilliant, irresistible best.

Chris Gayle, back to what he does best © Getty Images

Today, although Powell was awarded Man-of-the-Match for his 4 for 40, it was in fact Gayle's day. He began well, choosing to bat on one of Trent Bridge's flatter surfaces; struck an industrial 82; bowled tidily; captained sensibly, if without much evidence of flair, and took a blistering catch at first slip. He led from the front.

Why the sudden change from the dismalness of the Test series to the skill shown in these one-dayers? Well, quite simply, West Indies prefer the shorter format and they're better at it. They still lack the discipline to regularly compete in Test matches over a sustained period of time, and the risks which they take in one-day cricket cannot be afforded over five days. This was no better demonstrated than by Runako Morton's bristling 82 from 89 balls. After laying West Indies a solid base between the 30th and 40th overs, the final ten saw him and Dwayne Bravo (42 from 24) run England absolutely ragged. At one point, the pair stole three when there was realistically only two on offer - confident that England's calamitous fielding would allow them, and it did. Morton wore the broadest, toothiest of grins and it was hard not to smile with him. West Indies had England's number.

West Indian cheer has been a distant dream - a memory, at best - all summer. And, yes, this win certainly does paper over some enormous cracks - not least by their fractious board to fashion themselves into something resembling a professional organisation. But it's hard not to smile along with Gayle and chums when in such irresistible mood. It's a glimpse to the future.

Will Luke is a staff writer on Cricinfo