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West Indies v SA, Champions Trophy, 2nd semi-final

Joy in Jaipur

Fazeer Mohammed

November 3, 2006

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'The opening pair turned a pressure situation into carnage in next to no time...' © Getty Images
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Even with the statutory stutter, this was as overwhelming as could be anticipated against one of the most formidable and consistent teams in world cricket.

Everyone knows about the enormous potential of this West Indies side. But opponents almost expect, at some point or the other, this bunch of occasionally brilliant yet often inconsistent performers will self-destruct and offer an apparently beaten team a lifeline.

There were enough moments yesterday in Jaipur when it could have happened: Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers building a threatening partnership; Shivnarine Chanderpaul retiring hurt after a blazing century opening stand with Man-of-the-Match Chris Gayle; the loss of Dwayne Bravo, Brian Lara and the increasingly reliable Runako Morton in quick succession near the end.

Yet none of those moments will be regarded as turning points in a match where the Caribbean cricketers made a mockery of everything.

To romp to such an emphatic victory in pursuit of a potentially challenging 259-run target against the South Africans, and in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy to boot, is to recall the halcyon days of almost complete West Indian domination when even the most worthy contestants were brushed aside by an ultra-professional, supremely talented, arrogant, swaggering bunch.

Let us again put this in perspective. It is too soon, way too soon, to talk expectantly about a great revival having begun.

If the focus is solely on one-day cricket, then yes, given that the shorter forms of the game do not test perseverance and consistency as much as the five-day version, then West Indies are becoming comfortable with the challenges they face in ODIs. In this case it actually helps not to have too much of an appreciation of historical context, because to walk out on Sunday against Australia in the final in Mumbai without being burdened by the opponents' impressive record or their legendary fighting qualities may actually be a blessing.

And, of course, very recent history is encouraging, with one victory (it should have been two but for the nine for 29 collapse) in Malaysia and another, much more important one two weeks ago, over the Aussies at the start of this tournament. So there is really no reason to be overawed. But they must remain wary of overconfidence, and may look upon the Champions Trophy final at the Brabourne Stadium as a gilt-edged opportunity to give the armada of doubters and extremely harsh critics (including this writer) cause to pause and reconsider whether these young men are really the hopeless, mindless tribe that they are often made out to be.

More importantly, though, as much as it has been satisfying to make Greg Chappell, India's coach, eat his words, their real motivation must come from within. It is not so much proving anything to anyone, but appreciating that they have a duty to do justice to their God-given talent. The fact that it brings such joy to their compatriots scattered around these Caribbean territories and West Indian fans everywhere when they do get it right is a welcome aside to the fundamental objective.

An indicator of an improving, more cohesive team is the decreasing reliance on one, two or three key players to always perform at the very highest level if victory is to be achieved. Ian Bradshaw conceded almost six runs per over, a rarity for the miserly left-arm seamer, however it did not translate into the floodgates being burst wide open. There were enough bits-and-pieces performances with the ball and in the field to restrain South Africa.



'...Gayle's second consecutive hundred, third in the tournament (you almost forget the one against Bangladesh) and sixth on two tours of India was by far his most commanding' © Getty Images
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The captain hasn't really been required to make a major contribution with the bat since the opening group match against Australia, where his fifth-wicket partnership with Morton turned complete collapse into what eventually proved, just, to be a match-winning total. Not that he would mind. To be able to sit back with his colleagues and watch Gayle and Chanderpaul blunt the threat of Makhaya Ntini and, to a lesser extent, Shaun Pollock in such spectacular fashion (the opening bowlers, so devastating against Pakistan last week, were hammered for a combined 83 runs off 12 overs yesterday) is the sort of luxury he could only have dreamed of during his hungriest days as an international batsman.

Whether or not the pitch played better than expected is irrelevant. The fact is that the opening pair turned a pressure situation into carnage in next to no time. There could hardly have been a better illustration of the principle of attack being the best form of defence. Gayle's second consecutive hundred, third in the tournament (you almost forget the one against Bangladesh) and sixth on two tours of India was by far his most commanding.

Everyone knows it will be a different story when the red cherry is seaming and swinging about in helpful conditions at the start of the Test series in Pakistan in eight days' time in Lahore, but the big Jamaican can only cope with the challenges in front of him, and very recently he has done a fantastic job with bat and ball.

To say that this West Indies side, routed for 80 by Sri Lanka three weeks ago after being vanquished by Australia in the DLF Cup final in Kuala Lumpur in September, was given little chance of successfully defending the Champions Trophy is an understatement. But they have confounded everyone, and no-one now doubts that they can complete the job on Sunday. Whether they will is another matter.

© Trinidad & Tobago Express

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