Best of times, worst of times
Such a record. You might want to stand such a record in the punishment corner - that is, if you wanted to stand it by itself. The West Indies team went off to Zimbabwe and struggled to win before heading straight into successive defeats in the series against South Africa and then England. The series against Bangladesh proved to be a much more competitive affair than anticipated, despite the eventual convincing victory in the second Test.
One is tempted to see only the bleakness of that record. In another time it would be a dismal low, but in the context of a decade of decline, there have been too many positive signs to succumb to that dread temptation.
The West Indies team first found itself struggling to field a line-up of batsmen with the right blend of skill and mental capacity. That process took time to come to fruition. Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan are unfurling to reveal the promises their bats had long suggested, and more confident bowling has marked their transition into genuine allrounders, adding texture to their positions. Senior players - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ricardo Powell and reliable Ridley Jacobs - have shown that they can still rise to the occasion. And in the newcomers there are several encouraging forms. Dwayne Smith scored the fastest hundred by a Test debutant, and Devon Smith has flashed enough interesting strokes to catch the eye.
This building has been going on during the lowest moments of West Indian Test history, and it has been rough. Marlon Samuels has had a promising career slashed by knee problems, Daren Ganga had to fight a loss of form with no support system; injuries have plagued the team. On top of that, there was nothing in the bowling department to trouble any batsman of worth.
But suddenly a cluster of raw diamonds has emerged, bringing a raw and joyous sparkle once more to the West Indies party. Never mind the losses of the season. Take Pedro Collins, Tino Best, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul; wait for Jermaine Lawson and Jerome Taylor to flower. Watch for Omari Banks and Dave Mohammed. There's something in the bag now, a whole heap of little gems that, with the right polish, could restore some lustre to a department dulled by the drabness of mediocrity.
The cupboard had been bare for so long that West Indians had grown acclimatised to the temperature of defeat that were more drubbings than competitive encounters. There were lows that still managed to surprise, like the inexplicable 47 all out against England. But there have been a few highs, one particularly that still tingles.
Brian Lara regained his world record with a magnificent knock against England that reinforced his ability to rock the steady. Imagine it in this context. There once was a time when the West Indies team was the undisputed monarch of cricket. Love or hate them, everyone enjoyed watching them. Then came the rise of the Australians. A team built with scientific precision and honed under the unrelenting Steve Waugh. It was a new breed of cricketer, striding away from the mentality of a Mark Taylor who would stop when he'd reached Don Bradman's score because that carried enough sentimental value. This was a team stoking its reputation for toughness with prolific mudslinging and sharp instructions to stand ground unless ordered to walk. A team so cloaked in the mantle of the conqueror that defeat was not an option. Fierce competitors, masters of the head game, efficient players, those were their traits, but did anyone call them good sports?
When Lara grabbed the world record back out of Matthew Hayden's hands before he had held it for a good six months, it rankled to the point that the Australian camp delivered a no-ball that was so crass that it could do nothing but lower opinion of their sportsmanship. (The complaint about Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra in the face of Shane Warne's proximity to the world record is of the same ilk.) Lara's reclamation of the record carried even more resonance in that context.
Tony Cozier has written that win or lose the Bangladesh series, Lara should resign as captain. He cites the dissatisfaction expressed by Lara for selection decisions, pitches and administrative disorders as grounds for an untenable captaincy. Shockingly unsuitable pitches have been prepared in the Caribbean, pitches that understand nothing of the needs of our bowlers. Selection disputes are mangling the team's performances. To load that world onto the still-slender shoulders of Sarwan is to force him to drink from the same "poisoned chalice" Cozier has identified. Lara, at least, has shown that he can drink from it and resurrect.
The team performed in the second Bangladesh Test as if to assert their desire for Lara to remain captain. Perhaps it would be more instructive if the current administrators were the ones facing that do-or-die situation. Who would come out to bat for them?
There is no arguing that these are still rough and murky times for West Indies cricket, but there is something to work with now, and if one watched match figures without keeping an eye on the ball, one could be mistaken for thinking it is a total washout. It's just another stormy night.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance writer based in Trinidad. She is on the board of the organising committee for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.