February 10, 2009

Caribbean delight at rare victory

Everywhere in Kingston, West Indians had smiles on their faces and springs in their steps

A rare win has spread joy in the Caribbean © AFP

The day after the latest Sabina sensation, euphoria hung as thick in the Kingston air as had depression five years ago when the collapse and the crushing defeat were the other way around.

Everywhere in the Pegasus Hotel, home for the past week of the team whose thumping victory over England in the first Test set off the celebrations the previous afternoon, West Indians had smiles on their faces and springs in their steps.

Waiters, barmen and even house maids, whose preferred sporting topics of conversation had long since switched from cheerless cricket to the Reggae Boys [Jamaica's football team] and, more recently, to Usain Bolt and Jamaica's other track stars, were raving about Chris [Gayle], Jerome [Taylor], Sars [Ramnaresh Sarwan], Sulieman [Benn] ("but how 'im tall so"), the "boy" Nash and the other heroes.

Sabina, after all, was the scene of the greatest indignity in a decade of indignities. In the corresponding match in 2004, West Indies were routed by England for their lowest total in Test cricket, 47, and thrashed by ten wickets.

The virtually identical role reversal, as England were swept aside for 51 by Jerome Taylor's irresistible fast swing and cut and beaten by an innings and 23 runs, was sweet revenge indeed. It atoned not for 2004 alone but, if in smaller measure, for several other humblings at the hands of England since the last, distant West Indies triumph, also by an innings, at Edgbaston nine years ago.

For all the understandable joy, Chris Gayle, the unlikely captain whose stature grows by the match, sounded a timely caution after the game Saturday. "It is definitely a turning point but we don't know how big yet," he said. "We just have to wait until the series is finished".

He has turned many corners in his nine years in the team only to find that they lead right back to the rocky road of failure. The challenge now is to maintain the unswerving all-round proficiency that brought them victory at Sabina.

Gayle's first tour was to England in 2000. His Test debut was in the three-day triumph by an innings in the first Test. That was immediately followed by a succession of catastrophic defeats - 54 all out at Lord's, 61 all out at Leeds and beaten in two days, 125 all out at The Oval. In his debut Test as captain, he and five others at Sabina were in the XI in Port Elizabeth when South Africa were beaten for the first time in South Africa [by West Indies] just over a year ago, only for the remaining two Tests to be lost.

And if he is wondering whether it is possible to regroup after such a shock as England had on Saturday he doesn't have to go too far back for the answer. England's previous meltdown of such proportions was at the Queen's Park Oval in 1994 - catspraddled by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh for 46. Two weeks later they were winning their first Test match at Kensington Oval in 59 years.

Five years on, also at Queen's Park, West Indies were routed by Australia for England's exact total here, 51, and smashed by more than 300 runs in the first Test. With captain Brian Lara to the fore, they proceeded to win the next by ten wickets and the third by one wicket.

The jubilation of the moment is justified and inevitable but so is Gayle's caution. Even so, the evidence of the four days here is that the inconsistencies of the past are unlikely to recur. Gayle's second successive hundred confirmed the maturity he brought to his batting in New Zealand. He leads from the front and his men clearly play for him. Ramnaresh Sarwan's hundred should have swept away whatever troubles led to his carelessness in that series. He fills a crucial position at No. 3, as does Brendan Nash at No. 6 where his doggedness has given the brittle lower order some necessary steel.

The bowling finally has proper balance with the inclusion of a spinner. While not all pitches will be as helpful as Sabina's, Sulieman Benn's confidence would have soared with his success here. As for Taylor, his brilliant spell should prove the defining passage in a career that, until now, had not touched the height of which he has always been capable.

A partner for Gayle and a reliable No. 4 are still two glaring problem areas. There are options for the selectors, namely Ryan Hinds, for all his background of injuries and withdrawals, and Lendl Simmons, who are in the runs. More might well come to the fore before the series is over.

For the moment and, for once, team changes are not uppermost in the minds of West Indians rejoicing in a rare result.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P Subramani on February 12, 2009, 11:58 GMT

    From 76 to 92, the West Indians held the cricketing world in a vice like grip and were feared yet respected on the field and loved off it. When one talked of cricket it usually veered to these champions who, even if they simply trampled over everyone else, yet enjoyed a rum or five with players from opposing teams at the end of the day. The Calypso spirit is just unmatched and one wonders after the Kingston win over England whether this is indeed the turning point and the rising again of the real kings of the game. The Laras and Chanderpauls great as they were individually only gave hope.It is quite possible that the lack of money in the game in West Indies led promising athletes to move to greener pastures. To that end I can never thank Adam Stanford enough. He may have unwittingly caused West Indies cricket to rise again because champions such as these will know that their skills have a very high price. I believe that there will be many Kingston stories in future.

  • Jonathan on February 12, 2009, 2:38 GMT

    Without a doubt this is indeed a satisfying victory by the West Indies,realistically,this is a move forward for the team,don't get me wrong...I'm not jumping on the proverbial bandwagon but in retrospect,the team has been on the up for a while now but due to some dubious umpiring decisions at critical times the team continued to fail at the hands of the officials.I am all for the referral system,we have been victims to long,now at least if we are beaten we can say it was fair.Rise up West Indies cricket rise up!

  • Peter on February 11, 2009, 1:56 GMT

    A good win, and without Chanderpaul for once. Some good application by Ramdin, the big guns lived up to their billing. If Nash did'nt try to shelter Powell he would have a ton too. I just hope this is not South Africa all over. Its a long series, and I fear that England are so severely humiliated, that this series is going to take on an Ashes tone. Its going to be life and limb for country by Flintoff and company. Can we play consistent cricket three sessions a day for five days, for three more matches, I think WI can. Its going to be tough and we may need a little bit of luck from the review system, but it can be done. A series win would do a lot, not only for the team, but cricket in the region as a whole.

  • praveen on February 10, 2009, 19:10 GMT

    I hope the West Indies can build on this and become a consistent team. At least in home conditions they can be a formidable team. They have the talent to compete against any team in the world.

  • Guru on February 10, 2009, 18:11 GMT

    WI could not have asked for anything better. A test victory of this kind, would propel any side and no doubt this is a big morale booster for the Carribeans. Jerome Taylor bowled impeccably well. England was lackluster and looked clueless. Pietersen's wicket was bowler's delight. The spinner Benn was equally dangerous and it looks like WI has finally discovered a spinner who can win them matches. He was troubling the Englishmen a lot and his contribution with the ball proved very significant for this emphatic win.WI needs to look forward positively. A single win is not enough to become a competitive side rather they should continue to eye on consistent performances. They now have got a good platform to motor along in this series nicely. A true WI fan would hope that this side does not let this go.

  • Mark on February 10, 2009, 16:09 GMT

    The West Indies were fantastic in the test match, and whilst it was embarrasing to be watching it as an England fan, I was thrilled to see Jerome Taylor bowling out of his skin, as he is a guy I have wanted to see excell for years, and his bowling is incredible right now. After years of hearing stories of the might WIndies team of old, it was, in a way, fascinating to see them perform better than England in every department. I just hope the next test is a little closer so we can see 5 days of cricket...

  • Rohit on February 10, 2009, 13:08 GMT

    Awesome performance by the Windies and they do look good for the 2nd test. Given Chanderpaul's incredible consistency and Gayle and Sarwan's new found application (free of the cushion that Brian Lara provided), I think the team are in an excellent position to press home the advantage. Gayle is maturing into a well-respected captain and if he can instil a little more discipline into the younger lads and lead by example, the team has excellent potential to climb into the top 4 of test cricket. England bar Pietersen and Flintoff lack consistency in every area of the game and I hope the Windies capitalise on this by keeping the pressure up on the non-performers and adequately planning for handling Freddie and Kevin!

  • Vivek on February 10, 2009, 10:29 GMT

    I am an Indian and a WI supporter for years . I feel so relieved to see such a heartening performance from them. Gayle has been leading from the front superbly. But i pray that this should not be an one off performance and the key is sustainability. I am confident that there is no scarcity of talent in the current team, but its the consistency and fighting spirit. Hope WI can.

  • Rajapandiyan on February 10, 2009, 8:32 GMT

    It was a very good victory for the West Indies.... They out played england in all the departments. They played really very well. but main problem with the WI team is,they are not consistent. They need to be, in order to gain their own reputation........

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