From despair to euphoria
'When the going gets tough, the tough get going' is one of sport's oldest maxims and the going could not have been tougher for West Indies and, more especially, for captain Chris Gayle entering the second Test against Australia in Adelaide on December 4.
Tough is not a word readily applied either to a team ranked ninth out of ten Test teams, beaten in its previous nine Tests in Australia and hopelessly underprepared for this assignment, or to its beleaguered leader.
Together, they had been pilloried by the pitiless Australian press after capitulating to an innings defeat in three days in the first Test. Gayle was not allowed to forget his ill-advised comment last May, that he would 'not be sad' if Test cricket faded away, and used to prove his unsuitability to the post.
It was a campaign enough to crush what little spirit was left. Instead, it clearly had the opposite effect. As Dr Rudi Webster, the internationally acclaimed sports psychologist, West Indian by birth, reported in a newspaper article on Friday, that he often heard the celebrated Australian rules football coach, Kevin Sheedy, warn his players not to say anything about their opponents they might use to motivate themselves.
This was a classic case in point. As Ramnaresh Sarwan stated in Perth yesterday, the West Indies were patently roused by the denigration.
The designer sun-glasses, the bling, the super-cool demeanour and the anti-establishment attitude portray Gayle as a Kingston dancehall DJ rather than leader of a Test team. His reinstatement, four months, one Test series and a Champions Trophy after he and most of his players went on strike, was not universally welcomed.
Books cannot always be properly judged by their covers. Here, Gayle was up front from the start. "I'm not going anywhere," was the message he sent to those clamouring for his removal. "I have been chosen as captain and it's a job I will continue to do to the best of my ability. My heart is in it and I feel really strongly that I am the right man to lead West Indies through this challenging period."
This was what his men wanted to hear, not, as they did in England, that he was captivated by the new Twenty20 and all of its riches and wasn't too concerned either about Test cricket or the captaincy.
The players' palpable indifference then, on a tour they protested had been foisted on them, was dripping in negativity. It was enough for Gayle to recognise the consequences.
"Negative energy is the last thing we need right now because we are just starting to try to regroup as a team," he said after Brisbane.
From the beginning in Adelaide, the energy was all positive, everyone up for the fight. It manifested itself throughout. At 119 for three at lunch on the first day, and Brendan Nash retired with a damaged forearm, the not unfounded expectation was for the customary collapse. The doggedness of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo and the returning Nash and the bold aggression of Darren Sammy and Sulieman Benn down the order raised the highest West Indies total since Brian Lara's unforgettable 277 in Sydney 17 years earlier.
The worry that it was all reverting to type recurred as Simon Katich and Shane Watson calmly added 174 for the first wicket by the end of the second day. With Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke to follow (all with Test averages over 50), a massive total seemed certain. Innovative tactics, disciplined cricket and tight bowling - not traits associated with West Indies of recent vintage - ensured not only that it didn't but that a narrow, psychologically telling lead was gained, the first over Australia in ten years.
Yet two days remained. For the pessimists that most West Indians have become, there was still enough for the revival to unravel, as so many times in the past. Gayle set about ensuring that it didn't, with an impeccable innings of purpose and perseverance, verifying his assertion that his 'heart is in it'.
His 165, occupying seven hours and 20 minutes with just a solitary six, was generally seen as out of character. Here was one of the game's most devastating hitters controlling his instincts in the interest of his team, and himself. In fact, the only surprise should have been that feats of such flawless restraint have been few and far between. Gayle, after all, counts a triple hundred, lasting ten and a half hours, and a double, occupying eight hours, among his 11 three-figure innings.
His best, Adelaide notwithstanding, was his 197 against New Zealand in Napier a year ago. It was chanceless, spread over eight and a half hours and yet studded with seven sixes and 20 fours. Without it, the West Indies would have lost, as they probably would have in Adelaide.
It is ironic, given last May's comment on Test cricket and the captaincy, that Gayle averages 11 runs more as captain than in the ranks (49.84 to 38.28). Four of his ten hundreds have been in 16 Tests at the helm; prior to that there were six in 68. The challenge now for him and his team is to maintain the intensity. A metaphor involving summers and swallows springs to mind.
Joel Garner, with his background as a legendary player and his reputation for straight-talking, appears to have made a difference as manager. Williams is demonstrating to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that a foreign coach is not a prerequisite for success.
But what happens this week and in the coming months depends principally on the captain and the senior players, a point Garner said was emphasised at a 'serious meeting' after the Brisbane debacle.
It's all very well reacting to harsh criticism as they did in Adelaide, something else to maintain the consistency needed to prevent the three-day losses of Lord's, Chester-le-Street and Brisbane that preceded it.
The motivation provided by the Aussie press is no more. Typically, their correspondents have now trained their sights on the deficiencies of their own team. The places of a couple of their players are in jeopardy.
On the Webster theory, that should now be an incentive for them. So should Gayle's warning that Kemar Roach is about to release fire and brimstone on them in Perth and Williams' assertion that their attack is 'not very experienced' and 'can be taken apart'.
On that score alone, they can be expected to be doubly dangerous in Perth. It would be instructive for those in charge to research an even more astonishing recovery, also against Australia, in the Caribbean in 1999.
Returning from the inaugural Test tour of South Africa with an ignominious 5-0 series drubbing, Brian Lara was publicly criticised by the WICB for his lack of leadership and placed on probation for two Tests. His plight was compounded after the West Indies were dismissed for 51 to lose the first Test by 312 runs.
What followed beggars belief. Whether Lara gained his inspiration from the official censure or not is unclear but, whatever its source, the captain stirred himself to blaze 213 at Sabina Park and an unbeaten 153 at Kensington Oval to carry West Indies to successive victories and an eventual share of the rubber.
A year later, after defeat in both Tests and all five ODIs in New Zealand, Lara quit as captain and took a break from the game 'to seek the assistance of appropriate professionals'.
In sport, euphoria can change into despair that fast.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years