Scrappy win gives West Indies pause for thought
It was a case of all's not so well that ends well. West Indies eventually completed a victory that before the first Test, they would have been favoured to win. But there was much in the manner of the beating of Bangladesh in Dhaka for Darren Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson to chew on. Especially the fact that for between the last hour of the fourth day and the first session of the fifth, defeat, not victory, had to be contemplated.
For these two teams, strugglers in Test cricket, finishing off the job is the hardest thing. When he was forced to the middle late on the fourth evening, and watched as his side collapsed from the stability of 209 for 1 to 249 for 7; Sammy would have been reminded again of the frailties that still exist within his squad.
But the Bangladeshis have their own mental shortcomings. Tino Best preyed on those and became the hero his side desperately needed, as West Indies eventually managed to defend 245 and win by 77 runs. A more composed side than the home team may not have come up short. Even eternal optimist Sammy must recognise that. Coach Gibson too would have been less than pleased that his batsmen opened up a dying game with their loss of focus.
It suddenly became a different match once Darren Bravo gave wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim catching practice with a mindless flail at Rubel Hossain. Only in April, West Indies had scored 449 against Australia, declared, got themselves a lead, and then virtually handed the match to the opposition by folding for 148 the second time around. It is a pattern Caribbean sides have perfected in recent years. In Dhaka they threatened to stick to the script.
It helped that Bangladesh are even more unaccustomed to winning Test matches than West Indies. And that constant trier Tino came up with his best performance so far in five-day cricket. Kieran Powell, with his two centuries in the game, could hardly be denied Man-of-the-Match honours, but truly it was Best who won this match for West Indies.
All that he did not do in the first innings, Best did in the second. Curbing enthusiasm almost without limit, he crucially got control of his lengths and used the short ball with greater accuracy. The Bangladesh batsmen, so comfortable and resolute in the first innings in compiling their highest Test total, could not deal with the pressure Best applied.
Never the quiet one, his emotion poured forth like the beads of perspiration on his face when he smacked Mahmudullah's middle stump with one pitched up to end the game. A warrior's cry he let out; for it had been a battle in the hot, dry arena of the Shere Bangla stadium. To get a five-for in a match where over 1000 runs were scored over the first two innings alone, to get them when his team most needed them, was a feat to be remembered; for more reasons than one.
Filling in for the absent spearhead Kemar Roach, Best eventually proved an adequate replacement. His second coming at age 31 this year is proving to be worth the wait, and it gives the selectors another viable pace option in addition to Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards.
Chairman of selectors Clyde Butts would also be relieved that Veerasammy Permaul has started well. His inclusion in preference to Shane Shillingford on this tour was questioned. But the left-arm spinner delivered two wickets in the second innings in the first over of new spells to support the work of Best. His inclusion made up in part for what frontline offspinner Sunil Narine did not produce.
Despite his three first-innings wickets, Narine had a quiet time. There would have been too many four balls for his liking on a pitch that did not offer him much turn. His adjustment to the challenges of the longer game continues. But the work of Best and Permaul will have encouraged Sammy; contributions from fringe players always will, especially when they come in tight situations. Even more pleasing would have been the big statement made by opener Powell.
At the tender age of 22, the Nevisian left-hander already finds himself in elite company. George Headley, Clyde Walcott, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lawrence Rowe, Gordon Greenidge and Brian Lara could all play a bit; and they were the only West Indians before Powell to make two centuries in the same game.
The Dhaka performance shows that Powell is learning how to play Test cricket. Always pleasing on the eyes, he was previously unable to convert good starts. And his technique got a searching examination against the Australian and English bowlers earlier this season. But Powell, a graduate of the new Sagicor High Performance Centre, came back to the Caribbean, immediately got a century and unbeaten half-century against India A, then 134 against New Zealand in the first Test, in Antigua.
He now has three hundreds in his last three Tests. His knocks at Shere Bangla were outstanding for the patience he showed and his hunger for scoring runs. Finally, perhaps, Chris Gayle may now have a regular opening partner.
It was good that Powell's hundreds, the double compiled by the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin's second century in his last four Tests contributed to a win. In fact, all three of Powell's tons have come in West Indies victories.
West Indies are also on a rare roll - three wins in their last three Tests. That run is likely to continue in Khulna. But expect some more excitement along the way.
Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express