June 22, 2014

A transitory resurgence?

After a series of crushing defeats, West Indies turned things around impressively in Trinidad. But will the success turn out to be fleeting once again?
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We have got to go back 15 years, to the 1999 home series against Australia, to find as unlikely a turnaround for West Indies as that in the second Test against New Zealand at the Queen's Park Oval on Friday.

The circumstances were almost identical, as was the margin of victory.

West Indies cricket has floundered for so long that any straw is eagerly clutched at. Normally, it would be fanciful to base any optimism on nothing more than a solitary victory over tough, resilient but hardly intimidating opponents; in this case, the expectation is that the impact of the latest revival won't be as transitory as that in 1999.

The transformation then was inspired by the unique genius of one man, Brian Lara, the beleaguered captain. The encouraging difference is that this sequel was a true team effort. All 11 could claim a contribution to the outcome.

It was even more significant that five of those to the forefront were in their early or mid-20s. The timeworn cliché can be again be seized on: they do represent the future.

In 1999, Lara had returned from a humiliating 5-0 whitewash on West Indies' first major tour of post-apartheid South Africa to receive a roasting from the West Indies board for "weaknesses in leadership". The board placed him on probation for two Tests. The first, against Australia in Port-of-Spain, brought as crushing a defeat as West Indies had ever suffered - by 312 runs. Their second-innings all-out 51 was then their lowest Test total. Lara's tenure in the position he had long since craved was surely at its end.

What happened next spoke as much of Lara's mental strength as of his exceptional batting skill. It also highlighted how much West Indies relied on him.

Responding to Australia's modest first-innings 256 in the second Test, Lara set out from the familiar despair of 34 for 4. He proceeded to ravage an attack of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill for 213. The steadfast Jimmy Adams kept him company in a stand of 322. The other nine cobbled together 82 among them.

The Australians, duly stunned, could only muster 177 in their second innings against Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Nehemiah Perry, a tall offspinner on debut. West Indies needed three runs to win the Test.

There was more Lara magic in the third Test, in Bridgetown. His unbeaten 153 that carried West Indies to their implausible target of 308 on the final day, with Walsh, the accredited No. 11, as his final partner, left big men weeping and hugging each other, women swooning.

From the debacles of South Africa and Port-of-Spain, West Indies were now unbelievably 2-1 up in a series against Test cricket's most powerful team. In spite of another Lara hundred, the final Test was an anti-climax. Australia won comfortably to share the series.

The resurgence proved transitory. Within a year, Lara had resigned as captain after West Indies' early elimination from the World Cup in England and defeat in both Tests and all five ODIs in New Zealand. It was back to square one.

Fast forward to 2014. The backdrop was no less daunting than that facing Lara and his team. The tally was four losses, three by an innings in three days, in Tests in India and New Zealand five months earlier.

After such thrashings, the captain, Darren Sammy, threw his hands in the air and proclaimed "we cannot continue like this". The WICB responded to his lament, not by censuring him for weak leadership and placing him on probation but by replacing him with Denesh Ramdin.

The outcome of Ramdin's first Test at the helm equated to that of the first Test of 1999. The margin was 186 runs in four day. It would have been greater but for a swashbuckling, nothing-to-lose last-wicket partnership of 82.

Heading to Port-of-Spain, the despair was every bit as acute as it was prior to Lara's stimulus 15 years earlier. The omnipresent football World Cup was a welcome distraction.

The usually ultra-cautious selectors reacted by making three changes. On the irrefutable evidence of form, specifically hundreds against touring Bangladesh A in Barbados, they reinstated Kraigg Brathwaite and introduced Jermaine Blackwood as the first new batsman in the Test team for two years. They recalled Shannon Gabriel to boost the fast bowling.

At 21, Brathwaite was the youngest player on either team, not that long out of Combermere School in Barbados, alma mater of two cricket knights, Frank Worrell and Wes Hall - and, without even a fleeting relevance to cricket, pop superstar Rihanna as well.

Brathwaite was Man of the Match for his archetypical opener's 129, around which the dashers carried out the game plan to be more assertive than they were in Kingston. Together, they built the formidable first-innings lead.

Darren Bravo, 25, was once described by Steve Waugh as "the next batting superstar, no doubt". He hasn't lived up to such hype since. Now he shook off the effects of the "personal problems" that led to his premature exit from the New Zealand tour in January with his first hundred in the Caribbean.

Fittingly, it was at the Queen's Park Oval where he plays for club and country. His uninhibited celebrations were a sure sign that in three and a quarter hours he had shaken off the gremlins.

Blackwood, 22, brought with him three hundreds and a 94 in his previous three first-class matches. The leading scorer in the 2014 first-class season, he immediately took to Test cricket with refreshing panache.

Kemar Roach and Gabriel are both 26. Roach was the bowling spearhead until a shoulder operation kept him away from cricket of any sort since last October. Gabriel was in his seventh Test.

Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn, each returning after more than three years in Test exile, bore the brunt in a numerically limited attack. Benn, the beanpole left-arm spinner, sent down 86.4 overs in the match for his five wickets. His fielders let him down more than he deserved.

Roach's recovery, like Gabriel's increasing self-belief, was evident in each spell.

Not everything was ideal for West Indies.

In Dwayne Bravo's continued absence through injury, they are glaringly short of a competent allrounder. In the field, they missed eight chances all told and were overcome by an abrupt lethargy, typified by strangely defensive tactics during the frustrating ninth-wicket partnership of 99 between BJ Watling and Mark Craig in New Zealand's second innings that stretched the contest into the final day.

A seemingly trifling winning goal of 93 has often proved nerve-jangling; Chris Gayle put it in perspective with a no-nonsense T20 assault. His unbeaten 80 off 46 balls, with six sixes and seven fours, scotched concern, at least for the time being, that he is a spent force.

The third Test starts at Kensington Oval on Thursday. It presents an engaging finale between two evenly matched teams. It is as important for New Zealand's mission to prove that their strength extends beyond their home shores as for West Indies' in building for the future.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JAH123 on June 26, 2014, 4:30 GMT

    Hmmm, I'm not sure how much of a comparison you can make between this win and Lara's win against Australia. With no disrespect to NZ, they are hardly the Australian side of 1999.

  • on June 25, 2014, 19:49 GMT

    @ Sal Husain, u saw him in the Ipl - so what? that's hit and giggle cricket. anybody can look ordinary playing t20. holder deserves a chance to play test cricket cause Gabriel is just what we in Jamaica call a runs cart. when u batting whistle, 'runs cart runs cart carry the runs come gimme.

  • simonviller on June 25, 2014, 19:33 GMT

    It's nice to see WI win sometimes ,but the rebuilding must continue for sometime until suitable all-rounders are found and selected in the team .WI cannot continue with four bowlers, if they are to make progress up the rankings table .WI would do well with three pacers and two front line spinners with a batsman as a part-timer bowler ,but with the present batting line it's not possible .

  • on June 25, 2014, 16:04 GMT

    Narine should never be picked before Benn or Shilly, for a test match EVER! Gabriel needs to make room for Holder.

  • SapperP5799 on June 25, 2014, 14:46 GMT

    It is amazing that some of us actual believe that we are more informed and more knowledgeable than those we see and work with all of the players daily. Only time will tell if Narine becomes a great test bowler, but currently his stats for tests, 1 day and T20 are 40.52, 26.97 and 17.44 does it really mean anything,

  • on June 25, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    My take on all this talk about who's the best spinner in test,all i will say is Spinners don't take 5 wicket hauls in test matches without putting in the overs,check out the great Muli's stats,see how many overs he's bowled each time to get a 5 wicket haul, on average it's about 35 overs....so it's strange that someone's just played 13 first class games with 6 test matches included is rated as a great test Spinner....

  • Starvybz on June 24, 2014, 18:27 GMT

    i really dont understand why persons say narine "is not a test bowler" so dont repeat what you hear something west indians are very popular for.

  • on June 24, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Narine is not on;ly a test bowler but the spinner in the west indies and the world , how can anyone say otherwise is beyond me. Benn bowled fifty overs for two wickets , Narine will probably bowled lees overs with more wickets , he is a class act. Gabriel did well in the test he played and should remain in the side , i saw holder in the IPL and he looked ordinary but everyone has their prejudice. i predict the selectors will go with the same eleven.

  • on June 24, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    narine isnt a test bowler, but in 3 test matches vs New Zealand he has taken 18 wickets at a strike rate of 60 & average of 24 with 2 five fors 1 at home & 1 on tour. in 3 tests vs NZ a bowler of benn's caliber has 10 wickets at 119 & 44. Narine has the doosra which Benn does not have & Shillingford is not allowed to bowl. The kiwis dont like facing the doosra & have not seen it in this series as yet. If he plays & after the test his doosra is declaired suspect @ least he would have had the chance to win us the series already. maybe its jus me but considering that Kensington Oval is not a ground that has a history of being helpful to spinners i would rather play the non test cricket bowler who takes Test wickets twice as fast for half the amount of runs as Benn vs the Kiwis in a test which will decide who wins the series. if still in doubt maybe we should ask the Kiwi's which bowler they wood rather face & see who we should pick

  • on June 24, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    @ augustus williams , narine is not a test bowler, but in 3 test matches vs New Zealand he has taken 18 wickets at a strike rate of 60 & average of 24 with 2 five fors 1 at home & 1 on tour. in 3 tests a bowler of benn's caliber has taken 10 wickets at a strike rate of 119 & an average of 44 with no five fors against the same opposition. Narine has the doosra which Benn does not have & Shillingford is not allowed to bowl. maybe its jus me but considering that Kensington Oval is not a ground that has a history of being helpful to spinners i would rather play the non test cricket bowler twice as fast for half the amount of runs as Benn vs the Kiwis in a test which will decide who wins the series. if still in doubt maybe we should ask the Kiwi's which bowler they wood rather face & see who we should pick.

  • JAH123 on June 26, 2014, 4:30 GMT

    Hmmm, I'm not sure how much of a comparison you can make between this win and Lara's win against Australia. With no disrespect to NZ, they are hardly the Australian side of 1999.

  • on June 25, 2014, 19:49 GMT

    @ Sal Husain, u saw him in the Ipl - so what? that's hit and giggle cricket. anybody can look ordinary playing t20. holder deserves a chance to play test cricket cause Gabriel is just what we in Jamaica call a runs cart. when u batting whistle, 'runs cart runs cart carry the runs come gimme.

  • simonviller on June 25, 2014, 19:33 GMT

    It's nice to see WI win sometimes ,but the rebuilding must continue for sometime until suitable all-rounders are found and selected in the team .WI cannot continue with four bowlers, if they are to make progress up the rankings table .WI would do well with three pacers and two front line spinners with a batsman as a part-timer bowler ,but with the present batting line it's not possible .

  • on June 25, 2014, 16:04 GMT

    Narine should never be picked before Benn or Shilly, for a test match EVER! Gabriel needs to make room for Holder.

  • SapperP5799 on June 25, 2014, 14:46 GMT

    It is amazing that some of us actual believe that we are more informed and more knowledgeable than those we see and work with all of the players daily. Only time will tell if Narine becomes a great test bowler, but currently his stats for tests, 1 day and T20 are 40.52, 26.97 and 17.44 does it really mean anything,

  • on June 25, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    My take on all this talk about who's the best spinner in test,all i will say is Spinners don't take 5 wicket hauls in test matches without putting in the overs,check out the great Muli's stats,see how many overs he's bowled each time to get a 5 wicket haul, on average it's about 35 overs....so it's strange that someone's just played 13 first class games with 6 test matches included is rated as a great test Spinner....

  • Starvybz on June 24, 2014, 18:27 GMT

    i really dont understand why persons say narine "is not a test bowler" so dont repeat what you hear something west indians are very popular for.

  • on June 24, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Narine is not on;ly a test bowler but the spinner in the west indies and the world , how can anyone say otherwise is beyond me. Benn bowled fifty overs for two wickets , Narine will probably bowled lees overs with more wickets , he is a class act. Gabriel did well in the test he played and should remain in the side , i saw holder in the IPL and he looked ordinary but everyone has their prejudice. i predict the selectors will go with the same eleven.

  • on June 24, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    narine isnt a test bowler, but in 3 test matches vs New Zealand he has taken 18 wickets at a strike rate of 60 & average of 24 with 2 five fors 1 at home & 1 on tour. in 3 tests vs NZ a bowler of benn's caliber has 10 wickets at 119 & 44. Narine has the doosra which Benn does not have & Shillingford is not allowed to bowl. The kiwis dont like facing the doosra & have not seen it in this series as yet. If he plays & after the test his doosra is declaired suspect @ least he would have had the chance to win us the series already. maybe its jus me but considering that Kensington Oval is not a ground that has a history of being helpful to spinners i would rather play the non test cricket bowler who takes Test wickets twice as fast for half the amount of runs as Benn vs the Kiwis in a test which will decide who wins the series. if still in doubt maybe we should ask the Kiwi's which bowler they wood rather face & see who we should pick

  • on June 24, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    @ augustus williams , narine is not a test bowler, but in 3 test matches vs New Zealand he has taken 18 wickets at a strike rate of 60 & average of 24 with 2 five fors 1 at home & 1 on tour. in 3 tests a bowler of benn's caliber has taken 10 wickets at a strike rate of 119 & an average of 44 with no five fors against the same opposition. Narine has the doosra which Benn does not have & Shillingford is not allowed to bowl. maybe its jus me but considering that Kensington Oval is not a ground that has a history of being helpful to spinners i would rather play the non test cricket bowler twice as fast for half the amount of runs as Benn vs the Kiwis in a test which will decide who wins the series. if still in doubt maybe we should ask the Kiwi's which bowler they wood rather face & see who we should pick.

  • Beck61 on June 24, 2014, 1:15 GMT

    There is an age old saying that goes like this: One sparrow doesn't make a summer. As a fan of WI I wish that I could have viewed this win as a sign of better days but history tells me that my hope would be misplaced. Even if we win the last test and consequently the series, this is NZ. The last time they visited the Caribbean we won the series. What transpired since then has been a disaster. When we can compete with and beat the likes of Aus, Eng, India, SA, SL and Pak then we will have turned the corner. Until then, it just one sparrow and not yet summer.

  • on June 24, 2014, 0:04 GMT

    some times i wander how some people view the cricket,to criticise a bowler of benn caliber is just ridiculous.i thought he bowled extremely well on a placid pitch with little to offer the bowlers on either side.Narine is not a test bowler,but is good for the limited over game.Jason holder for shannon gabriel should be the only change. go,go windies.

  • llw5682 on June 23, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    Good article, but only time will tell if this is another false dawn.

  • on June 23, 2014, 14:16 GMT

    I would certainly have liked to see Sunil Narine in the WI team, but I understand the reason for which the WI selectors did not include him. He was asked to report by a certain deadling and he made a concious decision not to report.

  • FOUR-REAL-QUICKS on June 23, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    Viswanath, Holder is indeed a better bowler than Gabriel - and should be included in the final XI come Thursday. Benn has done a fair job, been unlucky not to have taken at least a couple more wickets due to poor hands from the fielders but that could also be said of Roach and even Taylor too. If Benn plays, it will really test his stamina as the track at Bridgetown likely will stay slow and low for long periods, resulting in shorter bursts from the quicks.

  • Twinkie on June 23, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    One can only hope. Test cricket is a bit boring without a strong Windies team. There's a big hole in our enjoyment of life where a good Windies team ought to be. People will return to test cricket if given something to shout about. I'm a die hard fan who will be at Kensington this week but I am on my last breath really. Administrators and players please get on the same page. You can be partners in a successful venture or fight each other into extinction.

    PS. Selectors - play Narine and Holder.......please!

  • on June 22, 2014, 19:21 GMT

    West indies is a very good team. Their bowling looks good, I still believe holder is better compared to gabriel as i have seen holder bowling in india ,bowls in mid 130's. However they must beat a test team in top 8 other than new zealand,may be home or away,that will get recognition for them.

  • WIFL on June 22, 2014, 18:30 GMT

    I would like to congratulate the WICB for including Sir Gary, Sir Viv. and Sir Curtly in the team's preparations, and I hope it continues. I know Sir Gary prefers to be in his homeland most of the time, but he should be included in the HPC as long as his humanly possible. I would also like to see Desi. and Gordon added. When the great's are questioned about their involvement in WI. Their response is always "No one asked". So Please WICB ask.

  • Rally_Windies on June 22, 2014, 17:46 GMT

    The last time the WI threatened to make a resurgence ! the WICB destroyed it .... By sacking players without reason !

  • siddhartha87 on June 22, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    Thanks for the memories of the 1999 series. Lara played two of the greatest innings of all time.What a genius

  • on June 22, 2014, 15:52 GMT

    Amazing article frm amazing expert <3

  • tutorial on June 22, 2014, 12:57 GMT

    Thank you Mr.Cozier! The team need to take a more improved desire to win attitude than the second test,also need to loose the swell headed, over celebrated mind set from that win. Narine and Holder should be selected for the third test,but Narine is not going to happen because of the board's stubborn and dictated ways.

  • on June 22, 2014, 12:25 GMT

    The WI have a decent team now. Hope they play Narine and Holder in the next match. The New Zealanders look like they've grown accustomed to Gabriel and Benn.

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    Westindies team is unpredictable we cant say if its a resurgence or just a one match wonder, Consistency is the problem as it always been with the westindies since 1995, They play like a champs in one match n they flatter like minnows in the next, The finale Test i hope windies win it 2-1, The upcoming bangladesh series should be an easy one, the South Africa series will be a big test, just hope to see Ramnesresh Sarwan back in the squad a little bit of experience will do wonders.

  • 4test90 on June 22, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    Amazingly Aust have played WI in 22 Tests since Lara's test that "left big men weeping and hugging each other, women swooning". Australia lead 18-1 with only 3 draws. The one WI win was a world record 4th innings chase of 418 !!!

  • on June 22, 2014, 9:26 GMT

    Trinidad cricket was also faltering before Darren ganga was captain by getting rid of all the old trouble guys like Samuels and bring in new blood it worked it will also work for WI

  • on June 22, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    At last Westindies have found the right combinations in 5 day format. Taylor picking up 4 in 1st innings and roach likewise in 2nd is a positive sign. Both bowlers supporting each other and definitely the beneficiary is the Westindies team. With braithwaite making a comeback and young blackwood's tremendous debut is a bright prospect for westindies cricket. Consistency is the key for the development and hope these guys continue in right frame of mind and tactics. All the best and bring it home...

  • kentjones on June 22, 2014, 6:41 GMT

    As usual Mr. Cozier, thanks for your article. All things being said I am happy for the WI. All we can do is hope that the @nd test performance will continue as WI move forward.

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on June 22, 2014, 4:32 GMT

    Its looking good for West Indies right now. The batsmen have fired and the bowlers Taylor and Roach have improved with each innings. It remains to be seen whether they can sustain this momentum. Too many times in the last 5 years, they've squandered away gains no sooner than they made them.

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  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on June 22, 2014, 4:32 GMT

    Its looking good for West Indies right now. The batsmen have fired and the bowlers Taylor and Roach have improved with each innings. It remains to be seen whether they can sustain this momentum. Too many times in the last 5 years, they've squandered away gains no sooner than they made them.

  • kentjones on June 22, 2014, 6:41 GMT

    As usual Mr. Cozier, thanks for your article. All things being said I am happy for the WI. All we can do is hope that the @nd test performance will continue as WI move forward.

  • on June 22, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    At last Westindies have found the right combinations in 5 day format. Taylor picking up 4 in 1st innings and roach likewise in 2nd is a positive sign. Both bowlers supporting each other and definitely the beneficiary is the Westindies team. With braithwaite making a comeback and young blackwood's tremendous debut is a bright prospect for westindies cricket. Consistency is the key for the development and hope these guys continue in right frame of mind and tactics. All the best and bring it home...

  • on June 22, 2014, 9:26 GMT

    Trinidad cricket was also faltering before Darren ganga was captain by getting rid of all the old trouble guys like Samuels and bring in new blood it worked it will also work for WI

  • 4test90 on June 22, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    Amazingly Aust have played WI in 22 Tests since Lara's test that "left big men weeping and hugging each other, women swooning". Australia lead 18-1 with only 3 draws. The one WI win was a world record 4th innings chase of 418 !!!

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    Westindies team is unpredictable we cant say if its a resurgence or just a one match wonder, Consistency is the problem as it always been with the westindies since 1995, They play like a champs in one match n they flatter like minnows in the next, The finale Test i hope windies win it 2-1, The upcoming bangladesh series should be an easy one, the South Africa series will be a big test, just hope to see Ramnesresh Sarwan back in the squad a little bit of experience will do wonders.

  • on June 22, 2014, 12:25 GMT

    The WI have a decent team now. Hope they play Narine and Holder in the next match. The New Zealanders look like they've grown accustomed to Gabriel and Benn.

  • tutorial on June 22, 2014, 12:57 GMT

    Thank you Mr.Cozier! The team need to take a more improved desire to win attitude than the second test,also need to loose the swell headed, over celebrated mind set from that win. Narine and Holder should be selected for the third test,but Narine is not going to happen because of the board's stubborn and dictated ways.

  • on June 22, 2014, 15:52 GMT

    Amazing article frm amazing expert <3

  • siddhartha87 on June 22, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    Thanks for the memories of the 1999 series. Lara played two of the greatest innings of all time.What a genius