New Zealand v West Indies, 2nd Test, Napier December 24, 2008

Don't get carried away

As humbling as it may be to acknowledge a drawn two-Test series with a team ranked just below them, it's more than West Indies managed for some time


Chris Gayle's second innings 197 in eight-and-a-half hours was his finest-ever international innings in that it reflected patience, discipline and a recognition of the particular demands of specific circumstances © Getty Images
 

We didn't lose! We didn't lose!

All of you waiting for the miraculous turnaround that will see West Indies sweeping aside all before us again better get accustomed to celebrating small steps forward. As humbling as it may be to acknowledge a drawn two-Test series with a team ranked just below us, it's more than we have managed for some time.

Interesting how we keep coming back to 1995. That was when the unprecedented - and still unmatched by some distance - 15-year unbeaten run in Test series came to an end at the hands of Mark Taylor's Australians with a humiliating innings defeat in Jamaica. And now, with West Indies withstanding a late scare from New Zealand in pursuit of 312 off 60 overs on the last day in Napier yesterday, this is the first time that the Caribbean side have not lost a Test series away from home against nations other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since, yep, 1995.

That was when the team led by Richie Richardson drew a six-Test series in England 2-2, a tour filled with so much turbulence and bacchanal that, with the benefit of hindsight, it's easier to understand how complacency (then manager Wes Hall dismissed the Sabina Park cut-tail as an "aberration") and the breakdown of discipline (Winston Benjamin was sent home, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper took turns walking out on the squad, while Jimmy Adams, Curtly Ambrose and Kenny Benjamin were censured for different reasons) were already having such a corrosive effect on a once-proud institution to the extent that it affects the regional game to this day and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So let's not chinks over acknowledging the drawn series in New Zealand as something of an achievement, although the unapologetically insular among us are so blinded by dislike for Chris Gayle and his band of Jamaicans - except maybe the Australian-born white one - that they would wish the team be thrashed every step of the way, so long as Denesh Ramdin shines behind and in front of the stumps.

Gayle's second innings 197 in eight-and-a-half hours was his finest-ever international innings in that it reflected patience, discipline and a recognition of the particular demands of specific circumstances. Whether his first Test century in 47 innings and more than three-and-half years represents anything more profound will only be known when he faces up to Harmison, Broad, Anderson, Flintoff and, if he lasts that long, Panesar or Swann in the first Test against England at Sabina in the first week of February 2009. In his last Test there he made a "pair" against India in 2006, so at least he can't do any worse, unless he gets two one-ball "Charlies".

In the seven Tests in which he has led West Indies since the Boxing Day duel with South Africa in Port Elizabeth (he missed the first two matches against Australia earlier this year with a groin strain), Gayle averages 52.40, significantly more than his overall average of 39.60 from 75 Tests going back to his debut against Zimbabwe at the Queen's Park Oval in 2000. Maybe we should have started booing him from then, seeing as how so many of us hate him so much now.

Detractors, clutching desperately as they are to anything negative in their insistence on supporting only on their own terms, will point out that if Rudi Koertzen (of all people!) didn't give out Brendon McCullum on the final afternoon at McLean Park then West Indies would have lost the match and the series. On such tenuous rubbish are such irrational discourses based, as if umpiring errors, even with the new referral system, haven't always been part of the game.

 
 
Maybe it's too late, but somebody should have the testicular fortitude to tell the current generation of West Indian fast bowlers that they look like complete jackasses when they stand and glare at the batsman after a wide half-volley has spectators scattering in the stand at extra-cover
 

There's more than enough hard fact to caution against excessive optimism without scraping the bottom of the drains in Frederick Settlement in search of poisonous scum to hurl at the team that represents us out there, even if many apparently don't want them to, at least in its present Jamaicanised form.

In both Tests in New Zealand, the batting was too heavily reliant on Gayle (101.66), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (101.00) and newcomer Brendan Nash (54.00). Jerome Taylor's (43.66) counter-attacking maiden hundred in Dunedin was especially heartening, but the next best average was Sewnarine Chattergoon's 17.00, with Ramdin (5.66) at the bottom among players who appeared in the two matches.

Fidel Edwards led the way with the ball, not only in terms of the statistics (11 wickets at 23.66 - when last have we seen numbers like that against proper opposition?), but with the sort of pace and hostility that had Daniel Vettori and his men constantly on the hop. Taylor must ensure that his new-found batting prowess doesn't detract from his premier occupation as a fast bowler, while Daren Powell was on borrowed time even before his monumental act of stupidity in Napier when he ran through the crease and hurled the ball past the striking batsman McCullum last Sunday.

Maybe it's too late, but somebody should have the testicular fortitude to tell the current generation of West Indian fast bowlers that they look like complete jackasses when they stand and glare at the batsman after a wide half-volley has spectators scattering in the stand at extra-cover.

So there's nothing to get carried away about. At the same time, though, only those of mean spirit, bad mind and insular vision will refuse to acknowledge the very small step forward in faraway New Zealand.