West Indies v Pakistan, Group D, Jamaica March 13, 2007

Step one completed in quest for consistency



Marlon Samuels, who made a fine 63, lifted after Ramnaresh Sarwan was removed by Rao Iftikhar © AFP

If there's something you've come to expect from West Indies of recent vintage, it's the unexpected. Speaking at a function on the eve of the game, Joel Garner, one of the legends of the Caribbean's glorious past, had spoken of how there were no short cuts to becoming world champions. "You have to be consistent, game after game" was his message, but repetitive excellence is something that West Indies haven't managed since the likes of Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall decided to stop terrorising opponents.

What we do know about this West Indian team is that they can beat the best. Having batted abysmally for 84 all out in an inconsequential Champions Trophy qualifier against Sri Lanka, they rebounded by beating Australia in a thrilling game at the Brabourne Stadium. So when the Indians shamed them in a warm-up match upcountry in Trelawny, we should have known that a riposte was just around the corner.

In truth, they won against a team that can be just as mercurial. Pakistan also flit between the sublime and the catastrophic with infuriating regularity, and Tuesday was one of those days when most of their weaknesses were exposed. A disciplined bowling performance was a silver lining but the reality was that West Indies would have got nowhere near 241 but for fielding straight out of pensioners' park games.

Younis Khan, usually so reliable at slip, set the tone by grassing a chance to his right, and Ramnaresh Sarwan capitalised to the tune of 49. More importantly, he was able to establish some sort of platform for the likes of Marlon Samuels and Brian Lara to build on. Though Lara admitted later that he too would have bowled if he'd won the toss, West Indies read the pitch better than Pakistan's batsmen did later. Umar Gul and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan bowled tidily, but on a surface that offered plenty of encouragement, you needed more than one wicket with the shiny new ball.

Having seen through that threat, West Indies were indebted to an innings of real quality from Samuels. Those that watched him in Australia more than half a decade ago could vouch for his talent, but his inability to harness it consistently - that word again - had led him to become a fringe player. But coming in at the fall of Shivnarine Chanderpaul's wicket, he paced his innings perfectly.

When Sarwan departed, Samuels had just 2 from 12 balls. From the next 58 deliveries he faced, he stroked 61, no mean feat on a pitch where only Shoaib Malik of the other batsmen showed similar fluency. Unflustered by pace and at ease while advancing down the pitch to the spinners, Samuels revived an innings that was going nowhere fast.



Dwayne Smith's clean hitting reminds people of Andrew Symonds © AFP

But on an opening day when the different elements of the script came together perfectly, the leading role was stolen from Samuels by another fits-and-starts performer. You don't score a 93-ball century on Test debut against Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini unless you're a bit special, but since then Dwayne Smith has done little to further his career. His dismal one-day average of 15.93 was indicative of a player who could only do cameos, but on Tuesday he produced one that was desperately needed.

The 57 that West Indies scored from the final five overs changed the complexion of the game, with Smith's clean hitting showing just why some feel he can go the Andrew Symonds way. Lest it be forgotten, Symonds' career too was an underwhelming one till his breakthrough innings against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup. With Dwayne Bravo also showcasing his all-round ability, there was a subtle momentum shift as the players went for lunch.

Inzamam-ul-Haq won't want to watch videos of what followed. Jerome Taylor and Daren Powell generated good pace, got steep bounce and were generally accurate, but some of the shot selection from the Pakistani top order was beyond the pale. Imran Nazir first caught the eye in the Caribbean as a precocious teenager nearly seven years ago. Unfortunately, neither he nor his game has matured since, and the six-and-out dismissal was depressingly similar to dozens that have gone before.

Worse was Younis, wafting a hook without getting in line. By the time Inzamam walked out, the run-rate was climbing, and Smith's decisive double burst to get rid of him and Mohammad Yousuf killed off the contest. Malik staved off acute embarrassment, but the stronger teams in the competition will know that getting through Inzamam and Yousuf is more than half the job done.

Lara talked later of how he wouldn't get carried away, and how West Indies still had ten games to go. Ten more games will take them to the final, and if they can maintain this kind of discipline and enthusiasm - backed by crowds as raucous as this - it'll be a brave man that dismisses their chances of getting there.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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