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West Indies need to forget about their struggles against Australia in recent years and focus on the possibilities available to them in this series
April 5, 2012
In this region, the statement, "Yesterday is yesterday, today is today," has become synonymous with Jack Warner, a former vice-president of world football's governing body FIFA and current minister in the Trinidad and Tobago government.
The colourful Warner has made a reputation out of making statements today that seem at odds with ones he had made previously. But the West Indies coach Ottis Gibson could do with borrowing from the Warner book of philosophy this time.
As West Indies and Australia begin a new Test series in the Caribbean, Gibson would indeed be stressing to his players that they have to let the bleak yesterdays of past rubbers remain in the past; let them remain the details of yesterday.
Not since the 1993 Australian summer has a West Indian team enjoyed a Test series triumph against the baggy greens. Save for the epic 1999 battle in the Caribbean dominated by Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath which ended 2-2, the "contests" between the two sides have been one-way traffic going the Aussies' way. Outside of that 1999 series, West Indies have won just one Test against the Australians; and it took a record-breaking run chase at the Antigua Recreation Ground in 2003 to do it.
The tourists of 2012 however, do not yet have the pedigree of that Steve Waugh side of nine years ago. Only Ricky Ponting of that squad has survived the passage of time and vagaries of form and his captain Michael Clarke and the batsman Michael Hussey are the only other men in the touring party who have actually played a Test match in the West Indies.
Clarke and Hussey did so on Australia's last visit here in 2008 when they won that three-match series 2-0. That rubber was an occasion when the victory was not as easy in reality as it looked on paper, especially in the first Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica.
There were glimpses then of an improving West Indies getting closer to a less strong Australia. Four years on, there is a similar sense before the series starts at Kensington Oval.
Australia were rampant in sweeping India 4-0 at the start of the year. However, they beat an ageing India, not yet accepting that the time for change had come. Previous to that, gritty New Zealand had plunged Australian cricket into soul-searching after coming from behind to share a two-match series away from home. Clarke's side itself had to rally in South Africa to share the series there, also 1-1. Home and away, Australia have proven to be beatable. And their results so far in the Caribbean also showed the tourists to be a team in transition, still feeling its way. Significantly, captain Clarke was absent through injury. He is most present now.
His brilliance against India and Ponting's return to heavy scoring underpinned the work of the fast bowlers in that series. It is this same combination that the visitors will need to rely on if they are to win as expected. Ponting, now on his fourth tour of the Caribbean, has thrived on his previous visits. His experience in these conditions in combination with Clarke will be vital. Shane Watson, should he bat at No. 3 will also be critical to how well Australia do.
With just three Tests to play, the first one in Barbados could well determine who does not lose this series.
Should the groundsmen at Kensington prepare a pitch similar to the strip used in the T20 played there, bowlers on both sides should thrive, the emphasis in both attacks being on pace. In the first Test between the sides in 2008 in Jamaica, Fidel Edwards let his speed an aggression talk with five wickets in the first innings and three in the second. Australia were reeling on 70 for 6 in their second innings before Andrew Symonds led the fightback that eventually won them the game by 95 runs and set up the series.
For the most part it was a riveting game that saw West Indies, bolstered by a Shivnarine Chanderpaul century, pushing Australia hard. West Indies did not manage to sustain that momentum in that series or in Test series since.
But they come into this rubber in a slightly different place.
Slowly, painstakingly, Gibson, his management team and captain Darren Sammy are shaping a team whose level of fitness, unity of purpose and growing confidence in what they can achieve as a team is beginning to be manifest. In this context, sharing both the ODI and T20 series with Australia was an indicator of growth.
It proved not for the first time that West Indies have assembled a core group of bowlers who can get teams out; so that while new sensation Sunil Narine has been lost to the IPL for this series, Sammy can still throw the ball to Devendra Bishoo who as a rookie, bowled his legspinners well enough last season to take 39 wickets in his ten Tests.
The Australian batsmen have never faced him and Ravi Rampaul, who like Bishoo did not play in the limited-overs series, is a reborn bowler from the last time they saw him and is now an important cog in the West Indies attack. Sammy has good options to use. The problem for him and the real litmus test of a revival in the Test cricket, will come when his team goes to bat.
The immediate problem is the lack of form of the top order. Teenage opener Kraigg Brathwaite struggled during the regional season, averaging 23.33. The No.3 Kirk Edwards, with two Test centuries in his debut season last year averaged just 34.00 as Barbados captain and Adrian Barath, injury-plagued and inconsistent is something of an X-factor.
Gibson's biggest concern will be how last year's young standout Darren Bravo copes with his current slump. Gibson's way so far is to give his players a run, to demonstrate his confidence in them. Bravo benefitted from some patience last season. Facing the aggressive Australians, who have already got the better of him will be another test of character he must meet.
The home side has precious few alternatives at this stage. IPL commitments have already taken away Marlon Samuels and possible options like Dwayne Bravo and even Kieron Pollard. And it is only the paucity of quality replacements that has given Narsingh Deonarine another opportunity at Test level. He still has to convince Gibson that he has the attitude -- especially to fitness -- that will warrant a lengthy stay. He has the ideal chance to prove it now.
As usual, senior statesman Chanderpaul will have to be the side's lynchpin.
Overturning Australia in Test cricket still seems beyond the boundary for this current West Indies team. The same however could have been said before the ODI games began.
West Indies' refreshing self belief and strong spirit pushed them to where talent alone could not last month. Such a spirit will be needed in even larger doses if they are to break their drought against the Aussies.
"Yesterday" must come back "today."
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