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Subash Jayaraman in Antigua
July 29, 2012
It wasn't with an emphatic six or a fierce stroke to the boundary that West Indies reached their target. It was a simple little nudge by Assad Fudadin, in his second Test, to square leg for a single, which Chris Gayle was happy to observe from the other end. It showed the side of West Indies that is consciously choosing substance over style and it was also reflected in the absence of any over-the-top celebrations, even though it was the team's first win in ten Tests.
Even as the win became all but certain, the West Indies coach Ottis Gibson was seen still sitting with his arms crossed across his chest, keen to have the job completed. There was no whooping or hollering. Just calm handshakes, quiet high-fives and broad smiles that indicated that their hard labour of the past five days had borne fruit. It was all about keeping the eyes on the prize.
"Having not won in a long time and having not beaten New Zealand since 1996, we cherish [this victory] and we look forward to Jamaica," Gibson said after the match. "We came here wanting to win and we are very pleased we have been able to do that."
For a team that has shown that it has players in its ranks with the ability and skill to compete with the best, the past couple of years have been disheartening for West Indies. They played competitive cricket against Australia despite losing 2-0. They have run India close at home and away. They didn't handle the key moments in those matches well and inexperience in their top order contributed significantly. Even in England, Gibson believes they had their opportunities.
"I think we would have won some of those games, if we had the experience," he said. "There is no substitute for experience. Having the experience of Chris [Gayle] at the top of the order makes a huge difference. When we play teams that are around us [in ICC rankings], we believe we can compete and win. We have competed with the best."
But Gibson was quick to indicate that the result was not based solely on Gayle's performance but that the whole team contributed to the win. "I just think it was an outstanding performance," Gibson said. "The way [Kieran] Powell batted so well with so much maturity in the first innings, of course with Chris [Gayle] being so dominating, and all the way down the line, with young Fudadin getting his first test fifty, Narsingh [Deonarine] continuing with his good form, then [Darren] Sammy coming in at the back end and scoring some runs.
"I thought Kemar Roach bowled a spell at the back end of the first innings that was a very aggressive spell that got us some key wickets. Ravi Rampaul was very aggressive today. Kemar was very accurate. [Man of the Match] Sunil Narine made contributions. So, it's a whole team effort and the whole team is very happy with their work."
A victory margin of nine wickets may indicate a relatively one-sided contest but it was far from that. On a wicket that just wouldn't break, Narine was not going to be the key factor on day five. West Indies were patient when they had to be and showed aggression when required. When rain interrupted play 40 minutes in to the morning, West Indies had not been able to break the overnight partnership of Ross Taylor and night-watchman Neil Wagner. Gibson said the delay gave West Indies "an opportunity to reassess, to plan again. Kemar Roach came back and he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do."
Two quick wickets after the resumption, those of Taylor and Kane Williamson, who had to be the pillars on which any resistance from New Zealand would be built on, put West Indies on an irreversible path to victory. However, New Zealand had already played right in to West Indies' hands by not scoring enough during the first session, only 26 runs in 26 overs.
"If they [New Zealand] were scoring, that would have put us under a little bit more pressure," Gibson said. "[The lack of early wickets] didn't change the match really. Once we started to get a few wickets - which was always going to happen - the target we were going to have to chase wasn't going to be so much. If they were scoring, then, it would have been a different story."
Gibson said he was also pleased with the way the side found runs even without significant contributions from Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels.
"I can't remember the last time West Indies made 600 runs in a Test match and Chanderpaul didn't feature in the scorecard," he said. "The team is moving in the right direction. It has been moving in the right direction for a while. The players are starting to form the right sort of habits and the right attitudes. Everybody has got the sort of feel good factor about themselves. We need a few wins, here and there, to confirm what we are doing is the right thing. This win gives us that confirmation and the belief to keep doing what we are doing and keep trying to move [our] cricket forward."
In all this, the role of the captain, Sammy, cannot be understated. Gibson said Sammy's influence on the team as its leader was vital to the success of the side. "He does his job every day in day out," he said. "He plays his part in the team whether it is with the bat or the ball or whether he is taking catches or whatever. And he is the sort of leader we need right now for this team. I believe he is doing a good job and the players believe he is doing a good job too."
When asked about his personal feelings as the victory was within sight, having endured a rollercoaster ride in the past 18 months, Gibson instead focused on the side's new mantra and approach. "My personal feelings hardly ever come in to the team stuff," he said. "We came here as a team of 13 players and eight support staff. Whatever we do, we do it as a team. If we win, it is not an individual thing. It's a team win."
Subash Jayaraman is a freelancer, blogger and podcaster based in Pennsylvania. He tweets here
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