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On their first full tour of the West Indies, nine years after a fleeting visit for their inaugural, unsuccessful post-apartheid Test in April 1992, South Africa became the first team to triumph in twin Test and one-day international series in the Caribbean. They won the Second and Fourth Tests and drew the First and Third before the West Indians gained a consolation victory in the Fifth. Their superiority was even more pronounced in the shorter game, where they won 5-2 after a last-ball setback in the opening match.
Even though West Indies had lost only one Test series at home in 28 years, to the Australians in 1994-95, South Africa's success was not unexpected. Since their 5-0 whitewash of West Indies at home in 1998-99, they had won 12 of their 21 Tests, and lost only two. They had not lost a series since 1998 in England. Their record in limited-overs cricket was similarly impressive. If the embarrassment of Hansie Cronje's dealings with bookmakers lingered, it had no effect, either on or off the field.
In contrast, the West Indians were sinking into confusion and failure. They went into the Test series a month after returning from a disastrous tour of Australia, where they lost all five Tests and all six one-day matches against the powerful home team. Their board were so undecided over the captaincy that it was only a week before the First Test when Carl Hooper, back home almost two years after his sudden retirement from international cricket before the 1999 World Cup, was proclaimed the team's fifth leader in five years. Jimmy Adams, who had replaced Brian Lara a year earlier, was dropped after successive reversals in England and Australia, as was his deputy, opening batsman Sherwin Campbell.
Hooper's appointment created heated debate among the passionate public. Michael Holding, the outstanding fast bowler of an earlier generation and now a much respected analyst, felt so strongly that Hooper should not be elevated to lead the team immediately on returning to it that he turned down his job as television commentator for the series. However, chairman of selectors Mike Findlay reflected the majority opinion when he said that Hooper, a seasoned campaigner who made his international debut in 1987, was "the only logical choice"; and in the circumstances he handled the assignment creditably. West Indies were not overwhelmed in the Tests, which all went into the fifth day, although their deficiencies in the special demands of the one-day game were starkly exposed by their opponents' competence.
The South Africans' strengths were all-round depth, athletic fielding and obvious self-confidence. Their captain, Shaun Pollock, set a fine example. His unbeaten 106 at Bridgetown - his second Test hundred - was one of only five centuries on either side in the Tests, he headed the batting averages with 302 at 75.50, took 20 inexpensive Test wickets, and was the most economical bowler in the one-day internationals. Not only did he collect both Cable & Wireless series trophies, he also won the individual award for the outstanding player of the Tests and limited-overs games.
If wicket-keeper Mark Boucher and Lance Klusener, two of South Africa's more consistent performers, were well below their usual standard, there was not a player who did not contribute at some stage. What Jacques Kallis lacked in a Test batting average of 29.66, he made up for with fast, incisive bowling that brought him 20 wickets at 19.75, and most runs plus most wickets in the one-day series. When injury restricted Allan Donald in the Third Test and kept him out of the Fourth, Kallis filled the breach more than capably.
Slow, featureless pitches contributed to slow, low scoring in the Tests; the two sides averaged little more than two runs an over between them. South Africa's 454 in Bridgetown was the only total over 400 - and that was due to a ninth-wicket partnership of 132 between Pollock and Donald. In addition to Pollock, South Africa's Test centurions were Daryll Cullinan, who compiled two in successive matches at Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown, and Gary Kirsten, whose marathon 150 in Georgetown was followed by such a sudden decline in form that he managed only 100 more runs in nine innings.
It was an important tour for Herschelle Gibbs, only recently back after his suspension for involvement in the Cronje scandal. He secured his place as opener with a Test average of 51.55, followed by two hundreds in the shorter game. In addition, his out-fielding was dazzling, complemented for the limited-overs matches by the effervescent Jonty Rhodes. But, if his cricket reputation was enhanced, Gibbs again found himself in trouble when he and five others - Paul Adams, Justin Kemp, Andre Nel, Roger Telemachus and physiotherapist Craig Smith - were fined 10,000 rand each for smoking marijuana at the team hotel in Antigua following the series-clinching victory in the Fourth Test. Gibbs's propensity for rashness off the field, rather than on it, remained the main threat to his career.
West Indies were again undermined by their batting's tendency to collapse under pressure. Needing 232, the lowest total of the match, to win the Second Test, they raised only 162. They were hurtling to defeat at 82 for seven in the final session of the Third Test, before the eighth-wicket pair resorted to demeaning, time-wasting methods. And their slump to 140 all out in the first innings of the Fourth inevitably led to the loss of the series, which gave South Africa the new Sir Vivian Richards Trophy. West Indies' highest total in seven one-day internationals was 220 for eight and they were dismissed for less than 200 three times.
The leading batsmen, Lara and Hooper, occasionally produced innings of note, but the solitary hundred in either form of the game was wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs's 113 not out at Bridgetown, his first for West Indies. It was an overdue reward for a wholehearted cricketer who had run out of partners in the previous Test when seven short of the landmark. West Indies could take some comfort from the batting of 21-year-old Chris Gayle, the tall, left-handed opener, and Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, two stylish young right-handers, both 20. Their inconsistency could be attributed to their inexperience.
The bowling was unusually, and beneficially, balanced by the inclusion of leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine for all five Tests, and the addition of left-arm spinner Neil McGarrell for the Fourth, when West Indies fielded only two fast bowlers for the first time since Kerry Packer hired the best for his World Series Cricket in 1977-78. Ramnarine, with only three previous Tests to his name, took 20 wickets and lent a variety long lacking.
Even so, Courtney Walsh was again the spearhead in what was his farewell series. As tireless and uncomplaining as always, the 38-year-old sent down an average of 53 overs a Test, conceded only 1.86 runs an over and took 25 wickets at 19.68, carrying his final record to 519 from 132 Tests. His 45 overs in the first innings at Bridgetown were the most he had bowled in a single innings. It was proper that he should have been on the winning side in his final Test, on his home ground of Sabina Park. West Indies will naturally suffer from Walsh's absence, but Merv Dillon showed continuing signs of eventually becoming a worthy replacement, claiming 20 wickets.
Large, enthusiastic crowds for the Tests and one-day internationals once more dispelled the notion that the game was losing popularity in the West Indies in the face of competition from televised American sports. But public patience was being tested by the continuing sequence of defeats.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Busta Cup XI v South Africans at Georgetown, Mar 4-6, 2001
Tour Match: West Indies Board President's XI v South Africans at Bridgetown, Mar 24-26, 2001
Tour Match: University of West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI v South Africans at Salem, Apr 12, 2001
Tour Match: Jamaica v South Africans at Montego Bay, Apr 15-16, 2001
Tour Match: Jamaica v South Africans at Kingston, Apr 25, 2001