Test matches (3): South Africa 2, West Indies 1
One-day internationals (5): South Africa 5, West Indies 0
Twenty20 internationals (2): South Africa 1, West Indies 1
All attempts to hype up this series before the West Indians arrived in South Africa were met with indifference: Caribbean supporters had not seen their team win a Test match anywhere in the world for more than two and a half years, and they hadn't won away from home, other than in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, for more than seven. Negative expectations were immediately fulfilled when Chris Gayle's side was thrashed inside three days by an admittedly strong South Africa A, having already lost a 25-over benefit match for Makhaya Ntini to a scratch side containing Jonty Rhodes, four years after his retirement. Perhaps it was precisely because expectations were so low that West Indies were able to win the First Test so gloriously: whatever the reason, it was one of the most unexpected results of recent years.
Gayle proved to be an inspirational captain, after acquiring the job by default following injury to Ramnaresh Sarwan. The uncompromising Gayle not only won the respect and admiration of his young team-mates but was able to extract such a degree of effort and determination that even they seemed surprised. Serial underperformers like Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Bravo finally added some substance to their potential, and the level of commitment to each other created a team spirit not seen in a West Indian dressing-room for a decade and a half. Gayle deserved the credit for that, too, and Samuels, who scored 314 runs in the series (more than anyone else on either side) wasn't the only one unafraid to say so. "He doesn't have any agendas and he tells it like it is. He tells you the truth," said Samuels, by implication slating the man who led West Indies in the worst of their doldrum years, Brian Lara.
After that initial upset, though, things returned more to the expected script. Graeme Smith led from the front in commanding style as South Africa bounced back to win the Second Test, and the Third was even more one- sided. West Indies were impeded by Gayle breaking his thumb during the Second Test, and he was unable to take any further part after that match. With him went much of the West Indian fight, and the makeshift captain Bravo presided over seven straight defeats in all three forms of the game. The one-day series was memorable for just one reason: the "Polly Parade". After announcing his retirement during the Third Test, Shaun Pollock embarked on a farewell national tour during which he was given standing ovations in every city, and bowled so well that he was deservedly named Man of the Series along with the emerging 23-year-old batsman Jean-Paul Duminy.
As far as entertainment was concerned during the one-dayers, however, far more could have been had by watching the grass grow on the outfield than witnessing the play on it. The West Indians were so badly outplayed that not one of the five games could honestly be described as a contest. Rarely has clearer evidence been provided that bad 50-over cricket takes a very long time to reach an inevitable conclusion - instead it becomes a test of endurance for those watching. In the second match at Cape Town a capacity crowd voted with their feet and had thinned to less than a third by the time Shivnarine Chanderpaul had strangled the last gasps of breath from the game in pursuit of a ludicrously slow half-century. As an advertisement for Twenty20 cricket, the 50-over series was magnificent.
Caribbean joy at the start of the tour was great enough to spark talk of a renaissance of West Indian fortunes. By the end the players couldn't wait to get to the airport, and their supporters were thoroughly demoralised, again. But everyone would be well advised to remember the optimism, identify what caused it, and bottle it for future use. Because, just for a while, the West Indians really did have something special going.
Match reports for
Kenya v West Indies at Benoni, Sep 8, 2007
New Zealand v West Indies at Benoni, Sep 9, 2007
1st Match, Group A: South Africa v West Indies at Johannesburg, Sep 11, 2007
5th Match, Group A: Bangladesh v West Indies at Johannesburg, Sep 13, 2007