Positive result for Windies despite shabby cricket
It took the composure of tailenders, not reputed for such level-headedness, to secure the draw but the result that West Indies eked out in the fading light here yesterday brought a positive end to a dreadful week.
The 60 balls that No.10 Daren Powell and No.11 Fidel Edwards held on for, until the sun had set far enough in the west for the umpires to call off the contest, was the difference between a psychologically devastating defeat and a result that keeps West Indies spirits up and retains their 1-0 lead in the series.
In recent days, they have been humiliated by the abandonment of the second Test on a beach masquerading as a proper outfield at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and rocked by the realisation that the breathtaking millions Allen Stanford pumped into their game might, after all, be tainted. They played without significant home support at the restored Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG), packed instead with boisterous travelling fans from England.
That they came so close to losing cannot mask the truth that they were outplayed at every turn except the very last. They enter the next Test in Barbados, starting Thursday, with more questions than answers. Their overall cricket, so sharp in the first Test, was shabby. They succumbed to a rash of careless strokes in both innings and relied on two batsmen, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and two bowlers, the fiery Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor. It was all accentuated by costly missed catches.
Suliemann Benn, the tall left-arm spinner who was so impressive with his eight wickets in Kingston, failed to appreciate the change in conditions. He bowled without control or threat and went without a wicket for 143 runs while England amassed their mammoth first-innings total.
If Powell demonstrated his batting ability that he previously wasted, he was picked as a fast bowler and his lack of support once more diminished Edwards and Taylor. After paying more than 45 runs a wicket in Test cricket, he went without a wicket for more than 100 in England's first innings. It is time for a younger fast bowler, Lionel Baker or Kemar Roach, to take his place.
Devon Smith's latest chance to establish himself as one of the several openers tried as Chris Gayle's partner was inconclusive. So was Ryan Hinds, another unproven returnee, at No.4.
Following the euphoria of the resounding, but unexpected victory in the first Test in Kingston, it is not difficult to imagine what effect a loss would have had on players steeped in self-doubt after years at the bottom of the ICC's Test standings. Now they can breathe a little easier, although it is England who take more from the match.
|That West Indies came so close to losing cannot mask the truth that they were outplayed at every turn except the very last. They enter the next Test in Barbados, starting Thursday, with more questions than answers|
England's controversially installed new captain, Andrew Strauss, failed in both innings in Kingston and presided over as humbling a loss as England have endured against West Indies in a quarter century. His response was to set up the match-winning total with his 169 on the first day.
His partner, Alastair Cook, also dismissed cheaply both times in the first Test, contributed with two 50s. Owais Shah, at last given his chance at No. 3, played confidently for 56 before he ran himself out in the first innings. Graeme Swann, boldly preferred to Monty Panesar, was the epitome of controlled offspin bowling that earned him seven wickets.
With their two premier bowlers, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, physically handicapped, Stuart Broad stepped into the breach. He is a young cricketer for the future who, in the two Tests here, has been transformed into the man of the present.
As the series moves on to Kensington Oval, the momentum, so strongly with West Indies on arrival in Antigua, is now with England, but not as clearly as it would have been with one more wicket at the ARG.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years