Success-starved Windies look to end five-year drought
West Indies are on the verge of something quite special. Not since 2000 have they led a series against England and that advantage slipped away during the remainder of the contests as they gave up the Wisden Trophy for the first time since 1968. With a good performance at the Queen's Park Oval, they can win back the prize that was in permanent possession of the home side through the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
They haven't won a series against anyone in five years and the game in these success-starved nations dearly needs West Indies to complete the job. "It's been five years?" Chris Gayle said. "It would mean a lot to me and the rest of the players to actually be a part of it and enjoy the moment. It would mean a lot for the people around the Caribbean."
Outsiders hadn't expected West Indies to pose such a tough challenge. They acknowledged the improvements made under Gayle and John Dyson, but the feeling persisted that they were unstable and could fold at any moment. They haven't folded once in this series - the most dramatic collapse belongs to England and their 51 all out in Kingston could yet prove the deciding factor.
West Indies have shown resilience at every turn. From battling for a vital lead in Kingston, to staving off defeat in Antigua to their mammoth total of 749 in Barbados which dwarfed England's seemingly impregnable 600. Make no mistake, this is now a team with fight, resolve and bottle.
That isn't to say the series is in the bag. Far from it. West Indies were a wicket away from defeat at the Antigua Recreation Ground and the bowling attack, like England's, is struggling to make much of an impression. But the fact that they have held their advantage for three matches bodes well for this final challenge.
How they approach the game over the next five days will prove a fascinating insight into what sort of a team is being developed. Taking the series would be such a major achievement that there will surely be temptation to play it safe. Test match draws have received a fair amount of criticism in recent weeks, but West Indies would happily take one here. It is a dangerous idea, though, to enter a game with that mentality.
"It's a tricky situation to be honest," Gayle said. "Most of the time we haven't been in this situation but we don't want to go in with the mindset that we are playing for a draw. We have still got to go out there and play positive cricket. England have to throw everything at us and we expect it to be tough."
What they have done well in this series is react to the different situations and that is what is needed in Trinidad. England might start well and take the early honours, and how West Indies respond with the weight of expectation on them in that situation will reveal how strong this unit is becoming.
"I know they will come hard at us but we are here to restrict them from doing that. It's going to be a good game and hopefully we will get good conditions," Gayle said. "I'm very happy with the batting but I'm not going to settle for it. At the same time Ramnaresh Sarwan has been in terrific form and hopefully he can continue in the same vein."
Gayle confirmed there will be changes to West Indies' side without giving any specifics. The likely swaps are Lionel Baker replacing the struggling Daren Powell in the pace line-up and Lendl Simmons earning a Test debut in place of Ryan Hinds. However, Hinds may hold onto his spot because Dyson is very keen on consistency.
The bigger concern is Jerome Taylor's fitness, even though Gayle said he was 100% fit. The home side are desperate for him to hold together for this final match and repeat his magical spell in Kingston.
"We are just around the corner but we haven't turned it yet," Gayle said as he tried to keep everyone calm. "There is a long way to go. We have a hand on the trophy but we'll see what happens in the next few days."
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo