South Africa v West Indies, 1st Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day December 29, 2007

A team, after all


A team celebration for a real team performance © Getty Images

A Test series against South Africa brought no Christmas cheer to the Caribbean. There was no outward sign of any significant difference on the West Indies front, and they were facing a side only twice beaten in their previous encounters. True, there was a new captain in Chris Gayle and a new manager in Clive Lloyd, but that was not exactly new - they've both been there before - what was brand new was coach John Dyson and he still had not had any chance to gel with the team yet.

Lingering in memory was the trauma of the dreadful encounter on South African soil in the 1998 series - the horrid bouts of strikes, acrimony, broken words and the yet unfathomable whitewash. One could not forget Michael Holding reporting how he saw fear in the eyes of the West Indies players as they faced all their imaginary demons on the pitch.

So when Graeme Smith sent them in to bat on the first morning, depressing scenes came to mind, and it seemed unlikely there would be many rising at four on these seasonally chilly mornings to watch them being replayed.

It was my friend Sam who accosted me on my dawn walk to apprise me of the news that Gayle had batted well and Daren Ganga was holding on and looking solid. I turned back and went home to watch it unfold.

Something was being carefully constructed here. It wasn't just the patience of Marlon Samuels or Shivnarine Chanderpaul's meticulous century. One or two often make an appearance of it; no, something suggested that everyone had listened to the same lecture, read the same book and watched a movie together. Each member of the team seemed bound by the same rules of conduct, and was intent on contributing something to the outcome.

When they got to 408, scepticism predicted that South Africa would surpass that comfortably. But they didn't, and more intriguingly, never seemed to be comfortable with the bowling. They couldn't even avoid the follow-on, which Gayle chose not to enforce. The bowling this time was a pleasure to watch because it looked intelligent, focused and as tireless as Ntini.

And then came the second innings and Gayle, standing tall, dispatching the ball like so many pesky flies until he lost it at 29, and it seemed to set a different tone. The temperament of the second innings did not sustain the calm inspired by the first. Familiar doubts perched themselves on customary boughs stirring cauldrons of dread and hope, salted by sweat and tears of times gone by.

Could they not keep the pressure on? Were they relaxing their hold too early? Was it possible that they thought it was already a done deal? Despite the pleading tone of commentator Adriel Richards reassuring listeners that only six times in history had a side chasing that 350+ total achieved it, it was hard to feel confident of victory at stumps on day three. In two days anything could happen. And it did.

That the West Indies sent South Africa packing in less than a day, winning their first Test in nearly three years, was almost too much to believe. Most of the players on the team had never experienced a Test win before, and for them it must have been an extraordinary experience.

So what really made the difference? Was it the camaraderie inspired by Gayle that opened the door to team solidarity? Was he able to convince them that he knew what he was doing by his field decisions? Did the presence of Lloyd illuminate their role in this ongoing West Indian saga? Was it the impact of classroom sessions being folded into the training mix? Out of regard for the impact of a coach on a team, the Dyson factor cannot be assessed yet; but did the absence of the old coach contribute?

What was on display does not seem to be the effect of any one factor, and that is why it is more reassuring than any of the now-and-then victories that have casually visited over the last few years. It wasn't a one-man show, nor was it one-dimensional. Something came from every quadrant. This was actually a well-deserved victory, won by dint of having outplayed their opponent at every stage and in every department. It is one worth celebrating well so the team has a chance to savour success in the hope that they will develop an appetite for that too.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ChamaraLK on January 1, 2008, 15:00 GMT

    Please don't misdirect people..Who said Lara's centuries are not match-winners.If somebody says that he's not a cricket follower for sure.In recent history WI cricket would have been demolished without him,when England tour West Indies they faced 5-0 white-wash for the first time in their history in their soil.Who saved it.Single-handedly!Before that match he was never in form,but for the sake of his team and cricket he scored 400* alone!Who else can do that.even with good team. Who can rip apart Murali and win a series(At home).He did it not only in windies in here Sri lanka.Do you forget his 213*,153 against Ausies.which saved them from losing and drew the series(for the last time).who saved them last time in SA.He was the highest scorer,These are just reflexes.I can say one thing if he didn't able to score those centuries,we can see no different between WI and Bangladesh.Thanks to those centuries WI had oxygen to breath on for 15 years,which could have been the end of WI Cricket.

  • Ritwik on December 31, 2007, 9:04 GMT

    it was wonderful to see the windies perform as a team and secure the historic win against the south africans....the young players seem to be gelling well. hope that they don't become complacent an maintain an intensity and purposefulness at all times in the field(both with bat and ball). they have to back themselves and their abilities constantly to ensure that they win this series and many more.....CHEERS

  • jason on December 31, 2007, 5:49 GMT

    Well what can we say about other than welcome come back to reality West Indies. Peolpe are for getting that the West Indies was once the best team in the world and in due time will reclaim that position. I must say well played Marlon Samuels who seems to be coming into his. Chris Gayle looks good as captin and the Indies are on a roll. Look out South Africa!!!

  • Dennis on December 31, 2007, 4:42 GMT

    Every player is just here for a season. They make their contribution then move on. Therefore, we should move on beyond Lara and concentrate on the current crop of players. For me personally, I have always backed the WI. It is the C'bean team and I know no other. I'm just happy for the post- Christmas present they have brought us........Win or lose I'll be backing them, especially my classmate Morton.

  • marvin on December 31, 2007, 1:19 GMT

    Finally, a throw back to the glory days. The days of old when our speed merchants laid low any opposition. Ah the viciousness of Edwards to get rid of Smith had me jumping off my sofa in jubilation. That is it boys, aggression mixed with smarts. Brian Lara is the greatest to ever wield a cricket bat but maybe like Moses he was not the one to take us (West Indies side)into the promise land.Stand tall Lara you were the Ultimate Entertainer. Christopher Henry Gayle the man from the land of wood and water I say well done to you and the warriors. I remain a died hard lover of west indies cricket. You bring joy to my bones.

  • Rumi on December 30, 2007, 21:54 GMT

    I agree with Shoeb_Texas. I know Lara made lot of centuries, and WI failed. (almost all occations). Only one occation ( 157 against Australia), he made WI won, to save his captaincy. WI lost many cases 5-0, or 3-0, he could bring no win for them, not even a draw.He always played for himself only. Only during his last captaincy he did play for the team. And that time WI started to be spirited. Check any of his previous teammates comment on him and you will find the truth. His 15 years and WI's worst 15 years have gone. Now WI become a normal team again.

  • Dexter on December 30, 2007, 21:48 GMT

    As a long-suffering West Indies supporter, I wish to add my congratulations to the boys for their fine win over South Africa. It has been said that the home side's arrogance was a significant factor in the result, but I would prefer to put it down to outstanding cricket by West Indies, save for losing six second-innings wickets for only 22 runs. The next Test in Cape Town will be massive and, whatever the result, as long as we witness a battling West Indies performance, I believe the team will have confirmed a step in the right direction. As for those quick to attribute the team's spirit to the departure of Brian Lara, I say get a life. What that man did for West Indies cricket, when it was very clear to all but one-eyed observers that the team was on the slide, is immeasurable. He brought joy, genius and entertainment in equal measure and left a legacy --- not to mention three world records. That is something for supposed fans to be proud of, not to take pot-shots at after he's gone.

  • Bryan on December 30, 2007, 21:11 GMT

    I have always kept the faith. west indies cricket has fallen on rocky road and unless the sister countries band their heads together and select the best players for tours we can only be mediocre. hats off to our bouy and maybe we'll see Bryan lara back for a spell in the near future Bryan (calypsokid)

  • Dave on December 30, 2007, 17:27 GMT

    to all my fellow avid west indian fans i am today a proud west indian who has seen the end of the winning era after ambrose and walsh i saw the decline in west indian cricket alas one win how convincing has not changed my mind as to whether or not we have finally turned the perverbial corner, west indies is gifted with alo of talented players but we are kept divided by country politics and quite rightly shoeb_texas stated to many small minded people. the trip to south africa where jimmy adams was captain and he got his hands cut trying to stop a fight onboard the plane on south sfrica, is this a gelled team hence a 5-0 whitewash, we need to unite as one body and we are seeing glimpses of this. one thought for darren sammy he is on the team as the fourth bowler with bravo as the all rounder yet bravo gets the ball in front of him???? let each player earn his keep in the team. congrats goes out to chanderpaul who once again showed great character the only true unsung hero. congrats team!

  • keba on December 30, 2007, 15:58 GMT

    The West Indian community welcomes this over-dued test win by the Windies.One only waits patiently to see what happens for the rest of the tour to South Africa given the windies record of inconsistency.They have the momentum ,the way they played throughout the first test match suggest that they have a bit of fighting spirit and good camaraderie among themselves and if that is maintained throughout ,the windies would win the series comfortably and the west indian cricket stakeholders would be happy for that.

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