Cockroach ain't 'fraid fowl no more ... again. Success at long last for Trinidad and Tobago, and when it comes so emphatically against the most dominant team in the 41 years of senior regional first-class cricket competition, it is all the sweeter.
Crushing Barbados by 265 runs - their worst loss since the inception of the then Shell Shield in 1966 - in their own backyard is an impressive enough feat in itself. To do it in a must-win situation, after being dismissed for just 259 on the opening day, and so close on the heels of a shockingly poor performance against the Windwards the previous weekend, are circumstances that place this success in a context that would favourably compare with their three previous triumphs in 1970, 1971 and 1985, along with the shared title (with Barbados) in 1976.
More than anything else, however, particularly in light of the successes of the national footballers in reaching the World Cup finals and the men's hockey team in making it to next year's Indoor World Cup, this first title in 21 years reinforces just what is possible when team spirit, discipline and commitment coincide. Make no mistake, the talent is there as it has always been. Man for man, woman for woman, this country is often superior talent-wise to their counterparts in other Caribbean territories in most sporting disciplines. Yet for any number of reasons, most of them associated with selfless dedication, we often find ourselves lamenting what could have been at the end of so many tournaments and qualifying campaigns.
Mervyn Dillon is a classic case in point. The Man of the Match in this critical encounter, he lifted his team with a decisive spell late on the first evening on Thursday and, with the exception of the pre-lunch session on the second day, remained a persistent threat, crowning his return to national duty with a five-wicket haul in the second innings to finish with eight victims in the match. Just listening to the analysis of Roland Butcher, Barbadian-born former England batsman, and Henderson Wallace, former Barbados youth pacer, during the radio commentary, it was obvious that Dillon still has a lot to offer at the highest level, so threatening was he with his accuracy, pace and purpose.
He will not be on the plane with the squad leaving for New Zealand tomorrow, but there can be no doubt that the selectors will be taking another close look at the 31-year-old when the second stage of the competition gets underway with the semi-finals in April. Having been dogged by inconsistency in the nine years since his Test debut, so much so that he has been dropped more times than he would care to remember, no one can be so foolish as to rush the Toco-born pacer back into the regional side for the visit of the Indians in May. No doubt a recall for this decisive clash, when it seemed his career at the national level was over, gave him the motivation, the fire and desire to produce his best. His challenge now, as it has always been, is to achieve consistency instead of inspiring all too briefly. Just as Rawl Lewis has been recalled to West Indies duty after an absence of seven years, Dillon could yet become another example of a growing phenomenon in the regional game where players are slow to achieve their full potential and actually perform best on the other side of 30.
Dave Mohammed is not yet 30, but the left-arm wrist-spinner must certainly merit consideration at West Indies level again especially if, like Dillon, he maintains his prolific wicket-taking rate in April. His prospects, of course, will be dependent on how Lewis performs in New Zealand. The success in Barbados, fully deserving of all the boisterous celebrations among the players and few supporters at the Carlton Club ground yesterday morning, was a real team effort, even if the epidemic of dropped catches from the Shaw Park fiasco hasn't been completely eliminated.
Lendl Simmons's place in the side was on the line and the opener responded with a fifty and a hundred. Dwayne Bravo emerged from a desperately poor run with an attacking second innings half-century at the top of the order that set the tone for a period of dominance that few Trinidad and Tobago fans would have enjoyed against the Bajans in their lifetime, especially in Barbados.
In the last session of the second day and the first period of day three, Bravo, Simmons, Daren Ganga and Brian Lara pulverised a hapless home side in a manner usually associated with recent West Indian bowlers at the hands of international top-order batsmen. It was wonderful to see such majestic, stroke-filled batting from a national team in pursuit of an elusive title. Conditioned by years of frustration and near-misses, it was almost natural to expect that, somehow, we would find a way to mess it up. But this was a team with a different mood and a different attitude, and those two sessions revealed a commanding ruthlessness that we need to see more of.
Whether it was the domineering presence of Lara, Ganga's leadership or the behind-the-scenes work of the manager, coach and physio, all must share in the credit for this enormously satisfying moment. There will be plenty time for further analysis and charting the way forward. For the moment though, let's just enjoy the feeling.