There is nothing more important in a Test cricket series than not only playing well in the very first cricket Test match, but winning it. If the team that wins that first Test match does so with great panache, knowing that they can do better as the machine becomes even more nicely oiled, and the confidence grows, then it is so much better.
The West Indies were exactly like that winning the first Test at Edgbaston. While it looked like a romp in the park, the entire three days were planned, and well executed, mostly by veterans with a tremendous amount of know-how and experiences.
Check the scores and one thing is immediately very obvious. Those most responsible for pulling off this massive victory at Edgbaston were the "old timers", veterans of the team. That is exactly as it should be. While we all want the younger players, with more style and sway than substance, to come through as quickly, when the going gets tough, it is normally the "old boys" that are required to steady the ship and get it properly on its way. The West Indies are on their way, with this emphatic first Test victory.
It must be pointed out that to be considered a veteran, a player must have played in at least 25 Tests. Some never get there, good as they may have been. The West Indies veterans are as follows (including Test No. 1: West Indies v England at Edgbaston): Jimmy Adams - 45 Tests; Sherwin Campbell - 42 Tests; Curtly Ambrose - 94 Tests; Shivnarine Chanderpaul - 43 Tests; Brian Lara - 66 Tests; Courtney Walsh - 118 Tests.
Now compare those appearances with their most recent productions.
Jimmy Adams made 98 runs in the West Indies total of 397. One could even say that he was directly responsible for that imposing total. He used his considerable patience, over six and a half hours of it, to firstly play, sensibly, "second fiddle" to Shivnarine Chanderpaul when Chanderpaul was doing his best to beat the cover from the ball.
Once Chanderpaul was out, Adams immediately quickened his steps, getting three's where two's were had in the immediate past, and definitely looking more purposeful as he shepherded the lower order. It was a tremendous display of know-how and professionalism, two attributes which could only be acquired by real-life experiences. Few "young pups", frisky with ability, but very short on outings, could have adjusted in such a manner.
Sherwin Campbell contributed 59 runs, made in nearly three hours of batting. His was the great responsibility to recover the innings when he had lost his opening partner, Chris Gayle, quickly. He even had a second, but equally important job of "shielding" Brian Lara on that 2nd day when he, Campbell, took all of the first four overs, so that "the returning slasher", Lara, could get his eyes acclimatized to the early morning light. In a sense, Campbell was both opening batsman and night-watchman for Lara on the first afternoon and the second morning. He knew his responsibilities and his place and, even though we sometimes take him for granted, Campbell has accepted this responsibility with great enthusiasm, seldom disappointing. Flashy fledglings could hardly cope with such vaunted pressures. Only veterans would count.
Curtly Ambrose only got one wicket in the entire Test, yet played his part very well indeed. Perhaps his match figures could tell the story. First innings: 20.5 overs 10 maidens 32 runs 1 wicket. Second Innings: 14 overs 8 maidens 16 runs no wickets. Total: 34.5 overs 18 maidens 48 runs 1 wicket. What that sort of bowling does, even without the wickets to show for it, is to put tremendous pressure on the opposing team's batsmen to try to score elsewhere, from the other end.
Normally, the other bowler gets the wickets, as the batsmen are more adventurous to that other bowler. I got 125 wickets in 27 Tests because I was almost always bowling opposite "Big Bird" Joel Garner, who, as Clive Lloyd would suggest, "was tighter than lycra panties". The effectiveness of keeping things 'tight', as "Amby" always does, puts so much pressure on teams that sometimes they panic. Only veterans could recognize that even when the numbers do not sound fantastic, that the job was completed with the plan in mind.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul made one mistake in the game. For the 20th time, he failed to convert a Test half-century to a Test century. While disappointing in itself, one could hardly fault him for anything else. He replaced Campbell when the West Indies were 123-3 and immediately set about his business aggressively, such was his confidence. By the time he had made that 73, he had batted only just over two and a half hours, and had hit eleven fours. Unless one is experienced, and indeed confident enough to do these things, one would fail, as Chanderpaul made most of his runs while the focus was on the batsman at the other end, Brian Lara.
Chanderpaul could almost sense that he could take advantage of the pressures put on his partner, and he did. In a sense, he even managed to "help" Brian, as if he, Lara really needed help, by making him run much, thus confusing the English fieldsmen, rotating the strike, thus undermining some of the English plans. It was beautiful to watch. It takes experience, confidence and "chuzpah", an Italian-Jewish word meaning "having guts and b...s", to accomplish such feats. There really is no substitute for experience.
Brian Lara was a revelation in this Test. In slip catches, he is; "caught two, dropped one." Not a bad start at all, when one realizes that he has not played ANY sort of cricket for nearly six months, hence "soft hands". No-one doubts the tremendous natural ability this guy possesses, but playing a Test match with such lack of preparation, and doing so wonderfully well, could only be due to combining that ability, perhaps 45% of the final tally, with 55% of experiences, knowledge and pure determination.
As a batsman, Lara astounded all, except the few Caribbean folk who backed his selection to the squad in the first place. I am pleased to say that I am included in those few of the latter. The flashing blade was a sight for sore eyes. Lara's bat, which comes with a flourish of a back-lift, all 270 degrees of movement, excessive, when compared with a "normal" batsman's perhaps 90 - 100% movement, was really something to behold. The square-drive from Andy Flintoff through cover-point and the effortless leg-glance, to backward square-leg, both speeding to the boundary, proved that Lara is almost ready to "blow out." If you think that 50 run innings was good, only the Almighty will be able to help England when, not if, Lara REALLY starts batting well. It brought tears to the eyes when those two shots, among others, were played. What a teacher experience really is!!
Finally, Courtney Walsh. Even at the ripe old age of 37, ancient for cricketers, and after 117 Tests (before the game at Edgbaston), "Cuddy" was ready to learn. He himself admitted that "the pitch was not ideal for fast bowling, so I slowed down my pace considerably so that I could effect the 'cutting' movement of the ball." No-one is too old to learn, but one must be experienced enough to learn the correct things quickly. Courtney did. A look at his match figures would explain why he was a "shoo-in" for the "Man of the Match" award. First Innings: 21 overs 9 maidens 36 runs 5 wickets. Second Innings: 19 overs 10 maidens 22 runs 3 wickets. Match figures of 40 overs 19 maidens 58 runs 8 wickets. That, remember, on a pitch where the West Indies managed nearly four hundred runs. Truly amazing!!
Courtney Walsh was highly cognizant that he had to lead from the front, as veterans are expected to do. "With Curtly bowling so well and putting pressures on the batsmen, I had to get wickets, or the effort from both of us would have been lost. I only hope that the younger bowlers would have noticed what we did in this first Test and that they really try hard to emulate us. By slowing down my pace so much, more from experience than anything else, I expected some extra movement. Luckily, it worked." With 457 Test wickets to his name and still so much spring in his step after 118 Tests, Courtney Walsh knows himself best when it comes to using his considerable natural skills, along with his nearly 17 years education and experiences at international level. For him, the experiences are irreplaceable.
Thankfully, the first Test was won with the veterans showing tremendous example and cohesion. Sooner, rather than later, though, the youngsters will have to take up the reigns. Now that the West Indies have won the first Test, it would not be asking too much for these "young pups" to take up the mantle and carry on the tradition for the second Test, at Lords, no less!!