Let’s face it: the excitement and tension of the final session of the Fifth Test Match at the Queen’s Park Oval on Tuesday, which saw the West Indies denying England a series-levelling victory, could in no way have equalled the thrill we would have experienced had the West Indies actually won the game. But make no bones about it; the draw − or great escape − was as much a win for the West Indies and fans everywhere as it would have felt like a loss for the English team and their supporters.
Politicians like to encourage citizens to focus on ‘the big picture.’ In this case, we should. For in drawing the Test protecting their 1-0 series lead, the West Indies regained the Wisden Trophy, relinquished in 2000.
But no matter how much we revel in the immense satisfaction and joy at this feat, after so many years of disappointment and despair, this must be tempered by the cold realisation that our team’s ultra-defensive strategy going into the final Test, coupled with at times baffling tactics on the field of play, very nearly cost them the match and with it, the grip on the trophy.
The near unravelling of the West Indies strategy on the last day of the match was a timely reminder of one of life’s lessons: when you set your sights too low, it is all too easy to underachieve.
Politicians also tend to believe that the end justifies the means and even Tony Cozier was moved to agree with this maxim in his column on Wednesday. For after all, the West Indies were playing for their first series win against proper opposition since beating India in 2003. And the series victory over England, apart from putting to rest the raw memories of the serial humiliations of the past nine years, was confirmation of the return of a new fighting spirit and resilience too long absent from West Indies teams since the halcyon days of Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards.
Vaneisa Baksh, the Trinidadian journalist and cricket writer, has also welcomed the return of backbone to West Indies cricket and a newfound sense of perseverance and team spirit. She quite rightly points out that credit must go to the Australian coach, John Dyson; the manager, Omar Khan; and the captain, Chris Gayle, in addition to the uplifting performances of most of the team over the series.
The skipper himself set the tone with his century in the First Test. Jerome Taylor provided the igniting spark with his inspirational spell in the First Test at Sabina Park, when he tore through the England batting in the most dramatic session of the series.
Ramnaresh Sarwan was simply magnificent, apart from the final Test, and at last seems ready to assume the mantle of a great batsman. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was his usual dependable self and seems to have found a near clone in Brendan Nash. Denesh Ramdin kept well throughout but did not fully realise his batting potential until the Barbados Test and then really came of age as he shepherded the team to safety in the last two bottom-clenching hours at Queen’s Park. Fidel Edwards bowled with fire and heart, but very little luck, and batted heroically in Antigua and Trinidad. Suleiman Benn bowled beautifully at Sabina and more than competently thereafter, but was mysteriously dropped for the Fifth Test. And even Darren Powell, who will probably play no more Test cricket, should be hailed for his resolute batting in Antigua that helped save the Third Test. Dare we say that professionalism and purpose are once again creeping into West Indies cricket?
For once, the talk of taking positives out of a series was not just a parroting of clichés. Resilience, a stronger temperament, the realisation of potential, self-confidence, fighting spirit – all were in evidence throughout the series. And in the end, all this proved critical to securing the Wisden Trophy.
But even if in the case of the Fifth Test, the end does justify the means, there are still problems with West Indies cricket as both Mr Cozier and Ms Baksh have pointed out, along with several other noted commentators.
We have already commented on the disgraceful debacle at North Sound and no, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has not been let off the hook with this series victory. The pitches at the Antigua Recreation Ground and the Kensington Oval were far too flat, as was Queen’s Park for the best part of the match until it began to wear on the last day. And the West Indies still need to improve their fielding, find an opening partner for Chris Gayle and unearth at least two more fast bowlers.
As in travelling upriver in Guyana’s interior, when your boatman tells you your destination is “just round the point,” only to find that there is always another point beyond the one ahead, turning the corner and getting back on to the straight road to consistency, if not dominance as yet, may still be a little way down the road for this West Indies team.
May in England will tell us whether the West Indies have really turned the corner and whether the Wisden Trophy is merely on loan from an England team who badly underestimated their opponents, but who will lick their wounds, regroup and come back stronger and hungrier.
But this West Indies team has lifted West Indian spirits and restored West Indian pride. For that we salute them.