The demolition of England’s second innings of the first test of the current Digicel series by the West Indies at Sabina Park revealed a new ruthlessness.
The great last day escape at the Antigua Recreation Ground displayed rare and welcome resilience.
What has occurred at Kensington over the past two days has combined the two for a West Indies team gradually emerging from years of slackness and submission during which double-figure totals and humbling defeats were commonplace.
As far as England were concerned, this was simply an uncomplicated warm-up for the real challenge of the Ashes series against Australia in the summer. The West Indies would surely be brushed aside, just as they have been in each of their last four series since 2000, without a victory to show from 15 Tests and all-out returns of 54, 61, 47 and 97 besmirching their proud reputation.
It was a serious misjudgement that paid no attention to the steady improvement of their opponents in successive series over the past two years against South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps there was also an element of overestimation of their own strength.
A few vital pieces have fallen into place for the West Indies of late.
Another did yesterday, as crucial as all the others.
Denesh Ramdin’s first Test hundred has been a long time coming.
His potential has been obvious since he was in the champion West Indies team in the under-15 international Costcutter Cup in 2000.
He led the West Indies Under-19 to the World Cup final in Bangladesh in 2004 and marked his Test debut in Sri Lanka the following year with high-class `keeping and a measured half-century against Muttiah Muralitheran and Chamina Vaas. He was so highly thought of that he was installed as vice-captain to Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
His subsequent performances, with gloves and bat, were inconsistent. He has never lost his Test place but the selectors have let him know their concerns by occasionally preferring Patrick Browne and Carlton Baugh for the ODIs.
Until his magnificent 163 yesterday, he was the only contemporary wicket-keeper without a Test hundred. If his `keeping standards seldom dipped, his batting average was down to 20, inadequate for No.7.
It always seemed a lack of confidence, a feeling that he wasn’t capable of doing for the West Indies what he repeatedly did for Trinidad and Tobago. Such doubts only deepened with every low score.
Given Kensington’s cooperative pitch, an experienced and in-form partner in the prolific Ramnaresh Sarwan and a limited attack, he has put all that behind him. He won’t suddenly reel of hundreds every time he goes in but the West Indies can feel more at ease with their No.7 than they did before he came to the middle at 334 for five on Saturday afternoon.
It was the latest bonus for the West Indies.
Over the past year, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor have established themselves as a worthy fast bowling combination and, like Ramdin now, Taylor’s hundred against New Zealand in Dunedin in December has convinced them that he does possess the ability to develop into an all-rounder.
Sarwan has refound his groove, and how, after his brief lapse in New Zealand when, as he acknowledged, he wasn’t “mentally right” and Brendan Nash has given the middle order some necessary steel. Not everything is yet in place, to be sure.
The batting has depended too heavily on too few, the bowling needs effective support for Edwards and Taylor and the fielding, as was starkly exposed in this match, is below the required standard. Had the catching been of even club standard, the West Indies would be harbouring more realistic thoughts of a remarkable victory this morning.
There also remains the tendency for intensity to swiftly fade, as, for instance, when England were amassing their huge total on the second afternoon.
Chris Gayle is noted as the coolest cricketer around but he has to set standards in the field. Others need to heed the example of Edwards whose passion is constant, whether the score is 60 for six or 600 for six.
Overall, the signs of recovery are encouraging. It is not only England who didn’t paid heed to them before the series.