Cycle of defeats finally broken

From Tony Cozier
in Port-of-Spain

The end always justifies the means and, in spite of the always dangerous policy of choosing a team and applying tactics from the start with the sole intention of earning a draw, the West Indies just managed to achieve their goal in the decisive final Test yesterday.

It was their second great escape in three Tests. Their last pair, Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards, clung on in Antigua to protect the lead their stunning victory in the first Test had given them; now they were eight down as Denesh Ramdin, the vice-captain and wicket-keeper, and once more the phlegmatic Edwards held on for the last 3.2 overs to frustrate frantic England.

That they managed to twice wriggle out of defeat will not concern Chris Gayle and his players or West Indies fans, disenchanted by years of anguish as one heavy loss followed another and the team plunged towards the bottom of the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings.

This was their first triumph in a series against relevant opposition since they overcame India in the Caribbean in 2003, their first over England since 2000.

It regained the Wisden Trophy they once securely held for 27 years but which has been in England’s equally firm grip since 2000.

In those nine years, they had not won a single Test against their oldest opponents and had endured a raft of humiliations – a two-day defeat at Headingley in 2004, all-out totals of 47, 54, 61 and 94.

The outcome of the series, however it was achieved, has put such memories behind them.

There have been unmistakeable signs that the fight so glaringly missing for so long is returning. It was put to the test time and again over the past six weeks and, even as they collapsed on a wearing pitch, was evident at the end yesterday.

There are still obvious areas of weakness. Gayle remains without a reliable opening partner, Edwards and Jerome Taylor are in need of a reliable backup fast bowler and the selectors who omitted Suilieman Benn, their one specialist spinner, from this Test on a pitch known to increasingly favour spin must make up their minds on the balance of the attack.

At least, they have broken free of the cycle of defeats. Now they must move on with the boldness and aggression that was always the hallmark of their cricket.

The teams now change into colours for the one Twenty20 International here on Sunday to be followed by five one-day internationals.

The absence of Gayle with his damaged hamstring and probably Shivnarine Chanderpaul with his groin strain are crippling setbacks in every sense. They will be counter-balanced by the return of Dwayne Bravo, an ebullient all-rounder as essential to the West Indies as Andrew Flintoff is to England.

Bravo has been out of action since last July while he recovers from an operation on a chronic ankle injury, a problem with which Flintoff is well acquainted.

Flintoff himself has been missing for the last two Tests with a hip complaint but he too is back for the limited-overs contests.

As soon as they are over, the teams contest two Tests in England in May. Conditions will be utterly different and the West Indies cannot hope to succeed if they carry the same mindset as they did in this match.

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