A common, pertinent theme ran through the principal reasons given by the leaders of the West Indies team for the repossession of the Wisden Trophy.
The emphasis of captain Chris Gayle, coach John Dyson and Player of the Series Ramnaresh Sarwan was not on batting, bowling or fielding but on character.
The batting, once again, relied mainly on the big three, Gayle, Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
After Jerome Taylor’s demolition and England’s collapse to 51 all out in what proved to be the decisive first Test at Sabina, the bowling, stymied by bland pitches, an ultra defensive strategy, missed catches and Taylor’s deteriorating fitness, conceded successive first innings totals of 586 for nine declared, 600 for six declared and 546 for six declared and nine individual hundreds.
Combined, they amounted to a constant examination of the West Indies’ collective resolve.
Only once after Sabina, when the sixth wicket partnership of 261 between Sarwan and Denesh Ramdin in the fourth Test at Kensington had drawn scores all but level and the tail stretched the lead to 149, were the West Indies ever in the stronger position. Even then, they had to scrap hard to get there and, given the conditions, were never likely to use it to advantage.
Through the last 128 overs of the rearranged match at the Antigua Recreation Ground and the last 66 overs of the series at the Queen’s Park Oval on Tuesday, they held on grimly for draws that kept their lead intact.
Given that they were one ball away from defeat in Antigua and two in Port-of-Spain but still clinched the Trophy, it is difficult to dispute Kevin Pietersen’s comment that England “are the better side – or should be the better side.”
In the end, the better side didn’t have the gumption to prove it and were shocked by a determination and tenacity they had not previously encountered from their opponents.
They were outplayed in the first Test, where they trailed by 74 on first innings before Taylor’s five for 11 burst in the second. When they gained the upper hand, they unnecessarily prolonged their declarations in the third and, even more so, in the fifth after captain Andrew Strauss proclaimed that to win, square the series and retain the Trophy, he was prepared to gamble on losing.
The truth is that England arrived in the Caribbean overconfident of success. They were seduced by the evidence since 2000 (England 13 wins to West Indies 1).
Geoff Boycott’s opinion that “victories in the Caribbean prove nothing any more” and that “England ought to come through this series comfortably” was widely shared by their camp followers and possibly even the players themselves.
Sir Viv Richards identified it as complaceny, “always a recipe for disaster” according to the ‘Master Blaster’. It seemed to take no notice of the West Indies’ gradual progress in previous series against South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand.
Richards and some of his contemporaries in the era of West Indian dominance – Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Ian Bishop – have wisely dismissed talk that the outcome of the series means the West Indies have now turned the corner, a catch-phrase glibly attached to every small advance in the past.
There have been, to be sure, some individual advances.
According to coach Dyson, (Denish) Ramdin, Taylor and Brendan Nash crossed “very significant milestones” with their first Test hundreds over the last seven Tests. In the previous 13, the only hundreds came from the bats of Chanderpaul and Sarwan.
Gayle’s batting has assumed a new maturity, typified by his three hundreds in his last seven Tests, but there are still blank spots to be filled at the top and in the middle of the order and there is need for another bowler of genuine pace to back Taylor and the untiring but unlucky Edwards.
There are encouraging signs among young batsmen in the ongoing first-class tournament, if not so many among their bowling counterparts.
The extension of the regional season to home and away matches, the overdue establishment of the central academy and the promised revival of ‘A’ team tours should better prepare such talent for the elevation to the top level.
In the meantime, there is more to come against England in the coming six weeks, in the ODIs in the Caribbean and then the two Tests and three ODIs there.
The tactics and the mindset will have to change. Gayle and Dyson can’t expect to set out on the defensive in England and expect to scrape through to draws on pitches such as the ARG, Kensington and Queen’s Park. They need to place more faith in their bowlers and pay more attention to their catching.
What they know now, what we all know, is that the effort won’t be undermined by the indifference and the insecurity that led to the freefall of the past decade.
“You can see the players growing in self-confidence,” Dyson noted once he had settled his nerves after Tuesday’s drama. “They are now starting to believe in their ability…this is a good team and they are only going to build in confidence after this result”.
Gayle and Sarwan endorsed the point.
“Everybody has an understanding of what is required of them, rather than having someone constantly reminding them about how to go about situations,” Gayle noted.
“We have a good thing going in this team,” was the way Sarwan put it. “The team spirit is always high and everyone supports each other. We enjoy each other’s company.”
They were sentiments impossible to apply in the despairing days of two and three day defeats and double-digit totals. They are vital to success in any sport.