The just concluded Digicel test series in the Caribbean is a series that will not easily be forgotten.
The series produced nerve wracking cricket with the West Indies escaping not once, but twice, from the jaws of defeat.
The series will also be remembered for the aborted second test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua where just 10 deliveries were bowled before the umpires detected of all things, a sandpit, underneath the surface.
Play was halted in the second over after everyone had watched the West Indies opening bowlers struggling to reach the crease during their run up.
It was a farce that left the taste of sand in the mouths of cricket afficianados everywhere and an incident that those in charge of West Indies cricket would like to sweep under the carpet and forget it ever happened.
Apart from the sandy fiasco, the television referral system used in this series created more problems than it solved.
While the series was compelling and keenly fought it was one where
the West Indies were lucky to have won.
The West Indies entered the series intent on continuing the progress made in South Africa and new Zealand their two previous tours.
For England, though, the series was an altogether different event, a mere warm-up for the tough Aussies who lie ahead in Ashes rivalry which dates back to years past.
To say that the West Indies dumbfounded the critics would be an understatement and the 1-0 win will certainly be a fillip for coach John Dyson, skipper Chris Gayle and the rest of the team.
But, Ramnaresh Sarwan’s batting and Jerome Taylor’s bowling notwithstanding, the 1-0 win is like a mirage that hides the true assessment of a series where the West Indies were probably outplayed.
They were forced to make not one but two great escapes in order to secure that series win.
In the third test in Barbados, the last wicket pair of Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell denied England the wicket which would have levelled the series for over half of a nerve wracking hour.
In fading light and with almost the entire England team around the bats of Edwards and Powell the West Indies’ tailenders held firm to complete a miraculous escape.
It seemed then as if the West Indies were destined to win this series.
But they came close to sharing it after a sensational collapse in the final test.
Again after batting for 157.4 overs, 89.2 overs, 128 overs, 194.4 overs and 178.4 overs in their five previous innings facing 66 overs to draw the fifth test could have been considered a cakewalk.
It turned out to be akin to walking in a minefield as the West Indies batsmen were booby trapped at regular intervals and again, it was left to Fidel Edwards and wicketkeeper Denish Ramdhin, to see the team to safety following England’s declaration at lunch on the final day.
Set 239 for victory the West Indies limped to the finish line on 114-8.
Ramdhin defied the England attack for 87 deliveries for 17 and Edwards, for the second time in the series, survived with what seemed the entire England team around his bat. He faced five deliveries.
One shudders to think what might have been the outcome if England had declared a bit sooner.
But for the resilience of the tailenders who on two occasions hung on grimly for dear life, the regional side could have lost the series 1-2.
They can count themselves fortunate to have won despite the many umpiring blunders which appeared to favour the Englishmen more than the West Indies.
Apart from the first test where the West Indies won handsomely the remainder of the series turned out to be series’ saving encounters.
There were a number of positives from a West Indian point of view in the series which were the bowling of Jerome Taylor in the first test in Jamaica, the batting of Ramnaresh Sarwan throughout the series and the first test centuries of Brendan Nash and Ramdhin. Skipper Chris Gayle scored centuries in the first and fifth test matches but his captaincy could have been more proactive.
One would suppose that the absence of Taylor and the benign nature of the pitches were probably responsible for his ultra defensive tactics and he must certainly be lauded for his performance in the final test coming out to bat even though injured.
Of some concern for the WICB must be the pitches with some 17 centuries being scored in the four test matches and the crowds which stayed away from what was an otherwise evenly contested series.
The WICB should use the fiasco of the aborted test in Antigua to once and for all do a proper assessment of all the test playing pitches in the Caribbean and try to get a little more life into them for bowlers like Edwards and Taylor.
Of more importance to the psyche of the team is the fact that they have gone for seven tests without a defeat.
But there are still some problems with finding a reliable opening partner for Gayle and a batsman to fill the number four position.
Dwayne Bravo’s return will give the team a much needed fillip with his all round dynamism but the team still lacks a quality spinner and another genuinely quick bowler.
The series was hard-fought and the West Indies team showed much needed resolve in the face of error-prone umpiring, a determined England attack and huge scores.
It was a series they won that they just as easily have lost. But a win is a win and now it is time for the West Indies team to build upon that victory.
Challenges remain ahead but this team has shown that they are willing to fight hard to surmount whatever obstacles come their way.
Perhaps the West Indies team, after a decade of lows is beginning to turn the corner after all.(TP)