Rarely, in the last decade, have West Indian cricket fans found themselves with so much reason for cheer.
Having levelled with the mighty Australians in the five-match One-Day International Series, the West Indies scored a stirring 14-run victory yesterday to tie the two-match Twenty-20 series at 1-1.
In the context of recent years, the last three weeks have provided easily the best showing by a West Indies team against top-ranked opposition in limited overs cricket.
So now the West Indies team will look to an even greater achievement — beating or at the very least drawing with the Australians in a three-Test series starting next Saturday in Barbados.
The extent of that dream can be measured by the reality that the West Indies have not beaten Australia in a Test match since May 2003 when the Caribbean side lost a four-match series 1-3.
To find the last time the West Indies defeated Australia in a Test series we have to go back to 1993. Back then the regional side, led by Mr Richie Richardson and including the great fast bowlers Messrs Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, as well as a young batting star Mr Brian Lara, triumphed in a five-Test series 2-1 in Australia.
That was the tail-end of the great West Indies team that had conquered all comers since the late-1970s.
Part of the reason for the current encouraging showing by this West Indies team is that the Australians themselves — having ruled the roost for most of the last 15 years — are now not nearly as strong as they were. This is despite their humiliation of India, just a few months ago in Australia.
As was the case for West Indies back in the early- to mid 1990s, the Australians have in recent years lost some champion cricketers in a relatively short span. But that is not the only reason for the results over these last three weeks.
West Indian cricket fans who pay close attention will be aware that a number of very talented cricketers have been coming to the fore and their presence is starting to show in actual results. The clumsy handling of a quarrel between former West Indies captain Mr Chris Gayle and coach Mr Otis Gibson means the latter is not currently seen in a good light by many Jamaicans. But there can be no doubt that Mr Gibson has helped to instil a more disciplined attitude and a stronger work ethic — factors which have assisted on-field performances.
And despite all of the above, there are more grievous trials around the corner. Word that Mr Gayle and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) may have finally patched up their differences is outweighed by the reality that Mr Gayle’s professional commitments with the Indian Premier League (IPL) means he is unavailable for the Test series. Simply put, Mr Gayle cannot be expected to walk away from the huge amounts now on offer to cricketers of his stature in the IPL, which clashes directly with the West Indies home season.
Mr Gayle is not alone. Mr Sunil Narine, a 23-year-old Trinidadian whose tricky, controlled offspin has brought him to the fore of international cricket, is also likely to be unavailable to the West Indies in the Test series because of the cash-rich IPL. Some reports are now suggesting that even contracted players could end up being unavailable for the West Indies in the coming Tests because of the pull of the IPL.
Players shouldn’t be blamed. They are professionals with short career life spans and for their own good must look to the bottom line.
As the situation now stands, the rich and powerful Indian Cricket Board, with its hundreds of millions- strong television audience, controls world cricket, including the governing body, the ICC. Much will depend on their willingness to compromise on the scheduling of cricket — not least the IPL — if the gains currently being shown by the West Indies team are to be sustained.