A resounding victory over New Zealand across all three formats suggests that West Indies could finally be on an upward curve, says Windies correspondent Rohan Kallicharan.
Statistics don’t lie, and if you follow West Indian cricket they have not made pleasant reading over the last decade. Going into the recent series against New Zealand, of their last 33 Test series West Indies had won just six and lost 22. Of those six victories, three came against either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.
Prior to the series against the Kiwis they had lost three consecutive series to India, Australia and England, not winning a match in the process. Yet, despite this winless sequence, green shoots of recovery had started to emerge, as did cautious optimism amongst supporters.
The capitulations, the embarrassing defeats inside three days, the performances marked by a lack of thought, care and application seemed to be fading and instead an increasingly competitive unit started to take shape, a group of players seemingly less inclined to fold like a pack of cards at the merest hint of a challenge.
Across those three series the Windies won sessions and worried the opposition. However, they continued to lose key sessions, and when they lost them, they normally proved terminal. Perhaps the best example of this was at Trent Bridge in May when the tourists were competitive for nearly three days and restricted England to a relatively small first innings lead, only to lose six second innings wickets in a session.
The same was true of the Easter Weekend Test in Bridgetown against Australia, a match Darren Sammy’s side dominated for the best part of three days before losing four second innings wickets in the space of 30 minutes. It has been a recurring theme – an inability to put together five consistent sessions, let alone five entire days.
Going into the series against a New Zealand side woefully short of form there would be no excuses and there was a real need to convert the visible improvements into results. They delivered resoundingly, winning the Twenty20 and ODI series and, most importantly, the two-Test rubber.
The return of Chris Gayle has clearly had a positive impact. I have continually voiced my frustration at his absence from West Indian cricket over the last 12 months, and both board and player should have done more to ensure that an impasse was reached more swiftly. But, whatever you may have read, Gayle does care deeply about West Indian cricket – unlike some with whom he has shared a dressing room over the last decade.
He will have been frustrated to fail twice in the second Test in Kingston, especially on such a massive week in Jamaica’s history as the island celebrated 50 years of independence and Gayle’s close friend Usain Bolt retained his Olympic 100m title, but his 150 in Antigua combined all of the exhilarating stroke play you associate with him, as well as the discipline and control that West Indians have longed to see from their most likely matchwinner.
After a superb tour of England, Marlon Samuels continued his rich vein of form and his change of attitude is perhaps symptomatic of the general improvement in West Indian cricket. Until now Samuels has simply not done justice to his vast talent but his ton at Sabina Park had the purists purring and he followed that up with a fifty in the second innings to see his side home.
There are still concerns about the top order, but Kieran Powell responded well to Gayle’s presence with a century of his own in Antigua, and Assad Fudadin showed the type of workmanlike qualities that have often been lacking for the West Indies during their most difficult periods. With Gayle, Samuels and the evergreen Shiv Chanderpaul making up three of the top five, and the promising Darren Bravo – he remains no more than this at this point – to return from injury, the batting has a more solid look to it.
Kemar Roach continues to go from strength to strength and led the bowling attack very encouragingly, taking 12 wickets in the series. He has taken 39 wickets at 22.25 in 2012 – only Saeed Ajmal has more victims – and the fiery Bajan is beginning to establish himself as a high quality performer on the world stage. The challenge for coach Ottis Gibson is to find the right formula around him. Several options have been tried with various measures of success. Ravi Rampaul seems to be developing although there are question marks around his fitness, while Tino Best’s pace and never-say-die attitude looks to have given him the edge over Fidel Edwards in the pecking order.
In the spin department, Sunil Narine was impressive in home conditions against a New Zealand side that played spin very poorly. But the bottom line is that he has only played nine first-class matches and he will need to be given time to develop.
The major question mark in the make-up of the side still centres around the role of the captain Sammy. The St Lucian is proving to be a determined and impressive leader, but at some point he either has to prove himself good enough to be a bonafide fourth seamer or a genuine number No.6 batsman if he is to justify his place in the team. At some point Andre Russell will surely get the opportunity to play in the longer format and, from a purely cricketing perspective, it is Sammy’s position that is most vulnerable. However, he has shown himself to be a tenacious character and his swashbuckling maiden century against England hinted that he has the ability to take his game up a level.
It is difficult to believe that Gibson has been at the driving seat of West Indian cricket for nearly three years. His methods have been questioned, even ridiculed, but he came to the job having served a successful apprenticeship in England and it is evident that his techniques are beginning to bear fruit.
Every success story has to begin somewhere. Likewise, solid foundations must be in place, and for the first time in several years those foundations look secure on the playing side. The worry, as always with West Indian cricket, is that incompetent administrators will undermine that progress at any moment. If that can be avoided then what some will consider an inevitable victory against a poor New Zealand side may be the start of something much more significant.
Click here to read Dirk Nannes unravel the mystery of Chris Gayle