11th September 2017
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This time it’s different.
Windies have won games and performed well before and many thought, each time, that those instances hinted at a new beginning. On a few occasions, we believed a new dawn was breaking; that they had finally turned the corner; that better days lay ahead. Good results were rare and welcomed, and many clung tightly to them as evidence that the climb from the darkness had begun and that the future has its fair share of goodness and light.
Almost a decade ago in December 2007, when the Windies caught an under-cooked South Africa unawares and beat them in Port Elizabeth, many in the Caribbean thought the team was approaching a new era under the inspired leadership of Chris Gayle. But the home team quickly got into gear, easily winning the following two games to take the series 2-1.
More recently, there were wins over England in Barbados in 2015, over Pakistan in Sharjah in October 2016 and in Barbados five months ago, and there was also a remarkable fightback to draw a game against India in Jamaica just over a year ago. But the elation of the fans after those better-than-usual performances were short lived and the team soon returned to its old ways. Instead of turning the corner each time, they actually made U-turns, heading back to the mire from which they needed to escape.
But this won’t be one of those times. This latest round of rejuvenation hints at being more enduring. This resurgence seems sustainable since it is undergirded by a foundation that appears to be sturdier than it has been in the past. Previous wins that brought false hope were built on sand. This time it’s built on solid rock. The Tests they won in the last few years were based on good performances by one or two players. This time they excelled as a team.
The Windies were always going to improve on their dastardly performance in the first Test. The innings and 209-run defeat was one thing, the utter hopelessness of their play quite another. Save for Jermaine Blackwood’s frenetic, unbeaten 79 in the first innings, and, to a lesser extent, Kraigg Brathwaite’s 40 in the second, there was nothing worthwhile from the visitors.
They were bound to get better simply because they couldn’t have gotten any worse. Windies’ bowling in Egbaston must have been the most unchallenging scene in a Test for a long time. The visitors’ batting was generally well below the standard required and there were no signs they’d have been able to cope with an experienced and highly-skilled attack in conditions quite friendly to seam and swing. To top it – though this was a problem for the hosts as well – they seemed intent on allowing almost every batsman a second chance by their dreadful catching.
But while the Windies could not have sunk any lower than they did at Egbaston, no one would have imagined they were capable of doing what they did at Headingley. Inconsistency has been one major downfall over the years. At Headingly, however, they were on the ball – except, again, for their poor catching and for a period close to the termination of England’s second innings – from first delivery to the last. And though they lost by what seems like a big margin, of nine wickets, at Lords, the visiting team acquitted themselves well throughout most of the game. A little more luck, a little better catching, and the result could have been different.
The bowling unit was overhauled at Headingley. The pacy Shannon Gabriel and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo were added and seam bowlers Miguel Cummins and Alzarri Joseph were omitted. The upshot was bowling that became decidedly more demanding. Their accuracy improved beyond all anticipation and England were, in fact, fortunate to have gotten to 258 in their first innings. And though there were periods when they flagged, such as on the occasions when Ben Stokes wrested the upper hand, the bowlers remained threatening throughout.
Yet it was the batting that had the more substantial transformation. The partnerships at Headingly between Brathwaite and Shai Hope (390 runs in both innings) will go down in folklore. Their 260-run first-innings effort will probably be as revered as the 287-run union between Gordon Greenidge and Larry Gomes, that achieved an improbable run-chase at Lords in 1984, or Brian Lara and Jimmy Adams’s 322-run alliance on the second day of the 1999 Jamaica Test that spurred the West Indies to victory over Australia.
Brathwaite’s adhesive qualities have been well-documented. Those who had been watching Hope, knew of his store of talent. The 90 he made on a deteriorating surface in Barbados suggested he could become a batsman of rare pedigree. And yet nobody would have conceived that he’d become the first batsman in Headingley’s 127-year history to score hundreds in both innings of a first-class game.
Along with majority of viewers, Hope might have also surprised himself at Headingley. He showed poise, class and mental toughness. His efforts would undoubtedly have been life-altering. What he did in challenging batting conditions against challenging bowlers was to lift himself above the ranks of the ordinary, and take his place amongst the elites.
Blackwood might need to rethink his all-out swashbuckling approach but he, along with Chase, who scored two centuries in the Caribbean during Pakistan’s three-Test tour, and Powell, have shown they can grow in skill and reliability. Darren Bravo should return to his number three spot which Kyle Hope now holds. The selectors might need to look to someone like Jamar Hamilton if wicketkeeper/batsman Shane Dowrich continues to underperform.
The greater difficulty might be to find an adequate supply of bowlers. As things stand, the bowling unit lacks depth. Gabriel and Kemar Roach bowled admirable at Headingley and at Lords, but they surely won’t be able to fulfill such a large portion of their team’s wicket-taking needs for extended periods, especially on docile surfaces. They need support, which Holder mostly provided in England, but they will need larger supply of penetrative bowlers if they are to be competitive in Tests and ODIs. The good news is that there is in the Caribbean, Jerome Taylor, a 31-year-old of known quality, while the recent PSL and CPL competitions have revealed a number of young, impressive pacers who have been clocking speeds of up to 95 mph.
As far as spin bowling is concerned, Holder and the team management need to decide if Bishoo is the man for the job. If they decide he is then his captain needs to show more faith in him. If they decide otherwise, then they need to take a closer at other slow bowlers in the Caribbean.
There is a clear indication that Windies cricket has and is developing a deeper and wider pool from which they can fish for talent. They won’t become a great team overnight, but it is apparent, however, that they have players capable of coping at the highest level. Some of the material is raw and will have to be mined and developed. But it’s there, and that is why this current resurgence, if it’s handled properly, will be significant and lasting.Taken from CricBuzz