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Beginning of a new era?

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by Earl W. Robinson

2004 was one of the worst for the West Indies in Tests, but their success in limited overs matches can only be surpassed by their 1975 and 1979 efforts under Clive Lloyd’s leadership when they won the prestigious World Cup.

A chronology of events will show the vicissitude of fortune for Brian Lara’s men in both forms of the game from January to September.{{more}}

The year began with the team in South Africa contesting a four-Test series. The third Test at Cape Town was the team’s first for the year. It ended in a draw so fans knew there would be no whitewash. South Africa won the first two in December. At Pretoria for the fourth, the West Indies lost by ten wickets.

Lowest Totals

Following the Tests, there was the limited overs tournament of five matches. With one match ending in a result, the loss wrapped up the series three – one. Not only did the West Indies lose but also in the first match in Cape Town they recorded their lowest limited overs total of 54. Their previous lowest was 87 against Australia in 1992.

On leaving South Africa, the talk was that the batting was the strongest department of the team. Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Smith were considered the super five. In the Caribbean, Devon Smith’s success in the Carib Cup Tournament meant he was the automatic choice to partner Chris Gayle in the opening position in the series against England.

This programme was made up of four Tests and seven ODIs. The first Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica was well contested over the first three days. Batting first, WI reached 311 with Devon Smith recording 108, his first Test century. England struggled but led by 28 runs. Batting a second time, the WI scored 47, their lowest Test total. Australia, their nemesis, had dismissed them for 51 at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad in 1999, their previous worst showing.

By lunch on the fourth day, England had won by ten wickets.

World records

The next two Tests ended in victories for the Englishmen, earning them a Test series win in the Caribbean after 36 years. In 1968, (Sir) Garfield Sobers declared twice in the fourth Test in Trinidad and set the stage for an England victory of that match and the series.

Michael Vaughan’s men dubbed “Pirates of the Caribbean” were in quest of a clean sweep when they arrived in Antigua for the final Test. However, they were greeted with a benign pitch. After taking first strike, the West Indies amassed 751-5 declared. It was the highest score against England from March 15, 1877 when Test cricket began at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia.

In that record, Lara registered the first quadruple century. His 400 not out allowed him to reclaim his throne that was taken by Matthew Hayden. Hayden’s 380 had eclipsed Lara’s 375 in Antigua against England in 1994.

England won the series 3-0.

Clean Sweep

The One-Day series was hit by rain. Three games ended with no result. England won the first match in Guyana. The West Indies had to wait for back-to-back encounters in St. Lucia to show their colours.

They won both matches. Expecta-tions were high after their weekend performance in St. Lucia, but as usual they set up their fans. They lost the final match in Barbados. The series scoreline read 2-2.

Bangladesh, the weakest Test nation, was the next to visit. Their itinerary was three ODIs and two Tests.

The first of the ODIs at Arnos Vale was a thriller. Batting first, Bangladesh reached 144-8 off 50 overs. To everyone’s dismay, WI slumped to 133-9. A last wicket partnership of 12 between Ian Bradshaw and Fidel Edwards took the team to victory. Matches number two and three were won with more comfort, allowing a clean sweep of the series.

Big Bluff

Just as the first of the ODIs was full of drama, the first Test in St. Lucia was similar. Bangladesh batted first and reached their highest Test total, 416. Habibul Beshar, 113, and Mohammed Rafique, 111, got centuries. It was the first time they had two centurions in the same innings. When they took the crease a second time, they reached 271 for nine, and declared for the first time in a Test. The match ended in a draw.

Then came the greatest bluff in cricket’s history. Lara said he would resign as captain if Bangladesh defeated his team in the second Test in Jamaica. Knowing fully that Bangladesh was no threat, he was able to excite a few.

West Indies won by an innings and 99 runs.

Losing Finalist

Next was the visit to England. Participation in the Nat West Series, which included New Zealand, was the prelude to the Test series.

This tri-nation competition revealed that the West Indies were better at One-day cricket than at Tests.

Losing to New Zealand in a lopsided final revealed that they lacked the extra zip on the big occasion.

Whitewash

If the Nat West Series could be regarded as the appetizer, the West Indian players had no appetite for the main course, the Test matches.

Each Test ended in heavy defeat. Not since the inaugural series in 1928 had England won every Test in a series against the West Indies. They lost the first at Lord’s by 210 runs, the second at Edgbaston by 256 runs, the third at Old Trafford by seven wickets and the final match at the Oval by 10 wickets.

Like “Jack Sparrow” (Johnny Depp), Vaughan plundered everything in his reaches. England retained the Wisden Trophy they had won back in 2000.

There was another ignominious record for Lara. By losing the final Test his tally of losses reached 23, thus overtaking Allan Border’s previous record of 22. Border led Australia 93 times; Lara has captained the West Indies 40 times in Tests.

Mini World Cup

Since reaching the World Cup final in 1983, the West Indies have not done well in the last five tournaments.

Their best effort was in 1996 under Richie Richardson when they lost to Australia at the semi-final. Viv Richards, Lara and Carl Hooper did not take the team that far. First round knockouts in 1987, 1999 and 2003 left the team dead and buried in those tournaments.

Given the go-ahead by the Internat-ional Cricket Council to host the 2007 tournament, the region needed a fillip before activities began. The West Indies reached the first final ICC Knock-Out Tournament in Bangladesh 1998, but lost to South Africa. In the next two competitions, Sri Lanka and South Africa outplayed them respectively. Sherwin Campbell and Hooper led the team on those occasions. Officially named the ICC Champions Trophy or as some say the Mini World Cup, the next tournament is carded for India 2006.

Saturday, September 24, the West Indies won a final (in either competition) in 25 years. It was a remarkable victory. England, who had won their semi-final match against the world’s One-Day champion Australia, thought they had won when the reply reached 147 for 8. But Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw’s record-breaking ninth wicket partnership of 71 brought the team from the brink of defeat to a miraculous victory by two wickets.

Since that sterling performance, the big question has been: Is this the beginning of a new era in West Indies Cricket?

Comments and Analyses

Lara’s comment on the eve of the semi-final match against Pakistan is worth publishing. “Winning this tournament will appease a lot of people. But I hope it doesn’t erase what happened against England because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Following Australia’s defeat, Vaughan, England’s captain, said: “I don’t think that outcome of this game will have any effect at all on the Ashes next summer. That is five-day cricket: this is totally different.”

For whatever reasons, many West Indians believe the team has turned the corner. Thirteen years ago it was said the team was in transition. Captaincy has revolved around Richardson, Courtney Walsh, Jimmy Adams, Hooper, Ridley Jacobs (albeit temporarily) and Lara.

At Tests, the team is listed eighth with 73 points. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are ranked lower on the tables. A year ago, they (WI) held the same position with 83 points.

Statistically, evidence has shown improvement from December 2003. At the beginning of the year they were at number seven on the ICC table but at the end of the ICC Champions Trophy Tournament only Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand were ahead of them.

During 2004, the West Indies played 12 tests, won one over Bangladesh, lost eight and drew three. In contrast, they played 24 ODI, won 12, lost eight and four had no result.

With such a long lay-off before their next Test series against South Africa in the West Indies, let us be hopeful that they convert their One-Day success to the Test arena. For too long the West Indies have been bridesmaids in Test series, especially overseas. If two-match Test series are included, the team has suffered seven whitewashes from 1997.

It is said pain is painful. This chronic slump is out-of-hand. Next year will mark ten years since Australia dethroned them as world champions. It is time to move upwards. Rally round the West Indies.

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