Impressive West Indies
At a time when West Indies are desperate for as much success as possible, the nine-wicket win against New Zealand in the first Test in Antigua was the right tonic towards winning the two-match series.
It was not just a matter of winning but the confident way in which it was achieved gave rise to the hope of even better things to come. There were outstanding performances with the ball from fast bowler Kemar Roach and off-spinner Sunil Narine, while openers Chris Gayle and Kieran Powell both hit solid centuries.
One could not help but admire West Indies for the fighting spirit exhibited throughout the match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. After New Zealand had closed the first day in a relatively good position of 232 for four, West Indies bounced back to dismiss them for 351 as Narine, in his second Test, finished with five for 132 off 43 overs.
Then Gayle, returning to the Test arena for the first time in 18 months following his highly publicised differences with the West Indies Cricket Board, and fellow left-hander Powell, added 254 for the first wicket to set the stage for a big total of 522.
Gayle made 150 to record his 14th Test century while the 22-year-old Powell managed his first en route to 134. In the case of Powell, it was more than a plus since he was not favoured by many to play ahead of Adrian Barath. At least he justified the faith of the selectors, whose choices can sometimes come in for severe criticism.
New Zealand were again seemingly putting up a fight in the second innings when they passed 200 with three wickets down but they were bowled out for 272 as Roach grabbed five for 60 and Narine, three for 61.
It left West Indies with 102 to win and they duly cruised home with Gayle scoring 64 not out.
One thing which raised some eyebrows was the choice of Narine as man-of-the-match, adjudicated by the former West Indies fast bowler Curtly Ambrose, who was also a radio and television commentator. In the opinion of some, it should have gone to Roach for a match haul of seven for 115, or even Gayle.
For all of that, the post-match comments by West Indies team coach Ottis Gibson were extremely interesting, especially as they related to Gayle.
“There is no substitute for experience. Having the experience of Chris at the top of the order makes a difference. When we play teams that are around us (in ICC rankings), we believe we can compete and win. We have competed with the best,” Gibson said.
The Test was Gayle’s 92nd. As he approaches his 33rd birthday next month, West Indians would hope that his return to the side has a big influence on the younger players. There might still be mixed feelings after his outspoken views last year on Gibson and the WICB which played such a telling part in his absence from the side, but it is certainly time to move on.
And even though Darren Sammy continues to be under the microscope as captain and player, Gibson has been consistent in backing him. “He does his job every day in, day out. He plays his part in the team whether it is with the bat or the ball or whether he is taking catches or whatever. And he is the sort of leader we need right now for this team. I believe he is doing a good job and the players believe he is doing a good job too,” Gibson said.
Those are words which will give Sammy confidence even though his detractors continue to nitpick. They will tell you he does not know how to defend his wicket when batting and his medium-pace bowling is ordinary. More pointedly, you often hear that he is preventing another genuine fast bowler from playing.
However you look at it, Sammy’s task was never going to be easy ever since he took over as captain from Gayle in October 2010. But if the West Indies were to also win the current Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica, there could be a different perception.
It is very evident that quite a number of fans take comfort in criticising the players repeatedly and to such an extent that when there are significant performances, they find it hard to give due praise. Instead, as far as the current series is concerned, you are likely to hear that New Zealand are not strong and there is no reason for a big celebration.
But for all of that, we should not lose sight of the fact that West Indies have been showing a fighting spirit, even though they lost two three-Test series by 2-0 margins to Australia at home and England away this year.
Talking about the likelihood of West Indies winning the series against New Zealand, no praise can be too high for the Barbados team following their capture of the WICB Under-15 title in St. Kitts. Based on the reports and statistics, it was a truly outstanding showing by Leniko Boucher’s side. They won four matches on the trot before rain washed out their last round game without a ball bowled.
It was only the third time Barbados had lifted the title with the other successes coming in 1997 and 2004.
For Boucher, it was a most memorable tournament as he won the Most Valuable Player award after scoring 411 runs including two centuries at an average of 68.50. He was also adjudged the Best Batsman of the tournament along with a couple other individual awards.
Considering that he was under a cloud a couple weeks before the start of the championship while recuperating from an injury to his hand, Boucher would have silenced those who felt it was a risk to take him to St. Kitts.
Manager Livingstone Puckerin and coach Vasbert Drakes both spoke highly of the hard work which was put in by the players and the fact that they had benefited from overseas tours organised by the National Sports Council.
Success gained at the junior level is always appreciated but it is even more important to harness the talent. Thankfully as they move on, there is now also a regional Under-17 tournament apart from traditional Under-19 championship, which has been in existence for over four decades.
So while we keep our eyes on the young talent, let’s hope that West Indies can complete a clean sweep of New Zealand.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association Division 1 championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).