By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It required an ultimate Houdini act by Australia to script a thrilling victory over the spirited West Indies at Barbados. West Indies were the dominant force for a major part of the game and lost their grip only late on the penultimate day. Even when Australia were cruising in pursuit of a modest 192 for victory, West Indies didn’t give up and kept sending jitters down the Aussie ranks. Despite the defeat, Darren Sammy’s men can hold their heads high as they have given ample evidence that a West Indian resurgence is in order.
West Indies’ revival has been quietly brewing since the end of the 2011 World Cup. There have been numerous occasions when they were on the threshold of victory when they faltered – the recent Barbados Test being a case in point. They have made steady progress in the said period – one during which they have challenged the likes of Pakistan, India and Australia.
Let us have a look at their journey since the last World Cup in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs).
Tests - vs Pakistan at home:
West Indies’ first Test assignment after the World Cup was against Pakistan at home. On a tough pitch at Guyana, West Indies clinched the first Test with a fighting performance led by their captain Sammy. Having taken the lead, they were in a good position to win the Test series. Pakistan came back with a vengeance in the second Test to level the two match Test series 1-1.
Tests - vs India at home:
An Indian side that wore the tag of the No 1 side in the world came couldn’t dominate the weaker West Indies. Whenever India looked good to dominate, West Indies hit back with fighting performances to deny them the advantage. Even during the first Test – which India won – there were moments where it looked like West Indies had the momentum. The second and the third Tests of the series were drawn which highlighted the fight West Indies could put up.
Tests - vs Bangladesh in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh hosted West Indies for a Test series and were beaten 1-0 (two match series). It was a dress rehearsal for the bigger battle that awaited West Indies – a tour to India.
Tests - vs India in India:
The result of the series read 2-0 in favour of the hosts. That scoreline could have been a lot different had the West Indies capitalised on crucial moments in a couple of Tests. In the first Test at Delhi, West Indies had taken a 95-run lead on a tough pitch which gave them the chance to bat India out of the game. However, the Indian spinners kept pegging them in their second innings and limited the target – one that the Indian batsmen managed to overhaul.
The third Test at Mumbai was heading towards a dull draw until a dramatic collapse by the West Indies on the final morning left India with a target of 243. Both sides battled hard and one couldn’t pick a clear favourite. Such was the intensity of the contest that it went to the final over with the possibility of all four results. Ultimately, the game was drawn with the scores level.
Tests - vs Australia at home (in progress): In the first innings of the first Test at Barbados, Shivanarine Chanderpaul’s hundred took them to 449. In reply, Australia were struggling 250 for seven when Ryan Harris took control. Michael Clarke made a brave declaration when Australia were 43 runs behind the West Indies total – a decision that proved to be a master stroke. West Indies collapsed to 148 all out leaving the tourists with 192 to get. Australia had a number of scares as they approached the total as West Indies kept picking wickets.
ODIs - vs Pakistan at home:
Given West Indies’ disappointing exit at the hands of Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup, not many would have given them a chance of competing against them in a full ODI series. Pakistan looked on course to a whitewash after taking an unassailable 3-0 lead after three games. West Indies added respectability to the scoreline by winning the last two games.
ODIs - vs India at home:
In the five-match ODI series, India won the first two games without too many hiccups, but were made to stretch in the third. After claiming the whole top order, India looked set to bundle out the West Indies for a paltry total, but Andre Russell had other ideas. His belligerent knock of 92 not out took West Indies to a respectable 225. India were dented early in their run chase and found themselves in a precarious position at 92 for six. It was only Rohit Sharma’s brilliant effort that saved them from the blushes. The last two games were comprehensively won by the West Indies which puts the result of the third game in perspective.
ODIs - vs India in India:
When the two sides clashed in India at the end of 2011, the hosts sealed the series 4-1. However, that could easily have been 3-2 in favour of West Indies. In the first ODI at Cuttack, they gave India a tough time as they made heavy weather of a relatively easy run-chase. India got out of jail as they won the game with one wicket to spare. Some glaring errors by the umpires rattled the West Indies run chase in the fifth ODI until Kieron Pollard scripted a blinder. It was an innings that was a mix of caution and aggression as he kept pushing towards the total. His hundred didn’t finish the game and the margin of 34 runs highlighted the effect of those errors on the ultimate result.
ODIs - vs Australia at home: Against Australia, they did remarkably well to draw the ODI series 2-2 – a performance that will do wonders to their confidence. The pattern from the India series was prevalent as they tied one game and fell agonisingly short in the other. Kieron Pollard was their star as he put in consistent performances. In the last ODI, West Indies looked down at out 118 for seven when Sammy and Andre Russell started wielding their willows. They fell 31 runs short of the target of 282 – déjà vu Chennai. The T20 series was also drawn 1-1.
This timeline reflects a steady build-up and gives the Caribbean hope of a better tomorrow. A lot of the credit has to go to Sammy – a man whose appointment as captain has come under intense scrutiny. He has not only led the side well, but has also lifted his game. Over the last year, he has been consistent with his bowling and is gradually improving as a batsman. The biggest task before him is to instil a finishing touch in his team. They have come close on a numerous occasions and stumbled at the critical junctures. Once they learn to capitalise on those critical moments, they would be a very tough side to beat. West Indies cricket is on a rise.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)