Ian On Sunday
June 4, 2000
I had a terrible problem on the last day of the third Test match between West Indies and Pakistan which ended in such long-drawn-out and nerve-wrecking drama last Monday. On the previous day I had discovered that when I wasn't watching the play on TV or listening to it on the radio the West Indies did well but as soon as I switched on the TV or radio disaster befell us. On the last day, therefore, there was only one thing to do for the sake of the boys and the whole West Indian nation. I could not watch or listen to the match.
As the day wore on this deprivation gradually became unbearable and bad for the heart. Everywhere I went I lurked near the fringes of the cricket broadcasts but not near enough to break the taboo I had imposed on myself. I could hear roars of relief and groans of anguish at intervals from the various places in Georgetown where appointments took me that day. Nobody seemed to be doing much work. Knots of people gathered around radios and TV sets in tense and nervous attention. I learnt all over again how intensely our patriotism and our unity are invested in the West Indies cricket team. But I could not join the listeners and watchers. I could only receive reports.
At last I could bear it no longer. When I heard that Reon King had been bowled with 19 runs still to make and only Walsh left to join his captain I despaired and decided to watch on the nearest TV set I could find - at the National Archives office actually - the last rites of a West Indian defeat. At least I knew this time we would go down with dignity and courage. But I did not know the half of it!
However, before I get to the heroic conclusion let me deal at once with the umpiring decisions which went against Pakistan. I do not think they marred this great match and its ending. In the famous 1960 tour of Australia by the West Indies far more glaring umpiring errors favouring Australia were made but they have not dimmed the lustre of that historic series.
The two dismissals, clear in replay but not in real time, which went against Pakistan will perhaps serve as a warning to teams, and also particular cricketers, who over-indulge in vociferous appealing. If cricketers appeal aggressively for everything then umpires are right to look upon this as an attempt to intimidate not only their opponents but also the officials and will be inclined, I hope, to punish such foolishness and unfair play with an increased reluctance to give a favourable decision within a pattern of indiscriminate appealing. Shane Warne, for instance, in my opinion, should never be awarded a decision because of his nonsensical, continual and grossly intimidating habit of indiscriminate appealing. Such tactics are a disgrace to cricket and should be penalised appropriately by umpires.
I love what happened when Courtney Walsh joined his captain after the fall of the ninth wicket at the score of 197, nineteen runs to get. Surely it will enter West Indian folklore. As Walsh comes to the middle - Walsh, who holds the undisputed and unlikely to be challenged world record of ducks in Test cricket - captain Jimmy Adams approaches him and says that victory will be theirs but it will take a little while. "It won't happen in two or three overs, Courtney, but we can do it." "Sure, skipper," Walsh replies. "No problem. I'll just hang around." Tears came to my eyes when I heard that report. The great West Indian warrior, in his last Test at home, when he might have supposed that his duties would end with his great-hearted bowling, comes out to save the West Indies with his batting. "No problem. I'll just hang around". Immortal words. Let us never forget this great West Indian.
Let us also be thankful for the transformation that has been wrought in the West Indian team. It is not so much that we have won the two Test series against Zimbabwe and Pakistan. It is much more that for all to see, win or lose, the spirit of the team has returned - the 'band of brothers' feeling the team demonstrates, the obviously improved fitness, the last gasp defiance, the enthusiasm and renewed energy, the encouragement of each other when the going gets tough. Above all, the pride is back, their pride and our pride. If it has to happen, because not all battles can be won, I don't really mind seeing the West Indies lose if they fight the good fight with grace and determination and high spirits. But I hate seeing the West Indies lose like they lost in South Africa and, especially, New Zealand.
Who knows how credit for this transformation should be shared? But who can doubt the contribution of Jimmy Adams who has surprised everyone with the inspirational nature of his leadership, the intensity of his dedication, the way he has lifted his own game both in fielding and batting, indeed the way he has lifted the performance of the whole team by what can only be described as a mighty effort of will-power and single-minded devotion to a cause.
And who can doubt also that Roger Harper has played an absolutely vital organisational and motivational role. He has quite evidently made the whole team aware again of the essentials - correct basic technique, hard work leading to greater fitness, team spirit and team pride, focused attention on the task in hand. It may be true that nothing can quite make up for lack of outstanding talent but intelligent, professional, experienced and dedicated coaching can go a long way to getting good results while we cultivate fresh breeding grounds of genius.
Now for England, the old enemy. I have developed such respect for captain Adams and coach Harper and indeed the whole management team that I believe they are capable even of absorbing the great but wayward genius Brian Lara into the new-look team without disruption. If this is possible, and if Lara has got himself fit and in the right frame of mind, it should be an overseas tour to remember rather than forget.
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