Let's wait on Australia
By Tony Cozier
May 26, 2002
Articles on West Indies cricket
CARL HOOPER and Roger Harper got the balance just about right in assessing the significance of the West Indies' triumph over India in the Cable & Wireless Test series.
As coach Harper observed, the team did, indeed, show "great resilience" is recovering from defeat in the second Test at the Queen's Park Oval. He would have reflected the feeling in the camp at the time when he maintained that it was a match "we really should have won".
In the recent past such a setback so early in the series might have destroyed the fragile self-confidence.
Instead, in Harper's words, "we didn't allow our heads to go down, we became more focused and more determined to really play the cricket we know we're capable of playing".
Focus and determination are not attributes readily associated with West Indies teams of late, especially away from home. Yet India have found them even more elusive.
They have not won a series overseas for eight years and not outside their own geographical neighbourhood for 16, a reality that prompted Hooper's cautionary comment.
"We still have better teams to play," the captain said. "One day, when we can compete with an Australian side, then that'll be the time to say, yes, we've turned the corner and we're on the way up."
He was similarly careful after success in his first overseas venture as captain in Zimbabwe last year. The subsequent heavy defeats in Sri Lanka and in Sharjah validated his point.
India's cricketing aversion to alien conditions and cultures is well established and was once more confirmed.
It was no surprise that they were on even terms at Bourda when the rain intervened and won at Queen's Park (the venue for their only two previous victories in the Caribbean). Nor was it unexpected that they should be trounced at Kensington and Sabina.
They are comfortable in the familiar environments of Guyana and Trinidad, with their large, welcoming East Indian populations and their similar pitches.
The cultures and the pitches are vastly different in Barbados and Kingston. They were beaten for the seventh time in eight Tests at the former (they barely drew the other) and for the fifth time in eight at the latter (where they have never won).They were psyched out from the moment they lost the toss at Kensington, were sent in and Shiv Sunder Das was bowled by the first ball of the match and, equally, when they were presented with a well grassed pitch at Sabina.
Hooper knows it would hardly have been so easy, not only against Australia, next season's Test tourists, but against most of the other teams.
For all that, both he and Harper also acknowledged that the result is a huge filip to the morale of a team overwhelmed by the self-doubt that sprouts and takes root from repeated failure.
It is also significant for them personally. Both, especially Harper, were under increasing public pressure to produce.
Quite apart from the victory itself, the series produced several "positives", the recent buzzword for captains and coaches.
For Hooper, the most crucial was that, for the first time for several series, "we managed to put both batting and bowling together".
The interpretation was that everyone pulled his weight. The batting didn't have to rely on Brian Lara and, for the first time since Courtney Walsh Curtly Ambrose took their leave, the fast bowling made an impact.
Lara's predominance was such that, while he came into the series with an average of 50, the next man on the list was Shivnarine Chanderpaul with 38.
The dependence on Lara was most starkly evident in the 1999 home series against Australia, when he virtually turned the series around single-handedly, and in Sri Lanka most recently when his 688 runs at 114.66 in the three Tests were 378 more than the second best, Ramnaresh Sarwan.
This time, still physically and mentally bothered by the left elbow he dislocated and fractured in Sri Lanka, the champion left-hander languiushed at No.7 in the averages at 28.85. Yet the West Indies amassed first innings totals over 600 once, another over 500 and two more of 422 and 394.
Hooper himself and Chanderpaul, both with over 500 runs, three centuries and partnerships of 293, 215 and 186 were to the fore.
Hooper, using the luck that ran his way with missed chances and one miss by the third umpire, more than compensated for a career of unfilled promise. His mastery with the bat, firmly secured with his 233 in the opening Test, enhanced his authority as captain.
Chanderpaul, Man of the Series as he was the last time India toured in 1997, made up for 17 Tests missed in the last three years through illness and injury. They are now correctly positioned at No.5 and 6, placing the responsibility at the top of the order on the young brigade, Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds (belatedly) and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
The return of Ridley Jacobs, the doughtiest fighter in West Indies cricket, restored the pugnacity he always brought to the lower order before his ill-advised dismissal.
Stiffer examinations lie ahead, against the same opponents on their own dusty soil and in front of their fervent supporters later this year, and against the uncompromising Australians next. But there is a more settled feel about the batting. So too the fast bowling.
Inexperienced and limited as it was, it bowled out opponents with statistically the strongest middle order in Test cricket six times in three of the Tests, four times for under 300 in the victorious matches.
It was a critical turnaround from the five Tests in the previous series in Sri Lanka and Sharjah where they conceded totals of 590 for nine declared, 627 for nine declared, 493 and 472 on flat, featureless pitches.
Hooper feared a repetition after Bourda when India finished at 395 for seven.
"I don't think our attack is good enough as it should be at present to get 20 wickets on a surface like that," he said at the time. "Maybe sometime in the future we will have but right now we need to have a bit more in the wickets for our bowlers."
He got them and they responded.
After an unimpressive start, Merv Dillon confirmed himself the effective new ball bowler Malcolm Marshall predicted he would be when he first came into the team five years ago. His 14 wickets at 19.35 each in the third and fifth Tests were critical to the victories.
Cameron Cuffy maintained the pressure, not only with his 17 cheap wickets (21.88) but his probing accuracy that limited high quality batsmen to just under two runs an over.
The backup was provided by the raw newcomer, Adam Sanford, and, after Mahendra Nagamootoo's leg-spin in the first Test and Marlon Black's laboured pace in the second, by the left-arm Pedro Collins.
Their value cannot be properly assessed by their unflattering returns (15 wickets at 34.93 for Sanford, nine at 37.88 for Collins) for they repeatedly accounted for the big wickets.
None was bigger than Tendulkar's who fell three times to Collins (twice for 0s, second ball and first ball) and twice to Sanford (once for a fourth ball 0).
The match, and the series, was settled once and for all when Collins stopped the little maestro's dangerous rampage at 86 with the sixth ball after tea on Tuesday.
Nine of Collins' 10 wickets were from the top six in the order (and now 19 of his overall 29, including Steve Waugh, like Tendulkar, three times). So too were 10 of Sanford's 15.
All now know that they can mix it with whoever is at the opposite end, a valuable boost to self-confidence.
It showed in the fielding. It showed in the attitude. It showed in the fightback.
As Hooper observed, success is sweet and all the sweeter after such a long time of sucking salt. But it would be rash to read more to it than it deserves.
Let's wait for Australia.