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Explained: West Indies have won the first pandemic Test. But here’s a note of caution in the celebrations

What West Indies managed to achieve in Southampton is significant, and a testimony to their skill and commitment.

Written by Vishal Menon , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 14, 2020 9:03:03 am
West Indies batsmen, center, greet England players after winning the first cricket Test match between England and West Indies, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Sunday, July 12, 2020. (AP)

International cricket’s return from the pandemic-induced hiatus has proved to be a fascinating affair, with the West Indies recording an emphatic four-wicket win over England in the first Test of the three-match series at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Sunday (July 12) evening.

How are people reacting to this win?

The win has sent social media into a bit of a frenzy. India captain Virat Kohli tweeted: “wow @westindiescricket what a win. Top display of Test cricket.”

West Indies cricket legend Sir Viv Richards heaped praise on Jason Holder’s team. “First game after the break belongs to us! Some gritty performance from the lads. This team deserves the win in this game. Congratulations boys. You make us proud”.

Even Yohan Blake, the 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning Jamaican sprinter, could barely hide his excitement. “Come on west indies don’t clamp down yourself be positive and get scoring. @west indies cricket”, he tweeted.

Why is everyone so excited to see West Indies winning?

Much before Steve Waugh’s ‘Invincibles’ of the late 1990s and early 2000s, West Indies cricket teams of the 1970 and 1980s under Clive Lloyd and Richards had caught the imagination of fans the world over with their swagger and brilliance.

But since 1995, they have been a team in decline, barring the occasional sparks of great cricket. Fans will now be hoping that this win will resurrect the cricketing fortunes of the Windies.

So, will the win in Southampton indeed herald a new dawn?

It’s still too early to say that. What they have managed to achieve in Southampton is significant, and a testimony to their skill and commitment. But the last 25 years of West Indies cricket is laced with several false dawns, and their form has fluctuated wildly.

They had registered a historic series win against Steve Waugh’s all-conquering team in 1999, defeated India in 2002, and got the better of England in 2009, and New Zealand in 2012 — all of which were home series wins. But barring these triumphs, there has hardly been anything else for them to show.

The scenario has been similar in the shorter formats as well, with the 2004 Champions Trophy win in England and the 2016 World T20 triumph in India being their only successes. Essentially, they have never managed to build on the wins, and the team has battled inconsistencies and lack of cohesion.

England captain Ben Stokes speaks during the post-match presentation after losing the first cricket Test match between England and West Indies, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Sunday, July 12, 2020. (AP)

What are the issues plaguing West Indies cricket?

There have been quite a few. Over the past decade, several of their top-ranked players have been at loggerheads with the West Indies Cricket Board over the contractual dispute that led to the cancellation of the high-profile tour to India in 2014.

Consequently, a rift ensued and some of their key players such as Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, and Carlos Brathwaite were declined central contracts. Others like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell remained unavailable for national duty for a prolonged period, preferring to play only in the IPL and other cash-rich T20 leagues that have mushroomed across the globe.

Replacing these players has proven to be difficult. Not surprisingly, the West Indies were seen as a team that was perennially in transition. It was not that there was absolutely no talent coming through the ranks. But those who were picked did very little to justify their position in the team.

Take the case of Shai Hope. Ever since he broke into the Test team four years ago, the Barbadian was seen as the Caribbean’s next big hope in long-format cricket. The free-flowing strokeplayer did his reputation a favour when he scored commanding back-to-back centuries in Headingley in 2017 to orchestrate a sensational win for the West Indies. But in the three years since, Hope has not managed to cross the three-figure mark, and currently averages an abysmal 26.7 from 32 Tests.

Similar is the case with Shimron Hetmeyer, a talented left-hander from Guyana. Even though he has been much sought after in the shorter formats and T20 leagues, including the IPL, ‘Hetty’, as he is popularly known in the Caribbean, has not managed to translate his talent into success at the traditional format of the game, averaging a shade of 27 from 16 Tests.

However, it still remains to be seen if the famous win at Southampton will influence the future decisions of young West Indies cricketers to focus on Test cricket rather than gravitate towards T20 riches.

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What measures did West Indies cricket take to stem the rot?

The appointment of Jason Holder as the captain was the first step in that direction. The 28-year-old all-rounder took over the reins in 2014, during the peak of the acrimonious contractual dispute and friction between players and the cricket board.

Holder has taken his time to hit the straps no doubt. But in his understated manner, he has managed to get this talented, yet mercurial bunch of cricketers from diverse backgrounds to play as a cohesive unit. Perhaps, the most refreshing aspect is Holder’s eagerness to play Test cricket, thereby making the game’s most storied format appealing to the audience back home.

The Windies have a seasoned coach in Phil Simmons, and with the appointment of Jimmy Adams, the former West Indies captain, as the director of the board, they have driven home the importance of playing Test cricket and even tried to integrate some of the senior pros back into the squad.

At the outset, they saw the importance of building a pace attack that had the potential to bowl out opposition sides twice. In 2017, they introduced the Dukes ball in first-class cricket, and made their pitches more spicy and conducive to fast bowling. All these decisions have played a big role in the team’s progress. They now have a potent pace quartet — Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Holder, and Alzarri Joseph — that boasts of the second-best strike-rate among all teams since 2018.

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