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By Suresh Menon
The West Indies looked out of sorts at the World Cup, and the fallout was depressing as their cricket board decided to drop the senior players, and then decided to reinstate them while keeping star batsman Chris Gayle out - hardly an inspiring build-up to an important series. Pakistan were struggling too, their cricket affected as much by their politics as by the insecurities of the players.
Still, when Pakistan won the first three matches of the five-match one-day series, everything seemed to be going the pre-ordained way. Not even the home advantage made a difference.
Had the West Indies been whitewashed in the one-day series, and then lost the Test series, cricket would have been dealt a massive blow in the Caribbean. Already there has been talk of the ‘West Indies’, the only Test team which is not a single nation, breaking up into Jamaica and Trinidad and Barbados or worse, collapsing as a cricket unit altogether.
By winning the last two one-dayers, the West Indies showed they were not about to roll over and die, a feeling enhanced by their victory in the first Test. The IPL might have pushed the series in the West Indies into the background for most Indians, but India tour there next month, and every bit of information is useful. India won their last one-day series there in 2009 and a Test series in 2006, so there might be a tendency to be complacent about the chances of winning there.
It is important to world cricket that the West Indies climb out of the hole they have dug themselves into. Neither the administrators nor the players for the most part, have been particularly inspiring. The pool from which cricketers arise has become smaller as other sports and other distractions take away the youngsters who begin with great promise. There is nothing like an international victory to bring them back into the game, to get the sponsors interested, and to ensure that the game survives.
The grounds that produced Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards and Brian Lara and some of the most fierce fast bowlers to have ever drawn breath, have been lying fallow for too long.
A Darren Sammy might not yet be in the same class, but by defeating Pakistan in the first Test, the West Indies have shown what is possible. It might have been a dodgy wicket, but you still have to beat the opposition, and that’s what the West Indies did, denying them runs in the fourth innings chase.
In many sports, the traditional leaders have been struggling. India and Pakistan are not the force they were in hockey. In tennis, the US do not have a single player in the Top 10 among either men or women, Tiger Woods has been reduced to human proportions, and the West Indies, who were to cricket what Brazil are to football, have been struggling for a long time now.
They last won a Test match two years ago, and since the departure of Brian Lara haven’t found a batsman around whom the team can revolve. Chris Gayle, who might have played that role (as he threatened to do while making two triple centuries in Test cricket), has been an unhappy Test player, and at loggerheads with officialdom.
Beating a Pakistan trying to find their feet after spot-fixing scandals took away some of their best players, and internal wrangling took away some others, might not indicate a major turnaround for the West Indies. It will not necessarily be all sweetness and honey from here on. But the message implied in the victory – that it can be done – is probably the most encouraging news West Indies cricket has had for a while.