A win to savour and study for the West Indies
West Indies' Test win over Pakistan serves as a stepping stone.
Jason Holder would be a proud captain after delivering a victory for his country, his first in 14 attempts. The win is also West Indies' first outside their own country and Bangladesh in the last 9 years. Holder, with all the criticism leveled at him, managed to be at the helm of a historic victory in a tour-saving win.
Importantly, the skipper was a critical factor in this inspired performance as a burst of bouncers in a flavorsome spell from him saw Pakistan crumble.
The win was not without troubles, though. But those can be forgiven in the wake of their best performance in whites in a long time. While Holder may have seized the match by the scruff of its neck in a crucial passage of play, the contribution of Kraigg Brathwaite, Shane Dowrich, and Devendra Bishoo cannot be forgotten.
Brathwaite, a man on a mission
Brathwaite, a Test batsman, so un-West Indian in style and technique, has been slowly creeping up as one of the best young openers in Test cricket. In this Test, he took it upon himself to take Windies to a good first innings total. A 318-ball marathon knock in the first innings contributed 142 vital runs to the total. He wasn't done yet and saw his side through a tricky chase after Yasir and Riaz had Windies reeling at 67/5. He became the first opener in world cricket to remain unbeaten in both innings of a Test.
Brathwaite is the pillar around which West Indies can build a formidable Test batting line-up. They have Darren Bravo, of course, to back him up. These two are the biggest rays of sunshine, in an otherwise shallow looking batting line-up.
On the right path
West Indies might have had a poor year, but they got a lot of things spot on in this Test match.
If Shannon Gabriel managed to keep Azhar Ali quiet in the first innings, Bishoo and Holder ran havoc through the Pakistan line-up in the second. Gabriel was particularly crucial with his energy and pace right from ball one.
In Bishoo, they have a quality, wicket taking leggie. Along with a good off-spinner like Chase, they contained the veterans, Misbah and Younis, despite both crossing half-centuries in the first innings.
While Brathwaite was the rock, it is important to note that Dowrich and Chase gave him good support rather than throwing their wickets away. Often, Windies have had one good batsman in each of their Test innings, but he goes unsupported. Two composed knocks from Dowrich put Brathwaite in a more comfortable space.
Moving towards a complete team
In the top order, they have two quality batsmen in Brathwaite and Bravo and it's up to these two to inspire the rest of the batsmen. While Johnson is far from a finished article, he seems the best bet for now. There is a decent backup option available in Shai Hope.
In the middle order, Samuels is the senior member but unfortunately seems to be wavering in his responsibilities. What Holder needs to do is have a long chat with Samuels and make him assume responsibility as the senior most member of this squad. His talent is unquestionable and if he can guide the likes of Chase, Blackwood, and Dowrich, it will be a huge bonus for a side in redemption.
Holder is the leader of the pack and also the leader of this bowling attack. His burst in the second innings proved that he has it in him to inspire his men. While he needs to be more consistent at that, he also needs to guide a young bowling attack headed by Gabriel.
In Alzarri Joseph, they have a terrific talent who needs to be groomed well but not over-trained. In him lies their bowling future. The likes of Cummins and Carlos Brathwaite offer good backup options.
While this win is a base for this West Indies team, they must not get carried away. Holder is far from a finished captain and the rest are just growing in to their roles. What they have done convincingly, though, is stick together as a team. Each of their departments seem to have a clear leader who can groom others into their respective roles. It's a rebuilding phase and accepting that would be their biggest challenge.
The talent is there for all to see and for once, they seem to have a complete team. But the question will be how they can sustain this momentum against quality opposition in alien conditions. They may also need to reassess their leader in spite of Holder being the only one in recent memory to reap a victory against a top-tier team.
Also read: Why the West Indies should not be ruled out
Despite the performances here, it is the inclination towards T20s that is spoiling West Indies cricket. They will want to ensure their Test players do not go out to play in leagues across the world and get lost in the T20 mode.
In Pollard and Russell, they have two outrageous talents who could have done wonders for them in whites if they gave it some time. But unfortunately, Windies have neither of them as they went the Gayle way. They are safe so long as youngsters idolize the Brathwaites of the world rather than the Gayles. But for that to happen, the performances in Tests have to be right up there.