Not so long ago, yours truly laid bare his solicitude at the despondent direction in which West Indies cricket was heading towards. With Jason Holder’s team vanquishing a battle-hardened Pakistan at the miracle of Barbados, the feelings of gloom now make way for a quietly blossoming glint of optimism.
To put things into perspective, the 106-run triumph is West Indies’ third Test victory from their previous 20 Tests – a period that encompasses the start of 2015 till present. The others include the 5-wicket victory against England (also at the Kensington Oval) during May 2015 and another 5-wicket victory against Pakistan (at Sharjah) last year.
While those two wins had not been self-effacing by any means, this one’s slightly different for its context and the manner in which the events were set in motion. On a pitch showing treacherous bounce as well as sprightly turn right from the outset, the men from the Caribbean beat Misbah-ul-Haq’s side at their own game.
Upon clinching a handy toss, West Indies put on quite a show in old-fashioned attritional cricket and proceeded to bury Pakistan with their own custom-made shovel. The tactics which had served them adeptly at their adopted fortress in the United Arab Emirates proved to be the undoing for the beleaguered visitors.
Their process of grinding bowling attacks into the dust before prising out wickets through metronomic control did not hold ground against a resurgent unit of whom there are more similarities than they might envisage.
Of big hearts and perseverance
Unlike the razzmatazz of the limited-overs formats, Test cricket pushes both mind and body to the core. A relentless examination of resolve – the rigours spanning over multiple days make it impossible to survive without consummate commitment. In a far cry from their compatriots who prefer the financial security of T20 leagues across the globe, the current group of players in the West Indies set-up are earnestly ready to dedicate themselves to the demands of the red-ball game.
The big-hearted Shannon Gabriel is a pivotal example of the growing sense of allegiance to the Test team. One of the protagonists of the victory, he endured the crests and troughs of what was a thoroughly eventful encounter.
Upon seeing Vishaul Singh drop a straightforward chance to deny him an early scalp, the 29-year old fast bowler thought he had done enough to dismiss Ahmed Shehzad after trapping him in front. Alas, he failed to keep his front foot behind the line. The no-ball malaise kept plaguing him right throughout Pakistan’s first innings.
At a time when he could have easily thrown in the towel, Gabriel showed immense tenacity and rebounded strongly to finish with four wickets in the innings. As the game wore, his effort in battling hard against the no-ball quandary became quite evident. During his rousing spell on the final day, he consistently ensured that his front foot was well behind the popping crease.
Such a display of unceasing strength is not just a form of motivation for younger bowlers like Alzarri Joseph but also for Gabriel himself. As is often said, perseverance always brings rewards. If they find themselves under the weather again, the West Indies players can now understand how to react.
Value of Test-class discipline
As breathtaking their defence of a purportedly low total was, West Indies turned the game around through a resilient knock from a batsman who did not have the luxury of experience to draw into. Coming into this Test, Shai Hope had played all of 8 Tests and accumulated just 231 runs at a measly average of 15.40 without going past fifty even once. With considerable hue and cry regarding his selection in the first place, the right-hander knew he had a fight on his hands.
An ever expanding rough in the vicinity of the stumps and the looming threat of Yasir Shah added to his conundrum. Reining himself in, the 23-year old negated the world’s leading leg-spinner by trusting his defensive skills.
Growing up on the sandy beaches of the Caribbean, batsmen from this part of the world are naturally inclined to play their shots. However, Hope shunned the blaze of flamboyance for the efficiency of discipline. As the master himself in Younis Khan watched from behind the stumps, he took on a crumbling pitch and emerged unscathed.
While two World T20 titles in the last five years bear testament to their ability to clear the fence with ease, Hope’s admirable determination has given an opportunity for the modern-day West Indies contestant to embrace a different facet of the game. The platform is set for the other promising cricketers to follow suit.
‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out’ – Václav Havel. Perhaps, the iconic words of the man who had a major role in bringing down Communism in Central Europe can offer a window of reflection into the fortunes of a sports team perched in a different continent.