When the West Indies team embarked on their tour of Bangladesh, even devoted fans had little hope. The threat surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic meant that many regular names were missing from the squad. It was a feeling of imminent doom that gripped the followers of the game on the islands.
The ODI series seemed to confirm their worst fears. The West Indies were dismissed for scores of 122, 148, and 177 in three ODIs. The most that the team managed to bat was 44.5 overs in the third ODI. The cricketing fraternity looked on as the once-great side crumbled like a club team. This was reminiscent of the days when the whole playing XI had opted out due to payment disputes with the Board.
The Test match squad wasn’t much better. Big names including skipper Jason Holder, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, and Shamarh Brooks were missing. This meant that more than half of the regular playing XI was not available for the tour.
The first Test match started on a similar note with Bangladesh piling on 430 in the first innings. The spinners then bundled the West Indies out for 259 runs, obtaining a lead of 171 runs. The visitors finally set a target of 395 runs in the fourth innings on a dust bowl pitch, a total that was never achieved on the subcontinent before.
The hosts were all set to go 1-0 up when the West Indies were reduced to 3 for 59. Then a fightback commenced, led by two debutants Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner, who put on a 216-run partnership for the fourth wicket. This was just the second time in history that two debutants have put on a 200-run partnership.
Each run ignited fresh hope. But again, the shadows of defeat were cast once Bonner fell to Taijul Islam for 86. Wickets tumbled at one end but Mayers was unmoved. He kept taking chances which came off. Slowly and steadily, he took the team to the brink of victory.
When Kemar Roach fell as the seventh victim, West Indies were just one run away from the target. It was poetic justice that Mayers hit the winning run and remained not out on 210, becoming the first debutant to score a double-century in the fourth innings of a Test match. After being behind in the game for four days, West Indies pulled off a coup for the ages.
The coup wasn’t an aberration
That belief seemed to flood the veins of the West Indies, who put in a solid performance with the bat in the first innings of the second Test match. After both teams had completed batting once, the visitors had a lead of 113 runs, which was quite significant under the conditions.
But the Bangladesh bowlers came back well in the second innings. They wrapped up West Indies' second innings for just 117 runs, thereby reducing their target to a par 231 runs.
The chase was a rollercoaster ride. Bangladesh started with a flurry of boundaries and raced to 59 in no time before losing the first wicket. The West Indian bowlers fought back to pick up quick wickets, reducing the hosts to 115/5.
But the match wasn’t done yet. Mominul Haque, Mehidy Hasan, and Liton Das got starts and threatened to chase the target down. But the bowlers kept chipping away and never allowed a partnership to prosper. Finally, Mehidy Hasan held out to Rahkeem Cornwall off the bowling of Jomel Warrican as Bangladesh fell 17 runs short of the target.
Heroes aplenty for the West Indies
There were many new heroes for the West Indies in this series. Player of the Series Nkrumah Bonner aggregated 231 runs in four innings and was the most consistent batsman among both teams. Rahkeem Cornwall picked up the highest number of wickets in the series. He was also the Player of the Match in the second Test for his match figures of 9/179.
Joshua da Silva displayed his ability with both the gloves and the bat, aggregating 174 runs in the series, including a score of 92. Alzarri Joseph could not do much with the ball in those trying conditions, but played a gritty knock of 82 in the second Test, displaying his ability with the bat. And then, of course, there is the hero from the first Test, Kyle Mayers.
There has been talk of a dearth of talent and bench strength in the West Indies. But this is a strong message from an under-strength side. The regular faces in the squad have strong competition and no places will be available for granted. A team could hardly be put in a better position than this.
The real magnitude of West Indies’ victory
To put the magnitude of West Indies' achievement into perspective, let's look at the recent history of Test matches in Bangladesh. West Indies became the first team in the last eight years to win both Tests in a two-match series in Bangladesh. It is a feat that visiting teams like Australia, England, Pakistan, and South Africa have failed to achieve.
However, this is hardly an aberration. If one looks at West Indies cricket closely, the signs are clear that a strong foundation was slowly being built on the Test front. The results over the past three years now indicate this.
West Indies won a Test in England last year. Then they defeated Afghanistan, standing tall against their spin attack in the difficult conditions, in the subcontinent. The men in maroon also completed a historic series victory against England in the Caribbean in early 2019. There were some strong performances against India and New Zealand during this period as well.
There have been several measures adopted by the Board and the management which have contributed to this uprising. The curators were asked to provide more pace and bounce on the pitches, which were slow and low for a long while. The Duke ball was introduced a couple of years ago. Such measures are aimed at instilling more belief in fast bowlers and developing new talent in addition to bringing back the crowd by producing entertaining and result-oriented matches.
This didn't just unearth new fast bowling talent, it also prepared the batsmen to face pace and the moving ball. The core of the team built around captain Jason Holder was thus getting enough support and resources to work with.
Finally, the ray of hope seems to be visible for the West Indies. There is still some distance to go, but the track is the right one and there is enough steam in the engine to make the distance. The world is waiting to hear the calypso music once again.