Wed | Nov 22, 2017

Orville Higgins | Windies win keeps Hope alive

Published:Friday | September 1, 2017 | 12:09 AM
West Indies batsman Shai Hope celebrates after scoring the winning runs during Day Five of the the second Test match between England and West Indies at Headingley on Tuesday.

Has there ever been a bigger upset in Test cricket? Has there ever been a time in cricket history when the underdogs so overwhelmingly turned the tide? I can't recall any time when the odds were so stacked against a team winning a Test match.

What the West Indies accomplished this week against England at Headingley must be seen as the sporting equivalent of David vs Goliath. Indeed, David might have had better odds.

To understand the magnitude of what the Caribbean team achieved, it must be remembered that West Indies had not won a test match in England in 17 years. Indeed, it is worth repeating that in the last 20 years, and stretching back 87 Tests, the West Indies had only won a grand total of THREE Tests overseas against opposition outside of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

When you add the fact that we were walloped by an innings in the first Test this summer, losing 19 wickets in one day, it's mind-boggling that a West Indies team that was so lowly ranked could topple mighty England in their own backyard.

I have heard some snide suggestions that England captain Joe Root got the declaration wrong. That's nonsense. Test cricket has seen 642 cases of a team needing to score 300 or more to win a Test match. In only 29 of those cases has the batting team prevailed. That is a grand total of 4.52 per cent of the time! It means that more than 95 per cent of the times the fielding team will not lose after a team is asked to get 300 plus, especially if they need those runs on the last day.

When you add how limp the Windies looked in the first Test, and the gap between the two teams, declaring and asking West Indies to get 322 to win was not only asking them to overcome huge statistical odds, but to perform a miracle. That they achieved it must not be held against the England captain.

If this is not Test cricket's biggest upset, what Shai Hope did must rank as the biggest turnaround of fortunes in the long history of the game. The stylish Barbadian was still averaging below 20 before the Test match. To make back-to-back hundreds against a rampaging England, under so much pressure, leaves one almost speechless. We always knew that Shai Hope could play some pretty 20s, but to bat for hours unruffled against England almost defies belief.

Kraigg Brathwaite, 95, came within a whisker of being immortal himself. It would have been only the third time in cricket's history that two players scored two centuries in the same game. It would have capped off another stunning achievement. The cricket gods may have just wanted us to temper our celebrations in fear of us going insane.

Brathwaite and Hope were awesome, but spare a thought for the counterattacking pair of 40s scored by Jermaine Blackwood. Those were crucial innings, too: the first one to help ram home the advantage in the first innings, the second to calm the nerves and discombobulate England.

I have heard some suggesting that Blackwood's unbridled attacking style needs to be reined in. I say let him be. Let him take the attack to the bowlers the way he sees fit. Some days we may watch frustratingly as he perishes by appearing to give the bowlers no respect, but other days we will welcome his approach. Brathwaite and Hope have shown they can drop anchor and bat long spells. Blackwood, in contrast, shows that he can unsettle the bowlers. The team needs both types.

 

Match not perfect

 

It was not a perfect Test match by the West Indies by any means. We dropped seven catches! Has there ever been a Test match win where the winners dropped seven catches? The bowling in the latter part of the second innings wasn't as good as it should be. Roach and Gabriel seemed to have hit a wall. Bishoo has lost his googly and looks unthreatening, and the captain seemed to have lost faith in his abilities but the victory overall was sweet.

A pattern is now forming. This is the third win in six Tests, and these were against Pakistan and England, with two happening away. We may not be turning the corner, but we probably should be applying the brakes, and blowing the horn, because we may well be approaching the bend!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.