Sat | May 27, 2017

Well played, West Indies

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 4:00 AM
West Indies fast bowler Jerome Taylor (left) celebrates with teammate Sulieman Benn following the dismissal of England's Ben Stokes on the second day of the first Test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua and Barbuda last Wednesday.
West Indies' Jermaine Blackwood raises his bat and helmet after scoring a century, on day three of the first cricket Test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground in Antigua last Wednesday.
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West Indians from anywhere and everywhere, at home or abroad, must have wished that they were in Antigua last week, especially all day on Friday.

The reason was a simple one: West Indian cricket fans were in seventh heaven for a change at the end of a Test match, and against one of the top four teams at that.

The first Test between the West Indies and England ended in a draw on Friday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, but unlike many times in recent years, after their world championship run, this time there was plenty to smile about.

This time, there was not the usual cursing and swearing that follows a West Indies performance. This time, there was a lot of cheering, much dancing, and many people who were happy that they were there.

Set a target of 438 runs and some 130 overs, or a few minutes less than one and a half days to survive, the West Indies not only squeezed home, but riding on the backs of captain Denesh Ramdin, Jason Holder, and Kemar Roach, they did so in style and with three wickets to spare.

At lunchtime on the final day they were in serious trouble at 162 for five, and shortly afterwards, they were struggling at 189 for six. Holder joined Ramdin, however, and together they launched a confident counter-charge of 105 runs off 32.1 overs, with Ramdin getting 57 and Holder 103 not out to lead the recovery.

And even when Ramdin handed James Anderson his lifetime dream, the wicket which broke the record for the number of Test wickets for England, at 294 for seven with an estimated 19 overs remaining, Roach, 15 not out in 75 minutes off 55 deliveries, stepped into the breach and stood defiant until the end.

It was a wonderful performance, a performance which, despite the situation of the game, saw Ramdin and Holder, but not the strokeless Roach, mixing resolute defence with admirable stroke play throughout the rescue act.

The man of the moment, however, was Holder, the 23-year-old West Indies one-day captain, and the man who, as a Barbados youth captain and opening batsman and opening bowler, scored an attractive 103 against Jamaica at Kensington Park in 2009.

I saw him in action then and I saw him in action on Friday on the television, and apart from the occasion and the pressure, there was no difference in his batting in an innings which lasted for 216 minutes and 149 balls and included 15 exquisite fours.

The draw came after a hard fight by a team which seemed prepared for battle, by a team which gave their all, or most of their all, and by a team which played brilliantly at times.

Apart from finishing the Test match on a good note, the West Indies played well, or mostly so throughout.

The fast bowlers were good, particularly Jerome Taylor and at times Holder; the fielders were good, for almost the entire Test match; and the batsmen, most of them, gave it their best shot, particularly veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the first innings and young Jermaine Blackwood in both innings, but particularly the first innings.

Coming from a team ranked at number eight playing against one ranked at number three in the Test match format, the performance was quite refreshing and promising.

Ramdin's captaincy, however, left much to be desired, particularly the use of his two front-line fast bowlers. He seemed not to know when to bowl them, or from which end to bowl them.

Probably, however, it was not entirely his fault: probably his bowlers expressed a preference of ends, or maybe they were afraid of aggravating old injuries.

Whatever it was, it was, for example, disappointing to see England in trouble in the second innings and Taylor, bowling like a master with two wickets for 11 runs off five overs, out of the attack and out in the field twiddling his thumbs.

At another time, on another day, the captain would have had to physically take the ball out of a bowler's hand in a similar situation, such as during the Test match at Sabina Park in 2009 when England were wiped out for 51 runs with a younger Taylor preening himself with nine overs, four maidens, five wickets for 11 runs.

The bowling of Taylor and the batting of Blackwood were also among the picks of the West Indies during five days of interesting and at times exiting play.

With the West Indies enjoying the opening sessions on the first two days of play, with England starting at 34 runs for the loss of three wickets on day one and losing five wickets for 58 runs on day two, Taylor, in particular, bowled beautifully, pitching the ball up and getting it to swing.

Blackwood, on the other hand, paved the way for Ramdin, Holder, and Roach.

Playing in only his fifth Test match, Blackwood was confidence personified, from the start to the finish in his innings and in particular his first innings of 112 not out.

Going to bat with the West Indies on 99 for four in the first innings replying to 399 and the team in trouble, Blackwood batted like a veteran, and despite two lucky escapes, went on to register his maiden Test century before he ran out of partners.

A brilliant fielder, Blackwood is a lovely driver of the ball, and just as he had done in his first Test innings, he confidently drove the second delivery received over long off for six.

This time, also, as he moved to within a handful of runs for his first century when he chipped and drove Tredwell to the long-off boundary.

It was a good innings by a young batsman, and it was a refreshing innings for West Indies cricket. In fact, the entire Test match was good for West Indies cricket.