By Tony Becca
The West Indies cricketers joined the region and the world in saying happy 50th to Jamaica by handing them a perfect gift last weekend.
Going into the Test match at Sabina Park leading one-nil, the West Indies, with the weather threatening to abort the proceedings, recovered after trailing on first innings to win by five wickets some 90 minutes into the fourth day's play and to take the series by a comfortable two-nil margin.
It was a jubilee gift to cherish if not to go crazy over, for although it was not a victory over Australia, England, India, or South Africa, teams which the West Indies have beaten in the past, it was nevertheless a victory, albeit over New Zealand, a team the West Indies are accustomed to defeat though they had not done so for a long time, and a team which, up to then, was ranked only one place above them at number seven.
And it was a welcome gift, especially because of the brilliant bowling of two fast bowlers and one spin bowler, and the superb batting of one batsman.
The two fast bowlers were from Barbados, the one spin bowler was from Trinidad and Tobago, the one batsman was from Jamaica, and they were Kemar Roach, Tino Best, Sunil Narine, and Marlon Samuels.
Roach bowled fast, Best was extra fast, Narine was confusing to the opposing batsmen, all of them, and Samuels was simply magnificent.
Roach, even with the no-balls, is the West Indies' best fast bowler, Best, as he demonstrated in getting rid of Ross Taylor in the second innings, in the West Indies fastest bowler, and Narine reminds more and more of Sonny Ramadhin of old time fame, of the 1950s and 1960s West Indies teams.
The man of the three days plus, however, was Samuels. Without him, in both innings, 123 and 52, the West Indies would hardly have won the match.
Samuels' concentration was exemplary, his selection of strokes was spot on, his timing was perfect, and his power was amazing.
In the first innings, when the West Indies batting seemed under the spell of New Zealand's pacers, when the usually powerful Chris Gayle was strokeless, and when the usually reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul looked shaky, Samuels batted like a master, unperturbed and stroking the ball effortlessly until he got to 98 when, batting with the number 11 batsman, he leaned forward and stroked the ball, from pacer Tim Southee, over the extra-cover boundary for a glorious six.
Two sixes followed in that over (all three in succession), and then another, plus a four, off the next over from pacer Doug Bracewell.
His innings of 123 came off 169 balls out of a total of 209, it included 15 fours and four sixes, it was Samuels' fourth century for the West Indies, it was his first Test century at Sabina Park, it was his first Test century in the West Indies, and it was one of the best ever seen at Sabina Park for a long time.
Samuels, batting at number four in both innings, was last man out in the first innings and fourth man dismissed at 113 for four in the second.
All that ends well would normally seem to be good but not this time around. All that ends well was definitely not great, regardless of what those around the team tried to say.
Things are not as bad as they used to be when the West Indies could not even defeat New Zealand in three attempts. The facts of the situation, however, are that the West Indies are not starting to play cricket, they have been playing Test cricket for a long time, they have defeated all the teams in the world including the best, they were the best team in the world, and although they are no longer the best in the world, although they are not as good as they used to be, they are not expected to linger in the bottom reaches of the game for so long.
The West Indies have a good way to go before they can be considered good enough to match strides with Australia, England, India, and South Africa, and in order to do that, the West Indies will need to find, to build a good team.
The West Indies have done what they should have done some time ago, although they may have gone a bit too far, it has worked, it got back some discipline in the team, players are giving their best, and now is the time to move on.
Play the best team
The West Indies need, for start, to play their best team, that means playing their 11 best cricketers, that means bringing back Ramnaresh Sarwan, and that means, with all his effort and personality, leaving out Darren Sammy.
The West Indies team, if it is to take on Australia, England, India, or South Africa, needs to play a good, balanced team. They need to play a team of six good batsmen - one of whom can bowl, a good wicketkeeper who can bat, and four good bowlers.
This West Indies team has one batsman, Chanderpaul, with an average of 50.20 and two others, Gayle and Darren Bravo, with averages of 42.32 and 44.37, respectively. All the other batsmen average way below with Samuels averaging 34.97, Asad Fudadin 30.50, Narsingh Deonarine 29.40, Kieron Powell 25.97, and Adrian Barath 23.46 and that is not good enough for a good team, and especially when the wicketkeepers, Denesh Ramdin and Carlton Baugh, have figures of 23.42 and 17.94.
The bowling averages are not any better.
Roach averages 27.69, but following him is Narine with 31.50, Sammy, the all-rounder whose batting average is 22.20, is at 34.07, Ravi Rampaul is 35.34, Fidel Edwards is 38.37, Devendra Bishoo is 39.58, Tino Best is 43.64, and Shane Shillingford is 44.79.
The West Indies defeated New Zealand in all three versions of the game, in T20, in One-Day Internationals, and in the Test matches, it was a wonderful present for Jamaica, and based on the recent past, that was good.
Carrying batsmen with those figures, however, bowlers with those figures, and an all-rounder with those figures would hardly challenge Australia, England, and company.
There is work still to be done, however. The West Indies have to develop a few good cricketers in order to compete with the best. The West Indies are a long way from turning the corner.