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A Kiss of Hope for West Indies' Dying Test Legacy

Dileep Premachandran |Cricketnext | Updated: August 30, 2017, 1:57 PM IST
A Kiss of Hope for West Indies' Dying Test Legacy

Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite shared a 246-run stand in the first inning and a 144-run partnership in the second to help West Indies win a Test on English soil after 17 years (Getty Images)

“Hopefully, it’s not just a blip and then back to normal,” said Michael Holding, who took 63 wickets at 21 in the 13 Tests he played in England. Unfortunately, the numbers are so atrocious that it’s hard to see West Indies’ epic five-wicket win against England at Headingley as anything more than a flash in the pan.

Holding was a colossus from another age. Of those 13 Tests, West Indies won eight, including all five in the Blackwash summer of 1984. The modern-day sides from the Caribbean have enjoyed far less success in England. Prior to Headingley, they had lost 15 and drawn three after an innings win at Edgbaston in June 2000. To say that they were rank outsiders, after defeat inside three days in the day-night Test in Birmingham, was the kindest of understatements.

If you lived through the latter half of the 1970s and the ’80s, when their dominance was near absolute, the sheer haplessness of West Indies’ Test cricket this millennium has taken some getting used to. Their win-loss record is an abysmal 29-84 (from 157 Tests), and the frailties have been especially acute away from home. Excluding successes in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Headingley was only their second overseas win this century. The first, against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in the Boxing Day Test of 2007, was nearly a decade ago, when the likes of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo weren’t merely Twenty20 guns for hire.

The disappearance of so many such players from the team should tell you a little bit about where the blame lies for West Indian cricket’s decline. There’s been so much rubbish said and written about Caribbean youth being enticed by basketball and baseball – the NBA and MLB aren’t exactly brimful of talent from the English-speaking islands – when the real fault lies with utterly appalling administration, exemplified by the board president tweeting derogatory remarks about Gayle during the 2015 World Cup.

When we chatted more than a decade ago, and I asked Brian Lara about periodic whispers of indiscipline, his answer was an interesting one. “It starts with the board,” he said. Right now, even as others try to pay some lip service to the ‘primacy’ of Test cricket, the West Indies Cricket Board can’t even be bothered. As the Test side toils in the British Isles, the cream of the region’s cricket talent is involved in the Caribbean Premier League.

It’s that kind of rampant disregard for tradition that has forced coaches like Stuart Law to focus their attention on young men like Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope. Brathwaite made his debut at 18, while Hope was just 21 when thrown into the deep end. Given the team’s travails, both have endured tough baptisms. The 134 Brathwaite made in the first innings at Headingley was his sixth century in 39 Tests, but there have also been ten ducks and 26 dismissals for 20 or less.

As for Hope, who did what Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Geoffrey Boycott couldn’t do in their backyard, by scoring a century in each innings, he averaged 18.61 in 11 matches before Headingley. There had been just one half-century, a vital 90 in a rare win against Pakistan, in 21 innings, but his phlegmatic temperament and the lack of options meant he kept his place.

Between them, they made you forget that the glory years are long gone. Back in that unforgettable summer of ’84, David Gower had declared on the final day at Lord’s, leaving West Indies to make 342 in 78 overs. No one thought that they would tilt at the windmill, in an era when 2.5 runs an over was considered a decent scoring rate.

England had Ian Botham, who had taken eight wickets in the first innings, and Bob Willis, then their highest wicket-taker in Tests. West Indies had the king, Vivian Richards. But he wasn’t even needed. Gordon Greenidge tattooed the boundary boards at backward point with his ferocious square cuts, before unleashing withering on drives and pulls, as he romped to 214 in just 241 balls. At the other end, Larry Gomes, with his German porn-star ‘tache and Zen master temperament, made 92. West Indies won with 71 balls still left to be bowled.

That afternoon, Greenidge and Gomes added an unbeaten 287. At Headingley, Brathwaite and Hope added 246 in the first innings, and 144 in the second. They did so in conditions where James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England’s most prolific new-ball pair, were expected to run riot.

Hopefully, it won’t be another decade before West Indies win another away Test. But even if they lapse back into mediocrity, Brathwaite and Hope will always have Headingley, and the days when they gave a dying legacy the kiss of life.

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First Published: August 30, 2017, 1:43 PM IST

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