By Bradley Jacks, Contributing Writer
As a young fan of West Indies cricket I have been following the ongoing series between The West Indies and England attentively. Expectations are extremely low these days when entering a test series against one of the perceived “powerhouses” of Test cricket like England. This can be attributed to the inexperience and general lack of skill of the players compared to the competition they are going up against.
This expectation did not change at all after the first test, where the West Indies were dismantled by an innings and 209 runs and were made to look like amateurs by their English counterparts at Edgebaston. After this beating, the reactions from fans around the world as well as former players came. Some said that the West Indies team looked like some “schoolboy cricketers”, and others said that the series between England and the West Indies would be “a disgrace to Test cricket”. Everyone, as is usually the case after a loss, suddenly became experts in team selection, saying who should be dropped and who should be brought into the team.
During all this, the West Indies team and coaching staff just sat back and listened and then went to work to win back the support and trust of West Indies fans around the world, myself included. They took some of these views personally, I believe, and subsequently set out on a mission coming into the second Test at Headingley. The only West Indians who felt like we would even be competitive in this match were the players themselves. After the first day of this match, this was not the case. The West Indies, after losing the toss, restricted the mighty England to 258 all-out off 70.5 overs, thanks to 4 wicket hauls by the returning Shannon Gabriel and the reliable Kemar Roach. This bowling performance showed just how crucial experience in the bowling department is in English conditions.
The West Indies then dug deep and fought their way to 427 all out from 127 overs. Kraigg Bratwaite and Shai Hope were the main contributors with 134 and 147 respectively. 427 runs is more than the West Indies managed to score in their two innings in the first test combined, and 127 overs is also more overs than they batted combined in both innings of the first Test match. Despite the West Indies building this lead of 169 runs, I was still not expecting much from the Caribbean team. After England’s second innings, a win was out of the question in my eyes. England put up a massive 490-8 declared off 141 overs, leaving the West Indies to get 322 to win their first test match in England in 17 years. Not many people gave the West Indies a chance to get these runs but, to their surprise, the West Indies held their nerve and chased down their target getting to 322-5 off 91.2 overs. Kraigg Brathwaite fell just short of his second hundred of the match going for 95. Shai Hope did not fall short, however, as his composed 118 not out led the West Indies to victory.
Hope’s historic feat
Hope becomes the first batsman to score two centuries in the same match in a first class game at Headingley in the 127 year history of the ground being a first class venue. When taking into consideration the amount of all-time great players that have played at Headingley, that is a great achievement. With this win, the West Indies have tied the three test series 1-1, with the third test scheduled to begin on September 7 at Lord’s. While it is just one match, this should still be considered by many, including myself, as the greatest one-game turnaround in the history of Test cricket. To go from being beaten by an innings and 209 runs to winning the very next test match by 5 wickets against a surperior England team is a fantastic achievement that the West Indies team must be commended for. What this win shows is that the team has a very strong character and, most importantly, that the talent is there.
The main reason, in my opinion, for the West Indies team performing so poorly over the last few years is a lack of discipline and an unwillingness by players to apply themselves while playing the game – whether batting or bowling. It was apparent that the players lacked the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, and this resulted in underwhelming and, as shown in the first Test, pathetic performances that West Indies fans – unfortunately – have grown used to.
The performance of the West Indies in the second Test match shows the change that concentrating and focusing on the task at hand can have on the performance of a team. It is just a shame that this is not what we get from the West Indies the majority of the time. The interesting thing about this current West Indies team is that one of their biggest problems might be a positive in the future. The team is extremely inexperienced. The West Indies seem to have found players for the future, like captain Jason Holder, who is improving every game; vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite, who has proven to be a reliable opening batsman; and Shai Hope, who is extremely talented, as his performance in the second Test showed. In the bowling department, pacer Alzarri Joseph did not have a great match in the first Test but is clearly a bowler with immense potential.
The nucleus of the team is very young, which might result in some bad performances, but with time, performances like the one in the second Test may just become the norm and the West Indies can eventually return to where they once were, dominating world cricket. The key will be for the selectors to try and keep this group of players together for as long as possible, because we have all seen what can happen when they play well.