The first Test at Lord’s drove home the point that a full strength West Indian side could even be a match for England who are currently the No 1 team in the ICC rankings. The inclusion of Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine could transform the Darren Sammy led side not only into a much stronger but also a more attractive outfit.
Dismissed as no-hopers on the eve of the Test series the tourists put up a courageous and heart warming display to stretch England to midway through the fifth day before the home team completed a five wicket victory to go one up in the three match contest.
Unfortunately the quartet mentioned are not likely to join the squad for the two remaining Tests so the West Indies will have to soldier on with the personnel they have. But it is an intriguing thought as to what levels the West Indies could reach if they are able to play at full strength.
Even as they fielded an emaciated side there were moments at Lord’s when the West Indies had England in more than just a spot of bother. And considering that the home team were at full strength this was quite something. It was said that their pop gun attack would find the going difficult against the redoubtable England batting line up while the weak batting would come a cropper against the well oiled England bowling machine. As it turned out in both departments West Indies almost matched England and this augurs well for the remainder of the series.
If they did miss out on some chances, the West Indies also performed unexpected feats during the Test which is why the result hung in the balance till almost lunch on the final day. Indeed a shock result was on the cards when England were 57 for four in their quest of a victory target of 191 but then the virtually all pace attack lacked the skill and the experience to drive home the advantage even as the formidable England batting had the depth to finish off the match with five wickets to spare.
Much has been said about Sammy not being the right man to lead the West Indies as he lacks the dynamic qualities of a star player but there is little he can do under the circumstances. It is never easy leading a weak side with gaping holes in every department and it is to Sammy’s credit that a side with severe limitations has done reasonably well over the last year against India, Australia and England. Yes, he could boost the morale of his side by some outstanding personal feats as Brian Lara did but then Sammy is anything but a superstar and prefers to lead with a quiet efficiency.
The West Indies team management probably erred in not picking off spinner Shane Shillingford and opting instead for an all out pace attack. This was going to be meat and drink for the England batsmen who thrive on such bowling particularly when it is short on class and experience. Well as Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach strove they have their limitations particularly when confronted by a first rate line up which boasts of five batsmen averaging 40 plus and another who is averaging over 50.
Still a couple of players did come out with credit and not surprisingly the list has to be headed by Shivnarine Chanderpaul. What West Indies would do without the 37-year-old veteran is too frightening to contemplate. He just carries on playing the role of Horatio on the tottering bridge. He is under tremendous pressure for he knows that one mistake by him and the side will collapse like a building constructed with adulterated cement.
But over the years Chanderpaul has taken such pressure in his stride and for him to shoulder the responsibilities like only he can is nothing new. For Chanderpaul battling it out for more than ten hours at the crease while playing two heroic knocks is par for the course.
If the other batsmen can be inspired by Chanderpaul’s steadfastness West Indies can hold their own in the two remaining Tests. They lack the firepower in the bowling to dismiss England twice so their best hope would be to deny them victory with obdurate and disciplined batting.
England too can take some positives from their showing. It was a hard fought victory over worthy opponents and the batting and bowling came up to expectations. Stuart Broad took a giant step forward towards being recognized as a genuine all rounder with his maiden ten wicket haul in Tests, Andrew Strauss ended his century drought with a timely hundred and most of the main batsmen made scores of substance while the main bowlers were among the wickets. It was a thoroughly professional job in keeping with their exalted status in the rankings.