West Indies: Heroes and a time for Hope
Quaking in their boots?
There's no ducking this one, West Indies in the 1970s and 80s were the greatest ever cricket team. Opening up, Greenidge and Haynes invariably looked as if they were inseparable. When one of them eventually fell, Viv Richards strode across the greensward and it was as if God was walking out to bat. Successive 5-0 blackwashes against England, home and away, were inevitable. David Gower joked before the 1986 tour of the Caribbean that the West Indies would be quaking in their boots. Famous last words.
Viv Richards in 1986. Master Blaster, via ESPN Cricinfo
England Captain David Gower (1985), Ashes in hand and optimistic about the upcoming tour of the Caribbean
At a benefit match in Chew Magna, Somerset, as a small, autograph-hunting boy, I had to look up into the clouds to find the face of the towering Joel Garner. At 6’8’’, he was somehow both a scary figure and a gentle giant; maybe not so gentle to English batsmen. Along with Holding, Roberts, Croft and Marshall, he obliterated the opposition. England’s performances were pitiful at the time. Would England ever beat West Indies again?
Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner (1981), via ESPN Cricinfo
Joel Garner with former umpire Dickie Bird (2017), via @westindies
Losing against the great West Indies teams in the seventies and eighties was traumatic over a prolonged period, for both players and supporters. England were regularly battered and beaten. Mike Gatting had his nose smashed in by a ball from Malcolm Marshall. Phil Edmonds was struck just below the heart and sported a horrendous bruise. As supporters, we just got fed up.
Mike Gatting on the end of a bouncer from Malcolm Marshall (1986)
Mike Gatting a few days later (1986)
Phil Edmonds, husband of Frances Edmonds, author of 'Another Bloody Tour' (1986)
Cricketing fortunes change. For the last seventeen years, England have been on top and we have been asking 'will West Indies ever win again?' Before this summer, the last time West Indies won a test match in England was in 2000. That year, England recovered to bowl out the West Indies for 54 at Lords, where part of all four innings took place on one day, 61 in a two day match at Headingley, and 125 at the Oval, where England clinched a 3-1 series win.
It hasn't all been fun along the way. It hurts to see any side in trouble, especially one that has fallen from such great heights. Cricket is not about revenge. It does sometimes involve turning the tables, admittedly, but in a sporting way. Challenging but not destroying.
West Indies 61 All Out at Headingley (2000), via ESPN Cricinfo
Nasser Hussain lifting the Wisden Trophy at the Oval in 2000
And so, to 2017, and the opening match at Edgbaston. England won with two days and two nights to spare. A familiar experience. But even now, a successful England team is always a bit disorienting. The whole match felt a bit strange. A pink ball. Playing under floodlights. Taking lunch at teatime. It all began with England team playing football in bright sunshine at 12:30pm. Jimmy Anderson was attacking, Alistair Cook was in defence. Warm-ups are necessary, but football seemed disrespectful. Did England not need to practice their cricket before a cricket match? Eventually, England put their pads on and made 514 for 8. West Indies lost 19 wickets cheaply in one day and the match by an innings and 208 runs. Going by those numbers, West Indies would have needed four innings to make England bat again. Michael Vaughan commented that this looked like being a sad series to watch.
Edgbaston (2017). The first day/night test match in England
Winning at Edgbaston against the 2017 West Indies felt uncomfortable again. It’s not nice seeing the opposition being crushed. It’s embarrassing hearing Geoffrey Boycott and others saying how rubbish the opposition are. Thankfully, the match to follow was a revelation and the series took an unexpected turn.
West Indies touring party for England (2017)
The West Indies were magnificent, especially on the final day. The day after the day when England thought they had rescued the test. So what happened? Cavalier batting by England in their first knock. Solid, determined batting by West Indies, with Kragg Brathwaite and Shai Hope leading the way together in both innings. Dropped catches, lots of them, on each side. On the final day, West Indies grew massively in confidence. They realised that they, too, still had a chance to win. There was so much to be gained. A chance to fulfil their potential. To show that they can play well and win. To earn the right to stand tall again.
Shai Hope (left) with Joe Root at Headingley (2017)
There was always hope. Even when Kyle Hope was run out for a duck, Shai Hope was there to score a second century in the match to ensure the win. West Indies recognised that it really was their turn, and they seized the opportunity admirably. England have enjoyed success previously over a prolonged period. They may still be the better team. But at Headingley, West Indies thoroughly deserved to win. And the result was glorious.
Good for cricket?
For everyone who said “we want a strong West Indies team again”, here, finally is our reward. I have to tell you it doesn’t feel all that good after all. Losing against a team widely considered to be serial losers is bemusing. But it happened. England now have to make the most of their own chance to make amends.
A happy Shai Hope, celebrating the win
Opening partner and fellow centurion Kragg Brathwaite
Traditionally, cricket has been viewed as an opportunity for self-development. Cricket is more than just fun and games; it tests and reveals character, demands resilience and calls on the players to demonstrate a certain degree of social etiquette. Discipline and respect. The umpire’s decision is final. Unless it's reviewed. And even then, the players have to accept the ultimate decision. Win or lose, cricket delivers lessons in life.
The 2017 test series started disastrously for the West Indies, but they could now be on the verge of brilliance. There are two talented and exciting teams in the contest. Jason Holder is a fine young captain, as is Joe Root. The Headingley match was fantastic. Edgbaston was fantastic too in different ways. Both tests have revealed a whole range of challenges and possibilities.
Fine captains and competitors: Joe Root (left) with Jason Holder
We move on to Lord’s now, for the decider. The tension is mounting and we have a genuine contest. One which many thought was impossible. I’m backing England, but I’m counting on both sides to give each other a lot of scares along the way. May the best team win.
© Eddie Hewitt 2017
ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) https://www.ecb.co.uk
Cricket West Indies http://cricketwestindies.org
BBC Test Match Special www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00fr0n5
BBC Sport: West Indies in England 2017 www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/36696165
The Guardian: "The Scariest Test England Ever Played"