Yesterday evening, West Indies pulled of a hard fought 40 run win in the first test vs Pakistan at Guyana.
Admittedly, the No.7 team beating the No.6 side in the world is hardly earth-shattering news and yet it was significant on two counts. For one, it was West Indies' first test win in over two years. For another, it was built on a team performance, in the course of which the team showed a determination, a hard will that was wholly uncharacteristic of West Indian sides of recent vintage.
Anyone who has followed West Indies cricket in the recent past would have observed that there has been a steady improvement in the Carribean team's performances over the last 3 years. Never mind what results say- scratch the surface, and the improvement is tangible. There was the 1-0 win against England two seasons ago, a drawn series in New Zealand in 2008-09, a test win in South Africa in 2007-08, a series against Australia in 2008 that was much closer than the final margin might suggest and a hard fought series in Australia, where West Indies had the better of their hosts in a drawn test at Adelaide and went down by just 35 runs in the final test.
For that matter, West Indies' performance at the 2011 World Cup was much better than cold statistics might suggest. Admittedly they won not a game against better ranked opposition, but it does not vitiate the fact that they were in complete control in the game against India and lost to England by a mere 18 runs. In fact when you scratch the surface, what emerges is that West Indies in recent times have frequently got themselves into situations from which they could have won but failed to capitalise. Time and again, West Indies have shown tenacity and a determination not to give up- quite unlike most West Indies sides of recent vintage. In short, the problem is not of ability or commitment, but of temperament.
What is encouraging is that there exists the nucleus of a competitive side. Gayle, Sarwan and Nash are all in their early 30s and could be around for another 4-5 years. Behind them is a promising bunch of young batsmen like Barath, Simmons and Bravo. In Taylor, Russel, Rampaul, Bravo, Bishoo and Benn, they have some pretty decent bowlers. This lot may not be champion material, but there enough in there to beat lower ranked sides consistently and occasionally topple the better teams.
What Carribean cricket desperately needs is a better administration and a players association that can put the interests of West Indies cricket ahead of self interests- by no means an impossible ask, given the way Indian cricket has transformed itself over the last decade or so. A more understanding administration could go a long way towards resolving the deadlock that has frequently decimated the side (notably against Bangladesh two seasons ago).
There is no reason to assume that the situation will never get resolved. Remember the shambles in which England and India were at the turn of the century. Both sides are currently in the top 3. There is nothing that cannot be achieved with hardwork, planning and most importantly, that ounce of intent.