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A moment in the sun for West Indies

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Jason_Holder_West_Indies_CricketFor a change, there were no sad faces emphasizing the gloom in the West Indies’ dressing room. For once, those broad burly frames weren't bearing drooping shoulders unable to conceal the sadness of yet another defeat, almost a habit now for the West Indies in Test Cricket.

November 3, 2016 is a special date for West Indies’ fans and a quietly shocking one for the Pakistan’s supporters. For a change, one of the world's most durable and dangerously consistent Test teams didn't reduce the world's most stagnant cricketing force into rubble. In a pleasant turn of events, the post match proceedings of the final Test played at Sharjah did not see the West Indian players appearing sad, sullen and tormented during the regimental handshake ceremony.

They were in fact beaming, almost unable to control the euphoria of their incredible 5 wicket triumph over the 2nd best Test team in the world. Yes, akin to a glorious sighting of a blue moon, the West Indians were pumped up with the unbounded joy of collecting a rare Test win.

The moment wicket-keeper/batsman Shane Dowrich sliced Mohammad Amir's overly short ball toward third man to collect the winning runs, the thump of the fist signaled several newfound revelations. Perhaps the most abysmally inconsistent Test match unit, struggling at 8th in ICC Test rankings, had managed to add a few points to its sorry tally of 65.

 

Losing all but one game, this final Sharjah Test, after having being blanked 3-0 in T20s and ODIs, signaled that perhaps that a full capitulation of the West Indies hasn't yet arrived. The 5 wicket win that saw Windies chase down 153 signaled that they can muster enough courage and form to actually win a 5 day contest. It indicates that even if a Windies victory assumes a surprising form – Holder taking his first 5-wicket haul in 34 innings; a spectacularly inexperienced wicketkeeper with 8 Tests under his belt holding his nerve in a precarious run chase – it can empower a bunch of neophytes into becoming a fighting force in Test cricket.

When they arrived at the UAE, even before the toss for the 1st of the 3 T20s, many feared that Windies would go on to lose 9-0, a drubbing never previously suffered by any international side, and a misery never previously felt by a cricketing unit. So in the absence of the Gayle, Bravo, Sammy and the rest, the fans shared the view of the critics that the Windies were in for a knockout punch.

The decisive blow, post their 3-nil debacle in both T20s and ODIs, would be delivered in Sharjah, after going down in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tests.

But it wasn't to be. This, we forget, is the West Indies. A side known to flourish against all expectations. A side still very much capable of surprising itself at the back of shame, which was perhaps felt after they lost at Abu Dhabi by 133 runs.

 

Truth be told, there was something about the manner in which they played all three Tests that spoke of a hint of a turnaround. This was best evidenced by the fact that a side so used to collapsing within 3 days or, at best hanging by the narrowest thread to the 4th day, took Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tests well into the final day. Day 5, after all, is where teams after signal triumphs and deliver devastating blows.

It certainly was a blow as Pakistan were denied the glorious rarity of going 9-0 against a side notorious for batting collapses and lackluster bowling. But then, don’t most tales of resurgence come when the backs are against the wall. For the Windies, hounded by self-doubt, wounded by dismal selection strategies and further weakened by many of its world class talents choosing to freelance in T20 units, the best time for a change in fortune was now, in Sharjah.

Little did Misbah had known that as Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz reduced the Windies to a familiar state of teetering on the brink of collapse at 66 for 5 needing another 87 to win, it wasn't going to be Pakistan's hurrah. Not when the red-spotted Gray Nicolls blade of Kraigg Brathwaite had decided to make its mark. Not when the Windies hadn't lost their final hope in the form of a pair of Bajans who showcased their strengths while scoring unbeaten 60-run knocks.

It was a brilliant Test series where the heavily fortified Pakistani fortress at UAE, unsullied by any defeat since 2014, experienced an uncomfortable jolt ever thanks to Windies' much needed triumph. At the end of it, the fans and pundits had a bit of a reading to do: a list of records & achievements made by a bunch of young Windies cricketers who finally gave fans in the Caribbean something to celebrate.

And must it be said, the Windies played with a refreshing panache in both departments of the game. Some highlights for them:

>> Devendra Bishoo claimed 18 wickets, including a career best 8/49. His figures are the third best returns for any West Indian spinner, the fifth best for any West Indian bowler and the best for any West Indian playing outside the West Indies.

>> Shane Dowrich proved himself both in front of the stumps and behind them, with 139 runs, 2 catches and 2 stumpings from 2 Tests.

>> The majestic and elegant Darren Bravo, who nearly took the Windies home at Dubai (they went down fighting, just 56 runs adrift of Pakistan), collected 273 runs with a century and fifty to his name.

>> Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder collected 10 & 9 wickets respectively, mostly matching Pakistan’s quicks.

>> Kraigg Brathwaite collected 328 runs with 1 hundred and 2 fifties. What’s more, never before in the history of 2230 Test matches had an opener remained unbeaten in both innings of a Test. Brathwaite did just that with his match-winning 142 not out and unbeaten 60 in Sharjah.

Most importantly, Jason Holder is impressing on his young unit that their rare victory mustn't be floundered away by once again playing easy cricket. As the West Indies form a youthful nucleus, they need to reaffirm that their young, raw talent can go places as long as they strive for consistency.

Whether they go back to their usual approach of playing casually or strive to become a competitive unit, we will have to wait for March 2017. They will have another chance, this time at home, to show Pakistan and their doubters that the Sharjah win wasn't a flash in the pan.

May the sun shine bright on the boys from the Caribbean.

 

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