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by Andrew Wood Thursday 14 February 2019
Joe Root and the touring England team have, at last, got something to smile about and will prepare for the Ashes with a little more of a spring in their steps following their resounding win in the third test. Yet however much the England spin machine will try to talk it up, this was always going to be a dead rubber and the inescapable truth is that the West Indies have blown England out of the water in this series.
Of course England is still struggling to come to terms with Alastair Cook’s retirement and to replace the irreplaceable, but that shouldn’t mask just how well the West Indies have played. They have exploited that weakness at the top of the order to such good effect that the cracks have spread, and in those first two tests, England were bowled out for 246, 77, 132 and 187. It was like a return to the heady days of Holding and Garner or Ambrose and Walsh. The sports betting sites were taken by surprise – the West Indies were rank outsiders before the series got underway. But one man, who remains the King of West Indies cricket, was not.
As he held court in the stadium in St Lucia that bears his name, Sir Viv Richards declared that this was the team that would make West Indies cricket great again, and frankly, who would argue with him? The legendary batsman is 66 now, but he still has a physique that professional athletes half his age would envy, and the flecks of grey in his beard combine with the twinkle in his eye to make him more charismatic than ever.
The mere fact that he deigned to attend the third test spoke volumes for his approbation of this West Indies team, as did the visible pride he had in their performance. Roach, Gabriel and Joseph, ably supported by their skipper, the perennially underrated Jason Holder, roared in like men from a bygone age. But Sir Viv said the real difference with this team has been their increased fitness levels.
There was simply no let up from the pace quartet. When, in the second test, they just kept at England with no need to call on the support of a spin bowler, it brought to mind the team that Richards himself captained in the 1980s, when batsmen would see off the threat of Garner and Holding, only for them to be replaced by Marshall and Patterson.
Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, worked with his batsmen to identify and iron out flaws, and this reaped dividends in the third test with Root’s century and some solid performances from Stokes, Buttler and Denly. But while it is one thing to work on correcting those loose shots, or get the batsman playing more firmly on the front foot, one thing outside his control was the fact that the West Indies simply bowled magnificently and would have been a match for anyone.
One swallow does not make a summer, and the West Indies will have challenging times ahead. However, there is a real spirit of optimism in the Caribbean that has been lacking for many years.
©cricket World 2019