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Hoping against hope – Cozier on Cricket

Tony Cozier

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AS WEST INDIES head coach, the latest in the wheel from which eight have spun off in the past 14 years, Ottis Gibson is more intimately involved with the players day to day than anyone else.In the post for three months, he would have already come to appreciate the depressingly candid points made during a panel discussion in Barbados last week by West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) chief executive Ernest Hilaire on the state of our cricket and the attitude of those who represent it on the field.No doubt he had heard about them from others even before his appointment – that, as Hilaire put it, “the whole notion of being a West Indian and for what they are playing has no meaning at all” to the players, and that money and “instant gratification [are] all that matters”.Perhaps he was challenged to prove Hilaire wrong on his warning to fans to prepare for at least three more years of embarrassment, but he has certainly not been encouraged by the results so far.Prior to Friday’s third ODI against South Africa in Dominica, Gibson said that the team had not “thought through well enough”.He used as an example Dwayne Bravo’s dismissal in the defeat in the second match in Antigua. The all-rounder batted superbly for 70; yet Gibson regarded his loss as the turning point in the game.“Bravo got out to the last ball of an over that had conceded 13 runs, and it was the last ball of a bowler’s [Dale Steyn’s] spell,” he noted.“Those little things we need to get better at.”There was no improvement in Friday’s match. If anything, it was worse.It was a spirited effort to limit South Africa to 224, securing the last five wickets for 18 and the final seven for 71. Against determined, mentally tough opponents strong in bowling, the target was not straightforward, but certainly within range.This is where the relevance of Gibson’s pre-match comment became clear.“Talent-wise we’re not far behind South Africa; thinking-wise, we’re showing that we’re very far behind,” he said.Suddenly, as West Indies responded, wickets were falling to unnecessary shots, not least the two most crucial.Captain Chris Gayle launched one ball for six, slashed wildly at the next and edged to slip. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, seduced by the absence of slips, aimed to steer the energised Jacques Kallis to third man only to deflect to the keeper.When the revved-up Dale Steyn, generating over 90 mph every ball, despatched Dwayne Bravo to a bouncer that stirred memories of the heyday of West Indies fast bowling, and Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy followed, 118 for seven meant certain defeat.Or so Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn and Ravi Rampaul conceded.Another 106 were required; but 20.2 overs remained. The required run rate was still just five runs an over.Denesh Ramdin was still in. Anything can happen in this game, as Sammy had demonstrated with his stunning 20-ball 50 in Antigua in the second match, and as the West Indies had shown in similar situations in the past.Never gave upIn the first round of the first World Cup in 1975, they were 203 for nine against Pakistan, with wicketkeeper Deryck Murray batting and Andy Roberts, then a genuine rabbit, as the last man.With another 64 to win, Murray and Roberts never gave up, as the current tailenders did on Friday, calmly seeing them home with two balls to spare.Even if that was too far back for the modern players to remember, the final of the 2004 Champions Trophy at The Oval in London should still be fresh enough in their minds for them to appreciate that no cause is ever completely lost.At 147 for eight with the light fast closing in, the West Indies required another 71 to beat England and claim their first trophy since the 1979 World Cup.Another 16.2 overs remained and Courtney Browne (a wicketkeeper again) and Ian Bradshaw with level-headed common sense and without a six, and even an attempt at one, gathered the runs with seven balls to spare – without the mindless running of Taylor or the slogging that Benn and Rampaul indulged in at Windsor Park on Friday.Taylor should be a key component of this team, especially in the absence of Fidel Edwards but, at present, he seems either injured or uninterested or both.His bowling is well short of his best and he has been slack in the field. There was no reason for him to push the ball to mid-on and chase for the run that he didn’t make.The selectors must soon make a decision on his place.Benn might argue that he had already put in his effort. He had dismissed two key batsmen – Hashim Amla and Kallis – in his ten overs, and run out another – A.B. deVilliers – with a direct hit from the deep.But he is in the team as a professional cricketer, expected to contribute in every department. Too often, not least with his batting and fielding, he sells himself and his team short.His wild swings on Friday spoke of his conviction that the match was already lost, not that, even in such a predicament, it could still be won.It is now impossible to see the West Indies recovering the spirit and confidence needed to challenge these South Africans in the remaining two ODIs and three Tests.Just as Sammy’s blitz temporarily lifted them and the rejoicing supporters at the Vivian Richards Stadium in the second match so did the defeat, and the manner of it, at Windsor Park three days later deepen the despair and give credence to Hilaire’s dire forecast.But, as with Murray and Roberts in 1975 and Browne and Bradshaw in 2004, there must always be a sliver of hope.