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West Indies’ sports high

Tony Cozier

West Indies’ sports high

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You didn’t have to be a sports fan or able to tell the difference between hurdles and steeplechase and a leg-break and a broken leg to feel special about being West Indian these past few weeks.
The athletes from these small islands who set alight the Mondo Super-X track at London’s Olympic Stadium might have been all bedecked in the individual colours of their now independent homelands but they were all unmistakably West Indian.
They were headed, inevitably, by the incomparable Usain Bolt and his host of fellow Jamaicans as well as the sensational teenagers, the Grenadian King, Kirani James, and, at the very end yesterday, the mighty Trinidadian Keshorn Walcott in the javelin.
There were several from other territories who missed gold, silver or medals of any kind but still proved themselves among the best in the world.
Naturally, even though they have become accustomed to such athletics successes since the 1-2 of Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley in the 400 metres at the 1948 Games, Jamaicans partied hardest in celebration. In James’ hometown of Gouyave, everything else was put on hold as they rejoiced in Grenada’s first Olympics medal.
For Jamaica, it was the perfect prelude to the 50th anniversary of nationhood, when the Union Jack was lowered and the black, green and gold raised in its place.
In Grenada, whose independence came a dozen years later, Gouyave’s party was the ideal buildup to this weekend’s annual carnival.
Walcott’s colossal throw created the greatest upset of the Games in the field events and was equally timely. It came just over three weeks before August 31, their own 50th Independence Day. And we all know it doesn’t take much for Trinidad and Tobago to break into a fete.
Everywhere else throughout a region bonded by the same colonial experience, these athletes were all recognized as ours and we rejoiced in their performances.
As they lined up for the men’s 100 metres final, my wife was hyperventilating in front of the television set at the thought of the Americans upsetting Bolt. The whoop of delight when it was Bolt-Blake and later that unprecedented Jamaican 1-2-3 in the 200 was louder than that from any Kadooment band.
The effect has been such that our eight-year-old granddaughter now sees herself as a female Bolt of the future. She’s had her unfit, septuagenarian grandfather as “coach” on the lawn, waiting while she mimics every Bolt routine before dashing off to some imaginary finish line. And, of course, doting granddad dreams the same dream with her.
It is a scenario doubtless repeated up and down these chain of islands.        
So it has been for boys of her age down the years seeking to emulate the plethora of our great cricketers. While Caribbean athletics has confirmed itself as a world leader in the sprints, the sport that first established the West Indies reputation for excellence has gone into sharp decline.
The teams of the 1960s under Frank Worrell and Garry Sobers and the 1980s under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards have been transformed into the also-rans over the past couple of decades.
The game had been overtaken by bickering between board and players, by insularity, by administrative bungling and by political involvement. The public had become increasingly disillusioned.  
What occurred on the grounds of Jamaica, St Kitts and Antigua in the series against New Zealand that preceded, then coincided with, the Olympics was, in its way, as significant as what occurred in London.     
The West Indies had not beaten New Zealand in a Test or One-Day International series since 1996. They had just come off losses to India, Australia and England. There were signs of improvement but they still languished at No. 8 in the official rankings, one below their latest opponents.
Any success on the field, rather than constant failure, was essential, even to kick start a revival.
Set aside against the global domination on the track in London and the dismissive comment that cricket’s victories were “only” against New Zealand, this overdue triumph can easily be dismissed as negligible in the overall scheme of things.
In fact, it was as emphatic as any since the turn of the century. The stats were 2-0 in the Twenty20 internationals, 4-1 in the ODIs and nine wickets and five wickets in the Tests. As limited as they are, the New Zealanders are known fighters never quite so utterly trounced of late by anyone.
While West Indians in London wore the outfits of their respective nations, this was a West Indies team, by name, composition and colours, as it has been for more than 100 years. Its achievement was a collective effort.
Captain Darren Sammy, St Lucia’s only Test cricketer, described it as “one for all, all for one”.
Aptly, in the circumstances of their impending 50th Independence Day, Jamaicans played vital parts.
In his first Test since December 2010, following his reinstatement after the ridiculous, protracted standoff with the board, Gayle amassed 150 and 64 not out in the first; Samuels the double of a masterful 123, out of 209, and 52 on his home base of Kingston’s Sabina Park.  
Both earlier notched three-figures in the same ODI at their native Sabina where another Jamaican, Andre Russell, was Man-of-the-Match.
Kemar Roach, carrying on the tradition of Barbadian fast bowling, was Man-of-the-Series in the Tests.
If Sunil Narine, the Trinidadian mystery spinner, found the longer form of the game much harder work than the limited-overs versions (in which he was Man-of-the-Series), he was still Man-of-the-Match for his eight wickets in the Antigua Test.
When he was below par at Sabina, the Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine, an underrated off-spinner, took up the slack.
Kieran Powell, the 22-year-old opener from Nevis, followed in Gayle’s wake to his first Test hundred in an opening partnership of 254.
For once, there wasn’t much from the ever reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul but this time it didn’t matter.
It’s a long road to travel for the West Indies to regain their prominent position in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings but they have made a start – and, along with the stars of London, have helped their fellow West Indians to at least temporarily put their many other worries to one side.
It’s a capacity unique to sport.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.