The ongoing test series between England and the West Indies is decided before the first ball is bowled on Thursday at Edgbaston, Birmingham. The test champions are 2-0 ahead in the three test rubber.
To be fair, the results so far have not surprised anyone. In recent years England have been dominant, particularly at home, and despite a tough series in the UAE against Pakistan, continue to have the winning formula and combination for home conditions. And yet, the upcoming third test of the series remains very significant to the West Indies cause.
In all quarters, commentators and the media have been working hard at not sounding condescending or patronizing the West Indies side. The team arrived on the island with notable talents missing in the ranks, thanks to their continuing impasse with the West Indies cricket authorities. Undoubtedly this is a source of big disappointment for cricket fans, within and outside the West Indies. A side which includes the likes of Chris Gayle, Jerome Taylor, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, could give a much better account of the true strength of West Indies cricket.
Here is the painful part! The unstated expectation from the present outfit reminds one of the pre-Clive Lloyd era, when the West Indies were entertaining, with a few excellent players, the occasional dazzling performance, but not really expected to win! The passion and frustration of past West Indian greats like Vivian Richards and Michael Holding is palpable in the media. After all they were a part of the West Indian resurrection and domination during their time, now immortally and beautifully captured in the documentary “Fire in Babylon”.
In the first test match at Lords, the West Indies surrendered initiative in the first innings. They played hard in the second knock, though not enough to save the game. In the second test, by contrast, they put together an excellent first innings, with determined centuries from Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy, but collapsed miserably in the second outing. In both these games, the application and skill of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels have been exemplary, matched in determination by their less gifted skipper, Darren Sammy. Adrian Barath, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Darren Bravo have displayed ability, but have not yet been able to put in telling performances, to impact the game in a significant manner.
With Kemar Roach ruled out of the final test due to a shin injury, and Sunil Narine expected to land in the UK today, Edgbaston will hopefully see the test unveiling of the young mystery spinner. Narine has had a fantastic impact on the recently concluded IPL, and will certainly be a topic of discussion in the England team meetings and preparations during this week. The footage from the IPL will be analysed and ideas thrown up to enable reading his variations early. The nightmare of Saeed Ajmal in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the winter cannot be allowed to repeat!
The West Indies have to work hard and apply themselves in both the innings at Edgbaston. This outfit has shown commitment and resolve, but in critical patches have suffered from lack of self belief. If they can string together the Lords second innings and the Trent Bridge first innings, which incidentally were back-to-back in a sense, we could witness a brilliant and very significant test match in this dead rubber yet.
Until the playing eleven is announced on the morning of the Edgbaston test, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the West Indies authorities and Narine don’t fall into any discord! Yes, this is an issue that concerns cricket fans, particularly in a week in which Kevin Pietersen announced his retirement from international limited overs cricket, and Australian players have threatened to strike over pay!