I've always loved cricket. Anyone who knows me knows this. I think that within 30mins of first meeting someone, I'm sure to bring up cricket at some point. Yes ever since I was a boy, I've loved cricket, a love affair of more than 30+ years. Maybe its because it's the sport in which I have the most ,though not nearly enough, natural talent. But I love and play many other sports too, football, lawn tennis, field hockey just to name a few. Though for me, cricket is more than sport, its life. A great football player may have the ball at their feet for 2mins out of 90 during a match. And though that is enough time to be dazzled and amazed by his or her skill and artistry, watching someone bat for 10hours is different. Look at the way they write the individual profiles of cricketers. It is the poetry of Tennyson, Byron, Shelly, Chaucer. Yes cricket has always stirred my soul. To me, cricket is romantic.
And I've always loved the underdog, who doesn't? Did anyone really root for Apollo or Drago to beat Rocky? Perhaps its the biblical story of David vs Goliath. To support the underdog feels good, it feels right. So this is why, growing up in the Caribbean, I secretly supported many of the West Indies' opponents during their period of world dominance 1976 - 1991. I can't remember actually being happy or celebrating on the rare occasions that the West Indies lost; I just honestly wanted the opposition to make a game of it. Real sports enthusiasts always appreciate a good contest, regardless of the result. And I especially loved the Windies' opponents of that era who played our brand of of swashbuckling, flair cricket. 'Hit life for six' Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, I greatly admired these players. Alec Stewart, he pulled and hooked like a West Indian. Fight fire with fire or die trying. This is what I loved to see.
Fast forward 20 years and I'm still rooting for the underdog, only now the tables have turned and its my West Indies that seem to always be fighting for the wooden spoon. That once near invincible team turned to mush by lack of development and foresight by the Region's cricket administrators. For they must be the root cause; surely. Imagine the greatest football team of the past decade, Barcelona FC. continuously staving off relegation in each of the next 20 years. Picture Floyd 'Money' Mayweather broke 10 years from now. This is the context of the fall of Windies Cricket. The current tour to England did not auger well for this young team. Destroyed by England in the first test within 4 days including losing 19 wickets in one day. A more demoralizing defeat is hard to imagine. And yet just one week later, this team, which has been lambasted by all and sundry and blasted around from pillar to post, pulls off one of the greatest victories in the history of test cricket.
Imagine what must have been going through the minds of the players as they walked out on to Headingly's turf for the first morning's play. No one would have given them a chance. England bowled out for 258 and even then, there was some poor West Indies fielding. Still 258 vs West Indies can generally be considered a reasonable total against batting that often seems not up for the fight. West Indies replied with 400+ a total that seemed almost average during the halycon years but is somewhat surprising now. England improved in their second innings, the blue caps scoring 427 for 8 declared setting a target of 322 to win on the fifth and final day's play. Though the Windies first innings batting was a welcome surprise, it would have been a brave man to wager that the Calypso Cricketers could actually pull this one off. Gordon Greenidge had smashed 214 not to overhaul an even larger 4th innings total 33 years earlier. But this team is not of that vintage nor experience.
Yet Shai Hope and Kraigg Braithwaite, both centurians in the first innings, continued their fine form in their second turn at bat. At 123 for 2, the neutral could be excused for thinking that the next West Indian wicket to fall would signal the collapse that has become all too familiar in recent years. But there was something in watching Hope and Braithwaite bat that left me in no doubt that we would win, that this match and moment was ours, at least for today. The collapse never came. It is somewhat cruel that Braithwaite was out for 95 in his second innings. He did not deserve the misfortune to miss out on becoming the first player in 534 first class matches, to score a hundred in each innings of a Headingly test. The only salve to this wound was that this honour would soon be that of Hope's. That Hope would score the winning runs and end 118 not out, was truly and simply, quite fitting and the only moral outcome for the occasion. His face, beamed with exultation and joy as he embraced his team mate as they left the pitch in the oncoming twilight. Only each player knows what went on through their minds as the game unfolded. Who knows what will happen in the third and final test. But the players know that if they believe in themselves, they can do it. And to me, this is what is most important.