ICC CT 2004: Final Thoughts

Wednesday, September 29 2004

A month is a long time in cricket. The West Indies had again been humbled by the English - who in turn looked towards the NatWest Challenge wondering where their next ODI win was to come from. By late September, the nations sat atop of the ODI form guide after playing out one of the most epic of matches in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy.

In theory, England and the West Indies had nothing to lose.

As the sides clashed in the NatWest Series mid-year, both proved mere cannon fodder for an ever-improving New Zealand side. Such is the harsh nature of the ICC Champions Trophy, however, that the Black Caps failed to pass even round one of the tournament.

For all the talk of who missed out on the final, both sides had performed exceptionally well to defeat those who they had passed. England shook an ever-present monkey by the name of Australia in the opening Semi Final, while the West Indians comprehensively devoured the Pakistanis at the Rose Bowl.

3 months ago, this looked a most unlikely scenario. Even the most hardened of fans saw gaping problems in the English ODI squad, while even the bravest of punters could not foresee the West Indies winnings four straight ODI matches.

And even 3 months on, neither side looks significantly different. What they brought to the table in the meantime, however, significantly impacted on what the future held.

The West Indians had turned back to those with the mileage on the clock. Wheeled out of the wilderness were Wavell Hinds, Mervyn Dillon and Corey Collymore. Standard names 12 months back, each of the 3 players had been on death row shortly before the tournament, with a do or die approach set to be taken by the selectors. Even following the tournament, this may stand; such is the plight of the West Indian selectors.

Yet these three played a crucial role in the eventual success of the latest calypso kings. Hinds walked out alongside Chris Gayle to open the innings, giving a comforting combination of aggression and solidarity that either could show on their given days. His most important impact was with the ball, however, as his wobbly outswingers tore the Pakistani middle order apart at crucial stages in the Semi Final. Combined with their effect against South Africa, captain Brian Lara all of a sudden possessed a quality that could turn matches in an English autumn.

Corey Collymore offered stability with the new ball, and alongside Ian Bradshaw, the West Indian attack had a solid look. Lara still possessed strike options in Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, yet in the past his Achilles heel had been the lack of a competent new ball pairing that was capable of exploiting early movement and tying sides down. For all the talent of Tino Best and Jermaine Lawson, they don't yet carry the talisman tag.

The inclusion of these men offered Lara a balanced line-up to work with. For all their problems in the Test arena, the one-day form is a different game. This has to be looked at when assessing the West Indians, and in the one-day from of the game they have by and large been competitive over the last 3 years.

In Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lara and Shiv Chanderpaul they had a safe batting line-up, capable of accelerating or slowing a match at any time. Ricardo Powell offered familiar slogging power, while Bravo and Bradshaw had become key members over the past 9 months. Yet by and large, the men around stood up - this indeed, was a side of XI players, each with a role and a bit-part in the pantomime.

Indeed, Sarwan played a crucial role. The heir apparent to the captaincy and a cunning stylist with the bat his imprint on the tournament stands firm as a decisive factor. His coming of age gives the West Indies hope post-Lara.

Significantly, England reassessed their ODI status following a hugely successful Test summer and pushed in a new direction. Gone were the bits and pieces players, recalled was Vikram Solanki for the umpteenth time, as well as a county plodder by the name of Alex Wharf.

The Wharf inclusion, however, was the catalyst for a resurgence in the pyjama game. A specialist bowler who was competent enough to hold a place in his premier skill, a lusty lower-order hitter and top shelf fieldsman. His inclusion finally offered balance to the side, taking away the gulf from Ashley Giles to a nominated number 9 who would forge an admirable career batting at 10b.

Steve Harmison, as expected, stood tall and proud - even at the end of his summer in the sun. Marcus Trescothick can only be kept down for so long, and Darren Gough has few hours left with the England shirt on his back.

Combined with the return to the bowling crease of Andrew Flintoff, a late summer renaissance from Paul Collingwood and a laid-back leadership regime that reeked of the positive, the final remaining sides in the tournament reflected the way cricket matches are won.

The Australians became historical pawns. On the verge of one of the few final frontiers remaining for the men in yellow, they stumbled. Their game froze; England calmly pounced and ultimately came up trumps.

Pakistan won the toss and batted in the semi final, moving to 1/65. Yet just before the killing assault beckoned, the relaxed nature of Wavell Hinds' outswingers cut a mean figure in the Rose Bowl clouds.

Ultimately, England and the West Indies visibly enjoyed their cricket. The tournament was not one for superstars or superhuman performances. Nor for the best drilled sides, or the most methodically planned.

Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw represent the past. Loose techniques - hit and miss - but on their day capable of getting together and doing wonderful things with the most basic of materials.

For this win wasn't just a game of cricket in the Caribbean. It was about finding the fun in life again after weeks of cyclones that had devastated the region.

It was for those who turned up to play, with confidence of their success, and a love of the game. The people who made cricket fun for a few weeks, and ultimately earned their just rewards at The Oval late Saturday afternoon.

Posted by Andre