England in the Caribbean – 3rd February 2019

Only the most stone-hearted of England fans could fail to feel the ‘love’ generated by Jason Holder and his team’s crushing victory over England in Antigua. And, in truth, there were no stone-hearts visible.

Anger at England’s miserable, embarrassing performance was certainly present but England supporters who travel this far to support their team are also knowledgeable fans of the game and they were only too happy to acknowledge the brilliance of the home team’s cricket – and the significance of this series victory.

The numbers are eye-bulging when putting the triumph into context. There have been a couple of wins against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe but in 25 series against the major nations in the last decade, the West Indies have lost 22, drawn two and won one – against New Zealand in 2012. The draws came against Sri Lanka and England and they should have drawn against Pakistan but for Shannon Gabriel’s wild swing in the last over. But still – ONE win.

“We came here to win but we have been completely outplayed,” said a chastened Joe Root. He did very well after the 381-run loss in Barbados with his “take it on the chin” response so at least he had practise. This time he had to take it a step further: “I’d like to thing several of us can (bat like Darren Bravo who made 50 from 216 balls) – I’d like to think I can. But a few of us will have to be very honest with ourselves, we just weren’t good enough. The West Indies bowled superbly throughout the Test match, both Tests, and we need to find some answers.”

22-year-old fast bowler Alzarri Joseph was the centre of attention for the saddest of reasons before the start of play with the passing of his mother in the early hours. He was encouraged to take as much time as he needed to grieve – it was, after all, only a game. But he chose to stay, and play, despite being in emotional turmoil and floods of tears in the team huddle shortly before the start of play. The way his team mates gathered around him evoked memories of what captain Jason Holder had said after victory in Barbados: “This team, we live as one. We look after each other and we share the happiness and the pain.”

Speaking after the series win he said: “Two or three years ago I visited his Mum. She was not well but fought through and I felt it personally when I got the news she had passed away. To see him in tears was even harder. We got in the huddle and just wanted to do it for him, his Mum and family.”

It never ceases to astonish how quickly reputations can collapse in Test cricket, and be rebuilt. Holder spoke of his joy and pride that his team mates shared his love of Test cricket and optimism for a brighter future. Sir Vivian Richards joined us in the commentary box and was close to tears himself after 15 years of misery and frustration: “I haven’t felt this positive, optimistic and proud of West Indies cricket for a long time,” he said, unable and unwilling to suppress the smile on his face.

Last night, Stacey said the Test would finish inside three days. We scoffed – what could she know? Now is the time to return to her restaurant and order humble pie. Unless the England team have eaten it all already.

 

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