Tony Cozier: West Indies end with tail up after dispiriting week

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The Independent Online

It took the composure of tailenders not reputed for such level-headedness to secure it, but the draw that the West Indies eked out in the fading light here yesterday brought a dreadful week to a positive end.

The 60 balls for which the No 10 Daren Powell and No 11 Fidel Edwards held on until the sun was far enough down in the west for the umpires to call off the contest were the difference between psychologically devastating defeat and a result that keeps the West Indies' spirits up and retains their 1-0 lead in the series.

In recent days, they have been humiliated by the abandonment of the second Test on a beach masquerading as a proper outfield at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and rocked by the realisation that the breathtaking millions Sir Allen Stanford pumped into their game might, after all, be tainted.

They have played without significant home support at the restored Antigua Recreation Ground, packed instead with England's boisterous, travelling fans.

That they came so close to losing only confirms the truth that they were outplayed at every turn except the very last. They enter the next Test in Barbados, starting Thursday, with more questions than answers.

The West Indies' overall cricket, so sharp in the first Test, was shabby. They succumbed to a rash of careless strokes in both innings and relied on two batsmen, Ramnaresh Sarwan and yesterday Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and two bowlers, the fiery Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor. It was all accentuated by costly missed catches.

Suliemann Benn, the tall left-arm spinner who was so impressive with his eight wickets in Kingston, seemed not to appreciate the change in conditions. He bowled without control or threat and went without a wicket for 143 runs while England amassed their mammoth first-innings total.

If Powell demonstrated a batting ability that he had previously wasted, he is picked as a fast bowler and his lack of support once more diminished Edwards and Taylor. He went without a wicket for over 100 in England's first innings. He pays over 45 runs a wicket in Test cricket. It is time for a younger fast bowler, Lionel Baker or Kemar Roach, to take his place.

Devon Smith's latest chance to establish himself as one of the several openers tried as Chris Gayle's partner was inconclusive. So was Ryan Hinds, another unproven returnee, at No 4.

Following the euphoria of the resounding, but unexpected, victory in the first Test in Kingston, it is not difficult to imagine what effect a loss would have had on players steeped in self-doubt after years at the bottom of the International Cricket Council's Test standings.

Now they can breathe a little more easily, although it is England who take more from the match. In five days on the field, everything that they needed putting right was put right. Their controversially installed new captain, Andrew Strauss, failed in both innings in Kingston and presided over as humbling a loss as England have endured against the West Indies in a quarter of a century. His response was to set up the match-winning total with his first day 169.

His partner, Alistair Cook, also out cheaply both times in the first Test, now contributed two fifties. Owais Shah, at last given his chance at No 3, played confidently for 56 before he ran himself out in the first innings.

Graeme Swann, boldly preferred to Monty Panesar, was the epitome of controlled, off-spin bowling that earned him seven wickets.

With England's two premier bowlers, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, physically handicapped, Stuart Broad stepped into the breach, a young cricketer for the future who, in two Tests here, has been transformed into the man of the present.

England were keen in the field and disciplined in their all-round performance.

As the series moves on to Kensington Oval next week, the momentum, so strongly with the West Indies on arrival in Antigua, is now with England, but not nearly as clearly as it would have been with one more wicket at the ARG.