West Indies' band of brothers smile in the face of adversity

 

The 20th West Indies tour of England begins today in Hove. On the face of it, the team have about as much chance of winning the Test series, beginning in less than a fortnight, than the first squad here 84 years ago, which lost all three Test matches by an innings.

It is easy to think that something similar may befall them this time. Although they showed flashes of competitive zeal in the recent Test series against Australia, they still managed to lose 2-0, regularly turning promising positions into perilous ones.

The manner in which the teams of the Seventies and Eighties stormed round England, playing cricket which was as exciting as it was intimidating, is but a distant memory. Between 1973 and 1988 they won five consecutive Test series without the hosts winning a single match.

That has all changed. Since England won 3-1 in 2000, West Indies have not won a match on three tours, and in all have lost 12 of the last 14 matches, securing two rain-affected draws. The most recent visit in 2009 was marked by a pronouncement from their captain, Chris Gayle, that Test cricket had no future and considering the way his team played it was easy to believe him.

There is at least a spirit in these tourists, led by Darren Sammy, which has not always been evident. They seem a happy, relaxed bunch, though that may change if the rain continues to follow them. It is the forecast at the County Ground in Hove today, where Sussex will field a more experienced side than that embarrassed in losing to the Leeds-Bradford University side this week.

Kirk Edwards, West Indies vice-captain, said yesterday: "The vibe is the guys tending to enjoy each other. It's been like that for a while now. It's a good environment to be in - nice and relaxed, and you're looking round and seeing guys who are like a brother here and a brother there. You tend to pull for each other. That's the most you can ask for in a team environment."

With only two matches before the first Test at Lord's, they may well play their intended Test XI in both. This is not so much because they are short of match practice, since their series against Australia finished only eight days ago, but because of the alien conditions.

Although some members of their side have played club cricket in England, only five of their squad have appeared in a Test match in this country. Three of their top four batsmen are 23 or under and there are only two openers in the squad, meaning that whatever happens they have to play in all three matches.

Unless of course, Gayle were to declare himself available as soon as his assignment with Royal Challengers Bangalore is finished. That would be on 20 May at the earliest, which would make him theoretically available for two Test matches. Of course, there is the small matter of his not having played a Test for 18 months but, with Gayle, anything is possible.

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