Just like old times

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The Independent Online

The smile has returned to the face of West Indies cricket. The tortured frown induced by the recent traumatic surrender to Australia was erased by the convincing victory at Headingley yesterday.

It was like old times, like the Eighties when Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and company would demolish England's batting and then Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards and the other plundering batsmen would make hay against the opposition bowling. Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and, most significantly, Ian Bishop provided the firepower now and Carl Hooper and Brian Lara did what Greenidge and Richards used to in a previous generation.

The triumph, and the eventual manner of it, were essential for the West Indies. They had endured a difficult series against Australia. Afflicted by complacency, from which they never recovered, they were thoroughly outplayed by tough, committed opponents and severely criticised by a public stunned by their first defeat in the series in 15 years.

The portents entering the crucial opening Test were not encouraging. The one-day series had been lost 2-1, the captain, Richie Richardson, was woefully short of runs and confidence, Ambrose had managed only a single wicket on tour and Lara's mind seemed to be on things other than the game.

Almost everything came right on the day, even though Richardson's form continues to worry. This victory may well be the tonic he needs, for his vice-captain Walsh is convinced his reaction to the Australian reversal has been a contributory factor.

There were obvious gains, quite apart from the uplift to team spirit. Sherwin Campbell has confirmed himself as an opener for the present and future, as has Hooper, in spite of their early dismissals in respective innings to deliveries of high quality. Keith Arthurton has demonstrated that he can curb his macho tendencies and, while Lara still treats Test bowling with some disdain, there is no doubt that he is likely to dominate the remainder of the series.

The third coming of Bishop, everyone in both camps agrees, has been the biggest benefit for the West Indies. In his absence, Ambrose and Walsh have lacked high-class support and now that they have it again England's batsmen can expect to be harassed for the remainder of the series. In addition, his enthusiasm and demeanour generates an overall respect that permeates through the team.

As Richardson conceded, there are still a few problems to be sorted out, including the long tail. The last four wickets in the series against Australia averaged a mere 38 an innings and contributed 39 here.