Down the years, especially since the turn of the century, scribes and fans in the Caribbean have had a tendency to hail West Indian Test victories as ‘turning points’. Individual performers have been hailed, captaincies have been dissected, coaches have been credited for influencing team ethic. But after each sporadic Test victory - West Indies have won just 21 of 131 Test matches since January 200, four each against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh - defeats have followed.
In June 2000, West Indies won the first Test of The Wisden Trophy by an innings and 93 runs at Birmingham. The win was praised to the skies; England were termed as being in disarray. In the second match, West Indies were bowled out for 54 in their second innings and England drew level. The third Test was drawn, the fourth and fifth ended in huge defeats.
West Indies went on to be drubbed 5-0 in Australia. A 2-1 series defeat to South Africa followed, with victory coming in the dead rubber. In 2003, a famous victory, albeit in another dead rubber, got the talk going again. With a nerve-wracking three-wicket win against Australia, which smashed their quest for an unprecedented clean sweep in the Caribbean, West Indies chased the highest fourth-innings total in Test history. This was seen as heralding the winds of change.
South Africa beat West Indies again; England whipped them 4-0 at home; another home defeat to South Africa continued the misery. In 2005, Pakistan were hammered by 276 runs in Barbados to give West Indies their first significant victory for two years. It was Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s first as captain, and much was expected. Pakistan won the next match by 136 runs to draw the series.
Series defeats to Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and England followed, during which not one Test was won.
In December 2007 - 31 months after they last won a Test match, West Indies took a series lead in South Africa with a 128-run win at Port Elizabeth. That victory, coming as it did with nobody giving the tourists an ice cube’s chance in hell, was hailed as a seminal moment in the team’s revival. South Africa hit back and took the series.
A two-match series against Sri Lanka at home was tied. Australia toured and won. A drawn series was secured in New Zealand. Then England visited, and West Indies claimed a famous win over the tourists in the first Test of the five-game series. The next four matches were drawn, and West Indies regained the Wisden Trophy for the first time since 2000 in a thrilling finale to the series in Trinidad. It was their first series win at home since 2004.
The mood was expectedly buoyant when they toured England soon after for a tw0-Test series. They were blanked by ten wickets and an innings and 83 runs in the damp English summer. A player contract impasse saw a new low, as a second-string West Indies was beaten by Bangladesh at home. Their next win came over Pakistan in May 2011, but even that series was unable to be secured.
And now, after a series defeat in England, West Indies have taken a 1-0 lead with one match to go.
A contest between the seventh and eighth-ranked Test teams is not much to dwell upon, especially since one team has bossed the other for preceding weeks. Perhaps that is why, after West Indies won by nine wickets on Sunday – their first Test victory over New Zealand since 1996 - there were no manic celebrations from the West Indian camp. It was subdued celebration consisting of handshakes and a couple restrained high-fives. This team knows that it has to win one more Test to really start feeling proud.
Much of the credit for this victory goes to two players who have tormented New Zealand in the preceding limited-overs series in the USA and Caribbean: Sunil Narine and Chris Gayle. Narine carried his match-winning form into his second Test and picked up eight wickets to win the Man-of-the-Match award. Gayle, in his first Test in more than 19 months, slotted back into the five-day format and immediately gave the top order stability. His 214 runs for once out were massive for the home side, and such was his impact that a first-ball duck to the team’s most important batsman, Chanderpaul, wasn’t felt at all.
With Gayle and Narine expressing themselves, there is hope that West Indies can spark themselves into consistent form. But it would be premature to say they’ve turned a corner.