EMPHATIC: West Indies players and coaching staff celebrate their five-wicket victory over New Zealand in the second Test match at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, on August 5. West Indies won the two-match Test series 2-0. —Photo: Digicel Cricket.com, Brooks LaTouche

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Positive results Encouraging period for Windies at all levels

By Tony Cozier

ALL things being relative, these past couple of months have been encouraging for West Indies cricket.

For understandable reasons, their achievements in all versions, and at all levels, have been no more than a blip on the game's global radar.

They have naturally had to concede attention to the sensational Caribbean athletes at the Olympics and their swag of medals and to the current battle for cricket supremacy between England and South Africa.

Even then, Yohan Blake, one of the most prominent of Jamaica's string of speedy sprinters in London, was keen to reveal to the assembled media after he had flashed in behind his lightning countryman Usain Bolt to take the 100 metres silver medal, that he was not only an ardent cricket fan (more so than athletics) but also an active, 80-85 mph fast bowler keen to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

What the Russian and Chinese reporters made of it is not recorded.

There he was at Lord's on Thursday for the opening day of the Test that would decide the No.1 ranking, ringing the 10-minute bell to officially get things going and speaking earnestly on the game with Michael Holding and Ian Ward on television.

Blake would, no doubt, have followed the West Indies' fortunes on the field, even as he concentrtated on his own Olympics mission. He should have been cheered by the returns.

There was the 'A' team's triumph over their highly-rated Indian counterparts in June that, in addition to its overall success, fulfilled the reason for its existence by unearthing an exciting youngster, the big, left-arm fast bowler Delorn Johnson who had 17 wickets in the three "Tests" at 13.29 runs each.

That was followed by the senior team's emphatic victories over New Zealand in all three versions, their first over these opponents since 1996 and more overwhelming than any since the glory days under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.

Now the Under-19s have advanced to the quarter-finals of their World Cup in Australia after five straight wins, including their first over India at this level since 1988, the other over Australia in a warm-up match. They aim to go further tonight, against New Zealand (starting 7.30 p.m. T&T time).

These are the West Indies cricketers of the future. On the evidence of such previous tournaments, several can expect to eventually join captain Kraigg Brathwaite at the highest level; they will be better prepared for the transition since the establishment of the High Performance Centre.

As with the majority of Jamaicans, from the prime minister down, Blake would have been especially pleased with the return of Chris Gayle to the fold and the imposing left-handed opener's immediate impact.

With that issue finally settled, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) keeping to their pledge to no longer engage in the constant war of words that had become such a damaging distraction and the out-of-season IPL not an issue, it was more than coincidence that the results were as they were.

It meant the team could focus on its mission without the thoughts of strikes, threatened strikes, court cases and the like. All the players were available, with the exception of Ramnaresh Sarwan who, not for the first time, was at odds with the coach and asserted that he would not represent the West Indies again under Ottis Gibson and the present administration, preferring a contract with English county Leicestershire instead.

For the past two decades, the West Indies' free-fall from top to bottom of the heap has been caused by a complex assortment of factors. It has been accelerated by a debilitating loss of self-belief.

Defeat had come to be taken for granted; powerful positions have been surrendered through the inability to know how to make the most of them, as in each of their three preceding series against India, Australia and England, teams among Test cricket's present elite.

Old habits die hard and several surfaced against New Zealand. Yet the West Indies have started to win again, often clawing their way out of difficult spots. It is a start to overcoming their negative mindset.

It is a well-used cliché in all sport, but accurate all the same, that winning is as much a habit as losing.

The West Indies now have a significant advantage in that their next two series are against Bangladesh away in November for two Tests, five ODIs and one Twenty20, and Zimbabwe at home next February and March for two Tests, three ODIs and two Twenty20.

Both are still to establish themselves as challenging Test opponents; it is a further opportunity to build a winning culture prior to further home series against two stronger teams, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, between next May and August. To waste it would be a dismal setback.

While the crash-bang of the shortest format bears little relation to Tests and even ODIs, the West Indies' showing in next month's World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka also enters the equation.

With the presence of Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Dwayne Smith and Dwayne Bravo, who have made formidable reputations and gained valuable experience in the IPL and other such franchise tournaments dotted around the planet, the West Indies are one of the early favourites.

It's not difficult to imagine what it would do for West Indies cricket for Darren Sammy to raise the trophy–not to mention the hefty winners' cheque–come October 7 in Colombo.

Perhaps all that might just be getting too far ahead of ourselves on the strength of a few positive results. The coming months will tell.

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