A series best forgotten

THE result of the series was a foregone conclusion. It would have been naive to expect Bangladesh to pull off a win, even at home, against the West Indies. Such was the difference in the strength of the respective teams that the series never rose above mediocrity. Well the spectators may have thronged the venues at Dhaka and Chittagong, but a win for their team remained a dream. Bangladesh never came close to suggest it could match the West Indies even for a short phase during the three matches.

Ramnaresh Sarwan not only compiled his first century in ODIs but had an aggregate of 169 runs from three innings.

The West Indies was on a high after leaving the shores of India with a 4-3 win in the one-day series after a disappointing Test campaign. The team, under Carl Hooper's captaincy, had left its mark on the Indian fans and the series win only pointed to the improvement the team had made during a month of committed cricket. The trip to Bangladesh, with Ridley Jacobs as the captain, was part of the International Cricket Council's efforts to encourage the weak teams but then there was little the home team could have gained from such demoralising defeats.

Hooper did not make the trip because of a knee injury and he rightly took time off international cricket in his preparation for the World Cup. For long the West Indies had too languished at the near bottom and it was time for the team to regain some of its past glory.

Winning against Bangladesh may not have contributed towards the West Indian campaign but then the performance against India was something to be proud of. So, the West Indian domination was on expected lines and it was a series best forgotten as far as Bangladesh was concerned.

There has been talk for some time about Bangladesh needing time to improve its image but lack of talent has been pretty evident in the past two years. Gaining Test recognition has not helped Bangladesh at all and there has been little progress by the team in the limited overs cricket too. Various coaches have been tried and any number of engagements at home and abroad have not really pushed the case for Bangladesh. It continues to be a team which just makes up the number and hardly looks a combination worth playing international cricket.

Vasbert Drakes with 12 wickets in the three-match series deservingly won the Man of the Series award.

In the series against the West Indies, only one Bangladesh batsman managed to notch a half-century and that too when the cause was completely lost in the final one-dayer at Dhaka. The home team was lucky to escape defeat in the first match at Chittagong when rain dashed the hopes of the West Indians. A few anxious moments may have contributed to the artificial excitement in the next two games, but West Indies was not going to lose the game at any stage.

An unbeaten knock of 89 by Alok Kapali was the lone feature for Bangladesh in a series which saw Ramnaresh Sarwan compile his first century in one-day internationals. Having waited 27 matches, Sarwan needed a stroke of luck here too but then he deserved the feat because of his splendid form that saw the talented Guyanese dominate the Indian bowlers too in the preceding series. His aggregate of 169 from three innings was not in keeping with his glorious form but then Sarwan may have lost the motivation in the face of poor opposition.

The West Indians had lost the services of Shivnarine Chanderpaul because of an injury to the webbing on the right hand but then it hardly mattered. The West Indies had enough ammunition to blow the opposition away. It could also afford to rest left-arm seamer Pedro Collins, who was recovering from a back injury.

Marlon Samuels was in rousing form and came up with knocks of 82 and 77 in the second and third one-dayers.

The series was off to a flying start for the West Indies at the Aziz Stadium in Chittagong. The spectators would remember the game for the sensational strokeplay of Ricardo Powell. His 88 off 50 balls (seven fours) was an innings crafted brilliantly by a batsman who is currently rated as a big under-achiever in the Caribbean Islands. The jolly Jamaican enjoys his cricket and he indulged in some lusty strokeplay to put the West Indies in a happy state after Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Sarwan and Darren Ganga had thrown away the advantage. A target of 276 was beyond Bangladesh.

The home team was saved the embarrassment of a huge defeat when rain stopped play with Bangladesh struggling at 90 for four.

A packed house witnessed the last two games at Dhaka where a poor pitch greeted the teams at the Bangabandhu National Stadium. The ball stayed low and the West Indies took time to adapt.

A. Kapali brought cheers to the home camp with an unbeaten 89 in the last match.

It may have looked tough at 77 for two in 25 overs but the West Indies had reserved its best for the second half when Sarwan and Marlon Samuels put on 146 runs.

For some time the Bangladeshis may have entertained hopes of an upset win but Sarwan was in great touch and Samuels simply put the attack in its place with some rousing shots.

Sarwan looked stranded on 98 with one ball to go but then an edged boundary took him to the coveted mark and it was a distinction he richly deserved. The innings was a tribute to his talent and once again established him, and Samuels too, as the two most gifted batsmen to watch out for at the next World Cup.

In the final match, the West Indies put the issue beyond Bangladesh by compiling 281 with significant contributions coming from Gayle, Samuels and Powell. For the home team, off-spinner Naimur Rehman stood out with his tight spell even as the rest bowled mediocre stuff.

The cheers for the home camp came from the willow of Kapali, who remained unbeaten on 89. The series ended on an encouraging note for this batsman who promises to hold the middle-order firm but then Bangladesh has only been promising to improve for too long. One hopes Kapali emerges as an exception even as Bangladesh continues its search for quality cricketers.

The scores:

1st ODI: West Indies 275 for seven in 50 overs (R. Powell 88, D. Ganga 44, R. Sarwan 39, C. Gayle 38). Bangladesh 90 for four in 17 overs (V. Drakes four for 27). Match abandoned.

2nd ODI: West Indies 266 for four in 50 oves (R. Sarwan 102 not out, M. Samuels 82) beat Bangladesh 182 in 48 overs (M. Ashraful 44, K. Mashud 41, N. Rehman 37, V. Drakes four for 18).

3rd ODI: West Indies 281 for five in 50 overs (M. Samuels 77, C. Gayle 73, R. Powell 36 not out) beat Bangladesh 195 for nine in 50 overs (A. Kapali 89 not out, A. Hossain 42, V. Drakes four for 33, C. Gayle three for 37).

VASBERT DRAKES is 33. But age does not hinder his enthusiasm to serve West Indies cricket. He has combined his bowling skills wonderfully well with his experience to justify his place in the side.

The medium-pacer from Barbados has travelled wide in his quest to gain recognition. An uneventful debut in 1994-95 left Drakes frustrated. In five matches against Australia at home, he had just three wickets to push his claims. It was not surprising when he was dropped from the team but it was shocking that for the next seven years he did not get another chance to redeem his career.

Drakes explored new avenues to boost his career. He turned out for Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire and made enough strides to command a recall. His stint with Warwickshire, where he took 42 wickets in 2002, did enough to help Drakes regain his self-belief. A season with Border in South Africa had honed Drakes' skills and it was a matter of time for the West Indies selectors to acknowledge his efforts.

Drakes was recalled to the national team when he figured in the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka. Just one wicket came his way but then the selectors kept faith in the experienced medium-pacer. He was named for the one-day series against India and he figured in all the seven matches, making a very significant contribution in West Indies' 4-3 victory. His tally of 10 wickets meant that Drakes was on the target and the series in Bangladesh enabled the modest Barbadian to establish himself.

Drakes was named `man of the series' against Bangladesh and it was not a surprising choice. His spells of 4-27, 4-18 and 4-33 in the three matches showed the confidence with which he bowled. Even granting the opposition was weak, it was in Drakes' interest that he took wickets to keep himself focussed.

Hooper had always rated Drakes high in his list of reliable bowlers and the medium-pacer came off a winner in the one-day series in India and Bangladesh. The success achieved by Drakes should ease the pressure on Mervyn Dillon who was craving for an able partner. The presence of Drakes certainly adds teeth to the West Indies attack.