Oh what a win!

West Indies players kneel down to kiss the pitch after they defeated Australia by three wickets at the Antigua Recreation Ground in St. John's/ The 418 runs the West Indies made, in the final innings, is the highest score in the annals of Test history.-

Looking back, the face-off at St. John's, that climaxed in an epoch-making run-chase, could turn out to be one of the most significant Test of our times. West Indies, could after all, be up and running again, writes S. DINAKAR.

Those magnificent men in the Maroon, those glorious memories, and those vignettes from the past of stirring feats and heady conquests.

Of days of thunder and glory from the Calypso charmers. Giants from the sunny islands, who would dwarf lesser mortals on the cricketing arena.

Sunshine men who were, both, entertainers and match-winners. Brushing aside the opponents with disdain, winning duels... and countless admirers.

George Headley's brilliance, Garry Sobers' genius, Sonny Ramadhin's craft and guile, Wes Hall's thunderbolts, Rohan Kanhai's ingenuity, Clive Lloyd's `cat like' and commanding ways, Vivian Richards' unmistakable swagger, Andy Roberts' fire and control, Michael Holding's grace and speed, Malcolm Marshall's explosive power and skill... awe-inspiring names that bring joy and happiness.

When Vasbert Drakes fiercely cut Stuart MacGill to the fence, to signal West Indies' historic win at St. John's, Brian Lara and his men were paying their homage to the Caribbean legends of the past.

Wearing the West Indian cap can be daunting. There is a wealth of history, so much tradition, and plenty of expectations.

Yet, as the West Indians capitulated time and again in the recent past, the biggest question asked was - Where has that Caribbean pride gone? A quality that was the cornerstone of the West Indian cricket.

Vasbert Drakes is over the moon after hitting the winning run for his team. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

Pride, that would bring together a group of nations as they combined to present a formidable cricketing force. Pride, that was so evident when a Richards sauntered in, or when a Marshall unleashed one of those `perfume balls.

In the fourth Test in Antigua, when the Windies 0-3 down, faced the prospect of the first whitewash at home, it was that pride, which was at stake.

Looking back, the face-off at St. John's, that climaxed in an epoch-making run-chase, could turn out to be one of the most significant Test of our times. West Indies, could after all, be up and running again.

From a cricketing point of view, it is critical that this great game survives in the Caribbean. For the West Indians are the cricketing equivalents of the Brazilians in soccer, cutting across the barriers, visible and invisible.

The message that came across forcefully as Brian Lara ran into the ground along with his young men after the victorious blow was - Yes, cricket will live on in the Caribbean.

For the lovers of the game, West Indies' sad sequence of defeats must have been heart-breaking. Kings of cricket once, they were now being humbled by sides, that would have been simply swept aside in the past.

A 0-4 verdict at the hands of Australia could have been, psychologically, the final nail in the West Indian coffin. It would have been demoralising, with far reaching consequences in the Caribbean. For Lara and his men, it was a perform or perish situation.

The West Indian selectors had gambled by bringing back Lara as the skipper for the battles against Australia. Two great pacemen of our times Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh had left the scene, and the team was regrouping.

Carl Hooper, who returned from semi-retirement, to take up the reins, hadn't done a bad job during the rebuilding phase, with youngsters such as Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, indicating they were ready to climb the ladder.

The West Indians clinched the ODI series in India that was played on flat tracks, a no mean achievement, and only missed out on qualifying for the Super Sixes of the World Cup, because rain so cruelly cut short the game against Bangladesh.

However, Hooper was not getting any younger, his own form with the bat slumped, and the selectors decided it was time to move on. Lara, still one of the three major batsmen of our times with Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh, would be the man in the hot seat.

The West Indians had performed well in patches in the first three Tests, Lara himself playing a major hand with the bat, Darren Ganga displaying the technique and the temperament to take on the best, and Sarwan, providing glimpses of his stroke-making ability.

But then, these would have amounted to nothing had the West Indians been blanked at home for the first time in their cricketing history. We come back again to St. John's and the historic chase... and the highest fourth innings target achieved.

This was a Test that had swung one way then the other. The West Indians, fired by Jermaine Lawson's red-hot bowling (his action is under a cloud though) had dismissed the Australians for 240, however, when the Caribbeans themselves were bowled out for the same score, the Aussies were gifted a wonderful chance to take control.

And as Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden knocked off centuries, an Aussie sweep appeared inevitable. The West Indies, without strike bowler Lawson, fought back well on day three, but then, a target of 418 seemed well beyond its reach, even on a pitch that held no devils.

After all, the highest winning score in the fourth innings had been 406, achieved by the Indians way back in 1976 in Port of Spain. You would hardly back a side that had taken a pounding, both mental and physical, in the first three Tests, to regroup and make history. Cricket has a habit of surprising people.

When Lara, in ominous touch, was consumed by MacGill after lunch on the fourth afternoon, the writing appeared to be on the wall. The West Indies relies heavily on Lara, and now the match-winner had departed from the scene. Surely, the Aussies were in sight of a victory.

There was a dramatic change in the script. Sarwan, of nimble feet and sound basics, a quick mind and fast hands, decided to make a statement, dancing down the track to MacGill and dismissing him ruthlessly, and cutting, driving, and pulling the pacemen.

For once, the Australians were rattled. And they were taken on mentally too by Sarwan, who was eyeball to eyeball with Glenn McGrath, but did not blink. The Aussies were getting it back verbally as well, and the game was on from that point.

Earlier in the match, there had been an exchange of words between Waugh and Lara — the West Indian captain was not going to be cowed down by the meanest cricketing force in contemporary cricket.

Adversity can unite a side, and we did see evidence of that during Sri Lanka's tour of Australia in 1995-96, when the Aussies sledged the emerald islanders, and Muttiah Muralitharan was called for chucking.

The Lankans went through a torrid ordeal and emerged stronger in the process. The troubled tour of Australia was the genesis really for the Lankan triumph in the '96 World Cup. There are parallels between the Lankan story and West Indies' resurgence in the Test at St. John's... sledging, chucking and all that.

Sarwan's defiance was symbolic of West Indies' new found resolve. He is a spunky technically sound cricketer, who can graduate from being a good batsman to becoming a very good one, if he can convert his starts into sizable contributions more often.

Another key man in the pursuit of runs at St. John's was Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He made his debut in the early 90s, when the Caribbeans were still a power in world cricket, and the quiet, unassuming man must have suffered in silence, as the West Indians fell from grace.

Not the prettiest of southpaws, the man from Guyana values his wicket dearly, and his commitment has seldom been in question. Chanderpaul is an intelligent cricketer too, and must have quickly realised that he would have to bat positively on this occasion to sustain the momentum, built up through Lara and Sarwan's exceptional strokeplay. The result of his approach? A century he would treasure like no other.

And finally to the two men who finished it off. The tall Omari Banks had displayed a measure of promise with the ball, despite being taken for runs by the Aussies, but it was his composure as a lower order batsman that was the most praiseworthy aspect of his cricket.

He has played straight, driven in the `V', been unruffled, and shown an ability to bat in crisis. Vasbert Drakes is no mug with the bat either, and finally West Indies had two bowlers, who could put up a fight with the willow.

If you go back to West Indies' glory days in the late 70s and 80s, you find that, though the side had a dazzling array of batsmen, the batting contributions from Andy Robers, Malcolm Marshall, and Michael Holding proved extremely useful. In the recent days though, the Caribbean tail had invariably been blown away by the opposition.

As Lara revealed, the win at St. John's would rank higher in his list of achievements than the 375 that he whipped up at the same ground against the Englishmen, the highest individual Test score.

From a captain's standpoint, an outstanding team-effort is always more fulfilling. The Caribbeans applied themsleves, got the partnerships going, and combined well as a team. It was this collective effort - not the odd individual display - that carried the day for Lara's men. The Aussies retained the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy, but the West Indians stole the thunder.

The crucial test for the West Indies is how it is going to build on the gains of St. John's victory. A win such as this could prove a wonderful elixir. It is now evident that the West Indians have much potential in batting.

In Chris Gayle, who can be both hard-hitting and languid, Darren Ganga, Sarwan, and the smooth stroking Marlon Samuels, West Indies possesses young batsmen, who have all come through the system, blossoming with experience and exposure.

Even someone like the inexperienced Devon Smith, when pitted against a feared pace attack, showed the heart for the battle, blunting the bowling in the early overs. That Wavell Hinds, who can be destructive, is made to fight for a place in the squad is a welcome sign for West Indies cricket.

Lara is inspirational and Chanderpaul solid, and these two senior cricketers, along with the Young Guns do give the West Indian bat<147,3,1>ting a healthy look. And Lara's aggressive ways as a cricketer and his positive outlook, have rubbed off on the team as well. Let's not forget here, the role of Sir Vivian Richards as the Chairman of the Selectors.

However, there is plenty of room for improvement in West Indian bowling, that has struggled after Ambrose and Walsh bid adieu. Lawson, with his pace and fire, is vital in the scheme of things, and the sooner he recovers from problems over his action, the better for the Caribbeans. The West Indies desperately seeks a couple of young quick bowlers, but then the assembly line of pacemen from the islands appears to have dried up. Otherwise, moments like the one at St. John's will be few and far between and the Caribbeans will struggle to bowl sides out on placid tracks; one of the reasons for the decline in the West Indian fast bowling could be due to the considerable slowing down of the pitches.

These are early days yet in the West Indies resurgence, and in how the likes of Ganga, Sarwan and Samuels fare on pitches that seam and bounce might determine their future yet. Too often in the past, the West Indians have collapsed on juicy surfaces, their shot-selection coming under scrutiny. Character will be the key.

Let's now take a trip back in cricketing history and travel to the other two occasions when 400 was surpassed in a winning fourth innings effort.

It was at Leeds in the 1948 Ashes series that Sir Donald Bradman's Australians rattled up 404 for three in a truly commanding performance. Opener Authur Morris made 182 and Bradman himself conjured an unbeaten 173, batting at No. 3. Those were the days of uncovered wickets and the English attack boasted of two match-winning bowlers in paceman Alec Bedser and off-spinner Jim Laker.

Then, in 1976, two little big men, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath, delivering on a huge occasion, produced centuries at Port of Spain enabling India draw level at 1-1. Mohinder Amarnath held firm with a gritty 85, and Brijesh Patel, notched up a quick-fire unbeaten 49, when time appeared to be running out for India. An unforgettable moment as the team blended as one.

That was a Test where Clive Lloyd, with only a raw Holding and all-rounder Bernard Julien as the pacemen in the eleven, rued his decision to declare the West Indian second innings at 271 for six. In the end, Lloyd left the arena a deeply disappointed man as the three West Indian spinners in Padmore, Imitiaz Ali and Jumadeen, were handled confidently by the Indians, even on a wearing surface.

The reverse at Port of Spain prompted Lloyd to go into the final Test on a fast Sabina Park wicket with four pacemen in Holding, Daniel, Holder and Julien. The Caribbean pacemen unleashed a barrage of short-pitched deliveries, Gaekwad, Viswanath and Patel, had to retire hurt during the Test, and Indian skipper Bishan Singh Bedi protested loudly at the West Indian methods.

The Caribbeans romped home by ten wickets, clinching the series 2-1, and Lloyd had stumbled on a winning formula; his four-pronged pace attack destroyed many a Test line-up, as the Caribbeans ruled world cricket.

Indeed, the last time around when 400 was surpassed successfully in the fourth innings, the West Indians were at the receiving end. Yet, the setback proved a blessing in disguise as Lloyd banked on pace for the rest of his career, emerging as a captain who won just about everything. Now, the West Indians have overtaken that Indian batting display at Port of Spain. Will a famous victory change the face their cricket like what a defeat managed to accomplish 27 years ago?