Arthur: Sammy, Gibson doing well

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Cricket fans in Australia are surely as happy as those in the Caribbean that the once-great West Indies appear to be on the path back to the top. Only England and Australia can claim to have contributed more to cricket's history than the West Indies and the competition with Australia is a rivalry surpassed only by the Ashes.

But unlike the love-to-hate 'em nature Australia has with its English rivals, competition against the Windies has always been fierce but built on a foundation of mutual respect and camaraderie. The decline had many back in Australia believing they could very well win all of their matches during their current tour of the Caribbean - five One-Dayers, two Twenty20s and three Tests.

Instead, under the captaincy of Darren Sammy and astute coaching of Ottis Gibson, the Windies have taken a share of the spoils in both the ODI and T20s and pushed Australia further than India ever did in the four Tests back home this summer in this week’s first Test in Barbados.

“A lot of credit must go to Ottis Gibson and Darren Sammy,” Aussie coach Mickey Arthur said in the aftermath of the Kensington Oval escape. “They’ve really turned this team around. They’re playing for each other, they’re playing with a spirit that’s great. It is just so good to see West Indies cricket on the up again. We've only got respect and admiration for what they’ve done.”

The Windies fight has got the bars, beaches and streets of the Caribbean buzzing that maybe, just maybe, their cricketers are becoming something to be proud of again. For three days in Barbados the Windies appeared to be set to pick up their first Test victory over Australia since a three-wicket win in St John's in 2003.

In the end a bold declaration by Michael Clarke and a rousing two-day fightback enabled the tourists to sneak home and deny the Windies victory but the display certainly hadn't gone unnoticed by Australia - who are more mindful than ever they're up against a tough and talented opponent.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of how far the Windies have come in the past 18 months was Sammy's disappointment at missing out on the win in Barbados. The allrounder could easily have chosen to focus on the three days his team were on top than how the match ended up but experiencing the pain of dominating a top team and then falling short with victory in sight is starting to grate on the affable St Lucian.

In their three-Test series in India last year, the Windies twice held first-innings leads only to wind up losing the first Test before the third Test in Mumbai ended in just the second same-score draw in Test history.

In many ways Sammy - who battles critics who feel he wouldn't even be in the Test team if it wasn't for the captain's 'c' next to name on the teamsheet - is the good cop to Gibson's bad cop.

The 28-year-old is the man who puts an arm around his young charges - openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Adrian Barath are 19 and 21 respectively for instance - to ensure they have self-belief and heart.

Gibson, who forged his work ethic and uncompromising attitude during a nomadic career through the relentless professional grind of England's county system, is a stern tactician. He accepts no excuses and asks the best of those under his watch.

It's a professional relationship that appears to be delivering stability and promise, and now Sammy knows the next step is to start developing that killer instinct that will ensure they start getting fear rather than just respect from their opponents.

“We keep getting close but we just need to find a way to get over that hurdle. That last hurdle” Sammy said.

Clear that hurdle and the great Australia-West Indies clashes of years past will be back for a new generation to enjoy.

Taken from Australian Associated Press

Sat, 04/14/2012 - 02:12