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The twisted tale of the Windies

After a turbulent year, the West Indians are on the up again, and for upstart's Ben Waterworth, this means the promise of some entertaining innings of cricket for Australian fans in the coming weeks.

Lara. Richards. Sobers. Marshall. Holding. Ambrose. Garner.

These are some of the most brilliant and intimidating cricketers that have ever toured Australia. Just mentioning their names used to send shivers down the spine of past Australian players.

While they appeared to play with a carefree attitude, in reality these West Indies cricketers played like men possessed. They constantly strived to make their country proud and would do anything to win.

For the West Indies team that will hit our shores very soon, it’s going to be a tour that will test them both physically and mentally. The squad is nowhere near as threatening as past West Indian teams, but there is an even bigger issue that will challenge the West Indies.

Unfortunately, 2009 has been a horrible year for West Indies cricket. In July, almost all of its best 11 players, which included Captain Chris Gayle and star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, refused to play for their country, due to pay disputes in their contracts. The situation was sketchy to say the least, with very few details being released to the public.

The boycott left the board with no option but to field an almost third-rate side. Led by Captain Floyd Reifer, a 37 year-old whose last test match was back in 1997, the West Indies performed horrendously against lowly Bangladesh team and in the International Cricket Counil (ICC)  Champions Trophy.

It was embarrassing. In the months that followed, the West Indies were only able to manage just one victory in the ICC Champion’s Trophy. It was a paltry and pathetic effort by a team that has had such a strong and dominant cricketing history.

Thankfully, players and the board have finally come to a resolution in the past few weeks. Now, a full-strength West Indies team will play Australia in a three-test series, with the first test starting on November 26.

You could almost hear the sigh of relief exhaled by Cricket Australia Chief James Sutherland when the good news was broken. If the West Indies board and players had not pulled their act together and united as one, the whole summer could have turned into an embarrassing farce for Cricket Australia.

So while this West Indies side might not possess as much class compared to past sides, it still has a number of exciting players that will be sure to entertain crowds throughout the summer.

The captain, Chris Gayle, is one of the most exciting batsmen in the world if the ball finds the middle of his bat. Gayle, on a good day, will single-handedly demolish a bowling attack with powerful hitting and glorious stroke play. He has the record for the fastest Twenty20 hundred in international cricket, and is the last West Indian to reach 300 runs in an innings.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan seem as though they have been around for ages. With a vast array of experience between them, the two world class batsmen form the backbone of the West Indian middle order. Chanderpaul averages a very impressive 49.2 runs an innings in tests and his unusual batting stance continues to baffle bowlers all over the world. The classy Sarwan averages a very healthy 42.3 and after almost a decade in the game, he is now recognised as one of the most mature batsmen in world cricket.

A consistent all-rounder who can perform at the top level is extremely difficult to find these days. But the West Indies have found an absolute beauty in Dwayne Bravo. Not only can he bat and bowl, but he is easily their best fielder in the side as well. Still only 26, Bravo has made two hundred’s, one against Australia in 2005, and taken two five-wicket hauls. And the aspect of Bravo’s game that will significantly help the West Indies is that he lifts when they play Australia. With a batting average of 39.1 and an impressive bowling average of 31.7 against the Aussies, Bravo is the ‘x-factor’ for the West Indies and his performances will likely reflect how his team is going as well.

Hopefully, West Indies players can put a chaotic and wasted year behind them and unite for the summer. And if they come to Australia with the right mindset and with a bit of luck, the Australians might be in for a unexpected test.

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He also writes regularly for upstart about AFL.

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