There’s not much to be said about West Indies cricket that hasn’t already been said in the last 10 years or so. If you’re looking for spots of brightness, optimism and hope for a glowing future, then you’d need a time machine. Or a historian who can verbally transport you into the archives where terms like ‘Pace Like Fire’ or ‘Licks Like Peas’ would apply. The good ole’ days, you know? The stuff you’d hear from your father and his father. And his father.
Presently, world cricket is oriented more around commercialization and marketing, which is by no means a bad thing because it’s a business after all. Players, owners, boards and all relevant stakeholders need to be fed. No qualms there. However, once this business ambition compromises the integrity of a team, that’s where the line should be drawn. When it chips away at the mysticism, romance and purity of the game, then what’s really left to enjoy? Cheerleaders? Alcohol-fuelled festivities? Parties off-field rather than principles on-field? What good is it if our cricket gains the whole world but loses its soul?
The bare-boned truth needs to be delivered now. West Indies’ fragility isn’t there anymore. There’s no fracture point in the armour…and we should be pleased, not so? But that’s not the case because there’s no armour. We’re fully exposed. Vulnerable. And ripe for the picking as seen with the potential of missing out on the 2017 International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy. Few will admit that our region’s team, no matter how much David Rudder’s call to rally blares through speakers, is broken. If you still hold glimmers of promise, I draw some solace from you. I envy you eternal optimists and those still in love with the game.
If you think this scathing assessment I’m delivering here is unwarranted, then please prove me wrong. Until then, sound facts and results exist to do the talking for me. The India protest and the now-patched issues between the Board and Players’ Association? 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup Performance? Before you counter with the 1-1 Test series draw against England at home in April/May 2015, let me shunt you into an even more recent spate of events. Back-to-back Test defeats to Australia in June, lasting just seven days out of a maximum ten.
At least, we’re consistent in that for every step taken forward, we take at least six back.
Many teams emerged from the World Cup licking wounds but none as paralysed as West Indies. Management did try to be a bit proactive in the ensuing months so commendations must be paid there. Like moves on a chessboard, everything was under scrutiny and met mixed receptions.
The Twenty20 (T20) stars such as Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard left Denesh Ramdin to lead the Test charge on his own against their English and Aussie counterparts. Phil Simmons and Clive Lloyd then made a valiant but welcomed attempt to inject new blood into the team, subtly hinting that they’d rather lose with regional youngsters ready to give it their all as opposed those hunting T20 premier leagues for a bang and a buck. But as the Windies crumbled in the long format, these short-format kings endured success, with Pollard and Simmons winning the Indian Premier League (IPL) with Mumbai while throwing shade on the silver medals of Bravo and Dwayne Smith. It appeared we needed them, despite their less-than-impressive stats in Tests. Coach Simmons initiated talks with the India swashbucklers, as well as with Sunil Narine and the man India reveres as the best T20 player in the world, Andre Russell; but it seems that mere lip-service was paid. They all appear set to remain in the Windies wilderness, by choice now. Russell, in particular, comes as a severe blow given his age (27) and the fact that he’s now in his explosive prime, which Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Jamaica Tallawahs, are benefitting from. After all, you don’t become the MVP of the 2015 IPL unless you’ve got that something extra.
Nonetheless, without these bigwigs, new scapegoats were needed a la our usual crabs-in-a-bucket syndrome. Select and experienced players, who we’d usually rely on, shunned accountability and looked as if they cared not for the team. We looked like an A-team instead of seniors. The new formula of youth, tried and tested, now seems to be more than a work-in-progress given the unceremonious exile of Shivnarine Chanderpaul against Australia following some dismal scores against Alastair Cook’s team. There was no Tendulkar-esque farewell. Nothing bar media backlash. He still harbours a sliver of hope it appears, given he’s yet to make a statement but right now, as polarized a topic as it is, Shiv’s return looks unlikely. Just as much as the T20 bigwigs, despite the lip-service they pay to Caribbean press and Windies’ upper-management.
Some say ‘All Isn’t Lost’ because Devendra Bishoo, Jerome Taylor, Jermaine Blackwood and Shai Hope, among others, seem to have fight in them. They look more bite than bark. Jason Holder stands out the most, ready to rough it and take the reins from an uninspiring Ramdin. He showed this as One-Day skipper in his World Cup baptism of fire. He could surely use support from fellow Bajan, Kraigg Brathwaite, who quickly went off the boil. All in all though, there are characteristics and attributes to be admired.
But the thing is, they easily wilted under the Aussie pressure. The visitors never looked flustered or willing to kick into a higher gear because dismantling the likes of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels looked like a leisurely stroll. Like a formality. Like players who deserve white flags as opposed to white kits. They froze just like Daren Ganga did when he was thrown to the wolves against South African pace in the ‘90s. Think I’m mistaken? See Rajindra Chandrika’s pair on debut.
And that seems to be the modus operandi for the discipline of West Indies’ upcomers today. Freddie Mercury wouldn’t be impressed at how easily they crack. Are the Under-19s making noise? How sturdy are the domestic leagues? What about the quality of the regional tournaments in terms of Four-Day and One-Day cricket? Have pitches improved? Are our players mentally prepared for the rigours of the game? Is the High Performance Centre (HPC) ready to rival the class of cricket academies in the Eastern Hemisphere? Are the older heads returning to coach our players really good investments? Are the younglings accepting their sage advice? I could go on and on but I’m tired of falling on deaf ears.
There are too many questions left to ask. And which will linger for years to come.
Because West Indies cricket lack structure. If there’s no spine, no backbone…what are we? And that’s where I deliver this reality check. We’re a region whose players have now began lusting for T20 contracts even before they can fathom batting out a Saturday and Sunday of domestic cricket. They’ve got eyes on mohawks, chain on necks, gold-bands on wrists and sunglasses at night, all precursor to grabbing a mic at the club when celebrating a win (notwithstanding that a follow-up game is two days away). I’ll be the cynic and you be the dreamer. I offer you the blue pill and the red one. It’s up to you.
I’ve been backstage asking the opposition questions about their tactics towards the Windies and just how much of a threat they should respect the team as. And in all their mannerisms and answers, from Stuart Broad to Michael Clarke, it’s apparent that they’re faking it. They clearly won’t say it but I can feel it resonating. These teams deep down believe we’re a laughing stock. And a confidence-booster.
As fans, we’ve lived, lost and loved.
I apologize for any offence you may take here in advance.
But until then, with a heavy heart, I’ll carry on. Sitting in the media box, criticizing, reminiscing, contemplating the day I’ll have to swallow these words and my pride.
Until then, I’ll be listening to Nappy Mayers, awaiting that glorious dawn. And that long-lost son called West Indies Cricket! I don’t need him fixed. I just need him found, with a hunger and heart to be the best once more.