West Indian Cricket
A casual examination of the South Africa v West Indies test series which ended today would reveal many of the flaws which have bedevilled West Indian cricket and marked its rapid decline this century.
Poor administration, coaching, captaincy and team selection have all been evident. Greed, engendered by the IPL, poor discipline, a lack of ambition, an absence of pride leading to player absenteeism, little determination or the stomach for a fight and very little intelligence or stamina have all been there for those prepared to see them.
Since 2002, other than series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, the West Indies have won only three, all at home. How different it all was in the last two decades of the twentieth century. From 1980 until 1995 West Indies did not lose a series. What are the reasons for the change? It is by no means certain that the administration, coaching or captaincy were a great deal better than they are now. Certainly there was a greater pool of talent available, particularly in fast bowling and there were world class batsmen but the real divide comes in the attitude of players. Most exhibited a pride in playing for their country, a sense of responsibility and self belief. Batsmen were prepared to play long innings and did not gift their wickets to bowlers. Despite the fact that Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Croft, Daniel, Ambrose and Walsh were all genuinely quick bowlers, they were not constantly breaking down with injuries, as seems to be the case with the modern West Indian fast bowler. Although they bowled at high pace, they all regularly put the ball in the right areas.
The recent test series against South Africa illustrates many of the current problems. The tour was in jeopardy before it even began, owing to wrangling between administrators and players. For one reason or another, the Bravo brothers, Pollard, Sammy, Shillingford and Gayle were not in the team. Gayle has stated that he has no time for test cricket and developed a mysterious injury which prevented him from playing in the tests but somehow enabled him to continue playing 50 over cricket!
Early in the first test, the premier fast bowler, Roach was out of the tour with an injury. In the first innings of that test, four of the top order passed 30, none made 40. In the first innings of the third test, five of the top seven passed 40, none made 60. This is an indication not of lack of talent but of lack of application. Wickets were lost, not to unplayable balls but tossed away with a shrug of the shoulders as a result of careless, thoughtless shots when batsmen were well set. Tailenders were exposed and rather than gritting their teeth and battling to survive, they responded with wild swipes, inevitably surrendering their wickets. Good partnerships were broken by injudicious shot making followed by extraordinary collapses.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is an example of the old fashioned West Indian cricketer. He still loves to play for his country and although approaching middle age, his work ethic is an example to younger players. He sells his wicket dearly and is more interested in test cricket than the rapid riches of the IPL. He is disciplined, proud, determined, prepared to occupy the crease for as long as it takes and concentrates fiercely. Unfortunately, his colleagues do not appear to be made of the same stuff.
The West Indies require honest, competent administrators, a consistent, intelligent selection policy, players prepared to commit to West Indian test cricket and the unlikely emergence of a captain in the vein of the inspirational and much admired Frank Worrell. Only then will the world be able, once again, to enjoy the delights of the best that those islands are capable of producing.