IT’S BEEN A long time since the gifted cricketers of the Caribbean ruled the world – but they might be going from bad to worse, says Chief Writer RON REED:
ARE THE WEST INDIES now the worst Test cricket team in memory? Well, at least – flippancy alert! – they can’t be accused of having no hope – make that Hope with a capital H. Two brothers by that name, Kyle and Shai, were part of the team that were slaughtered by an innings and 209 by England under lights at Birmingham last weekend. Even with a double dose of Hope, the Windies were, yes, hopeless. And there is no reason to expect anything better when this series – England’s last hit-out before the Ashes blockbuster in Australia – resumes on Friday.
The ever-trenchant Geoffrey Boycott has declared them to be the worst Test team he has seen in more than 50 years in the game (he may or may not be overlooking Bangladesh in their early years) and the legendary Caribbean fast bowler Curtly Ambrose – who seems to finally be becoming outspoken in his dotage – finds them embarrassing. Well, losing 19 wickets in a day, as they did after allowing the hosts to run up 514, is enough to make you avert your eyes whether you barrack for them or not.
But surely not a lot was expected from a team that if not the worst in the world – the worst ever? – is definitely one of the least experienced. The 11 had played 184 Tests between them, or an average of 16 each. None had played 40 and only two – opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite and fast bowler Kemar Roach, with 37 each – had played more than 25. Everyone was aged under 30 and even the captain Jason Holder, who is 25, was playing only his 23rd match. Only one batsman, 11-gamer Roston Chase, averages better than 35 with the bat and the five bowlers used have fewer than 200 wickets between them, of which Roach now has 124.
So, not a lot to work with. How come? Well, one reason has been well known for quite some time now, namely that to many West Indian cricketers – especially those with limited time left in the game – it has become far more important to chase the big money in the Twenty20 leagues around the world than to play Test cricket.
One of those moneyball competitions, the Caribbean Premier League, is in full swing right now. There are some familiar names playing, including Australia’s Shane Watson and New Zealander Brendon McCullum. And, of course, the best player the West Indies has produced in the 21st century, Chris Gayle. Now 37, the former captain and prolific opening batsman played the last of his 103 Tests three years ago and makes far too much money, and has far too much fun, on the T20 circuit to ever consider returning to the long format, which he once described as boring.
Here are 10 other West Indians playing in the same competition who could possibly combine with Gayle to make up a more competitive team than the one touring England, even allowing for the fact that all but one or two of them are well on their way down the far side of the hill.
Carlos Brathwaite, age 29, three Tests. Darren Bravo, age 28, 49 Tests. Dwayne Bravo, age 33, 40 Tests. Sunil Narine, age 29, six Tests. Denesh Ramdin, age 32, 74 Tests. Jerome Taylor, age 33, 46 Tests. Marlon Samuels, age 36, 71 Tests. Darren Sammy, age 33, 38 Tests. Tino Best, age 35, 25 Tests. Kieron Pollard, age 30, no Tests but 91 ODIs.
It’s futile, of course, to spend much time speculating whether such a team would do better than the one on the ground in England, and the West Indies powers-that-be cannot be criticised for giving young players their opportunities. But it is a frustrating sign of the times for those West Indies fans – however many of them there might still be now – who are as embarrassed as big Curtly is.
The bowler once feared around the world for his aggression said that when he was bowling coach for two years recently – including when they were thrashed 2-0 with one rain-induced draw in Australia two years ago – said the current crop do not understand what playing for the West Indies means for the Caribbean people.
“I never saw any aggression from the West Indies players throughout the three days. There was no belief they could compete let alone beat England,” he wrote in the Daily Mail. “They seemed to be waiting for England to make mistakes and at this level that is not going to work. Trust me, it was painful to watch.
“What concerns me is that I do not think these players know what West Indies cricket means to West Indians and followers of the global game. We tried to educate them about our heritage. I tried to tell them what West Indies cricket meant. I talked about the pride and passion in representing the region and our people.
“I could talk to them all day but once they stepped over that rope they were on their own and if they were not prepared to listen, it was simply a waste of time. It does hurt.”
Boycott said in The Telegraph: “They can’t bat and they can’t bowl. It is a cricketing tragedy to see the West Indies like this and there is no gloating over them losing. It is just sad to see a once-proud cricket Test team lower than any I have seen before.”
What’s more, he said such a no-contest would be no help in preparing for the Ashes.
The West Indies plight worsened slightly after the match when Braithwaite, 24, was officially ruled to have a suspect bowling action, which must be investigated within a fortnight. It’s hardly another layer of crisis because his off-spinners have only ever claimed 12 wickets, six of them in one innings against Sri Lanka two years ago.
But it’s another blow for morale, especially for Holder, who was the second youngest captain in West Indies history when he was appointed just before the tour to Australia, where he became the youngest captain from anywhere to lead a team into the Boxing Day cauldron at the MCG. The coach then, Phil Simmons, said the Barbadian was coping with the pressure well, and elder statesman Clive Lloyd also expressed confidence in him.
“He is a very intelligent guy, people like him. And he is a tremendous cricketer,” said Lloyd, one of the most respected Windies captains himself. “He is young and he will be judged as he goes along. But once he improves he will be a captain for a very long while. We realise how difficult it is going to be for a young side so we just have to give him as much help as possible to get us back on track. We didn’t expect it to be easy. It’s a learning curve.”
It continues to be that with Holder for reason known only to himself declining to take a new pink ball when it became available in the twilight zone on day two, a decision which saw current coach, Australian Stuart Law, sit with his head buried in his hands. Holder couldn’t hide his disappointment after the thrashing – “It’s been a tough few days … we just weren’t up to scratch,” he said – but he continues to talk the talk, or to whistle in the dark, as the case may be. “The series is not lost … I have to believe every team is beatable. Each player has to look themselves in the mirror and see where they can improve.”
Here’s hoping they can: there is no pleasure seeing them humiliated to that extent, and nor do we here in Australia need to see the Poms allowed the luxury of honing their confidence levels for free.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.