June 8, 2014

Caribbean second comings

The return of Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn and Dwayne Bravo to the West Indies Test squad shows that no door is truly closed when it comes to sports

Sulieman Benn stormed his way back with 37 wickets in seven matches in the 2013-14 regional four-day competition © WICB Media/Ashley Allen

Easter in the Caribbean is an enchanting time of year. Signs of life and energy permeate the atmosphere: kites of all shapes and sizes swirl in the breeze, and families contribute to the cheer by being more engaged than usual in the hustle and bustle of life. My last visit to the Caribbean a few weeks ago coincided with Easter, and those kites and that zest reminded me of the ubiquitous theme of the season - resurrection, and the message of a second coming, a rebirth, and a celebrated return.

The idea of glorious returns got my mental gears turning; returns, or second chances, in the world of cricket, are not that common. For every successful comeback, there are many stories that don't enjoy pleasant endings. It is inherent to the über-competitive nature of the game that progressing to the highest level is very difficult, and the re-attainment of such a position is even harder. Nevertheless, the West Indies Test squad for the beginning of the 2014 home season boasts a variety of notable reappearances after prolonged absences.

I can hardly believe that it has been over three years since Dwayne Bravo and Sulieman Benn last donned West Indies Test caps (both last played against Sri Lanka in December 2010). One would have to rewind a year earlier, to November 2009 against Australia, to spot Jerome Taylor with the red cherry in hand in a Test. These three, however, have been recalled to the Test fold, and while Bravo is not among the final 13 for the first Test (due to continuing injury rehabilitation), all three renaissance stories are edifying.

It is sometimes the case that time and obsolescence can confine players to sporting extinction. Benn seemed destined to be an example of such a scenario, as a few poor performances, coupled with a temperamental attitude and the emergence of Shane Shillingford and Devendra Bishoo as formidable Test spinners, seemed to drive him out of reckoning. A strong will to return, though, is a powerful motivator to resist the push from contention, and the tall left-armer has demonstrated the skill and desire to be back in Windies whites.

In fact, in the most recent regional four-day season, he took the second-most wickets and seems to have grown as a professional. His story is telling - while the passage of time is inevitable, it does not have to dictate that a career is erased and irretrievable. Growth and consistency can open the door to renewed opportunities even though time appears to have already expired.

It can also be the case that careers come to a halt without a straightforward explanation, as many factors can convene to affect involvement. The Test path of Bravo is instructive, because trying to pinpoint a single reason for his prolonged absence is painstaking. While he is the West Indies' ODI captain and a highly successful T20 cricketer, Bravo has played a mere 40 Tests since his 2004 debut. The explanations are abundant: his Test statistics suggest uncertainty about his ability to take wickets and score runs; Darren Sammy's presence for years likely minimised his chances for Test selection based on a redundant skill set; global T20 participation and a regular absence from regional first-class cricket may have demonstrated limited interest in Tests; et al.

All of those reasons, though, amount to naught - second chances can sometimes come from a gut feeling or opinions gathered from different but related arenas. Given the great Tony Cozier's recent lament about the lack of quality allrounders in West Indian cricket, Bravo is simply too skilled a cricketer to not take another chance on. In the same way that careers can end on a whim, so too can they be resuscitated when all may have seemed lost. God-given talent and production (albeit in other formats) can revive chances, and suggest that no door is truly closed when it comes to sports.

Notwithstanding the circumstances that push players out of contention, comeback stories always have great charm, for they signify an unyielding spirit. Jerome "Bobby" Taylor's return to the fore is a classic case of a never-say-die attitude, even though many would have mentally condemned him to retirement years ago. With a sleek bowling action and the batting ability to bludgeon a century from No. 8, Taylor's conspicuous absence from cricket, especially Tests, has been nothing short of bizarre. It is difficult to say why he has been missing in action since 2009, but injury has played a dominant role; his full participation in the regional Super50 and four-day tournaments while taking a fair number of wickets, though, has been heartening. His return to the senior ranks is laudable after such a long period away, and represents the nature of second comings in sport - players who went from being bright prospects to being forgotten can re-emerge as worldly veterans.

Accomplishments like Taylor's go beyond mere cricketing efficiency - they are a triumph of the body over barriers, the ego over condemnation, and the mind over fears and scepticism. The potential revitalisation of a career is the sort of incentive that inspires many to continue to push themselves towards a shot at return and eventual redemption.

The second comings of Benn, Bravo and Taylor are just the latest instalments in instances of refreshed careers, and for the sake of fans, one hopes that they can inspire the likes of Bishoo, Simmons and Barath (among many others) from the West Indies, and so many across the cricketing globe, to make their ways back. No career is "done" until it is officially called to an end; an opportunity may always come knocking. It may not be today, or tomorrow, or next season, or next year. It may not be as planned, or as hoped, or as dreamed. It may not ever happen. But as cricket, and sports at large, continues to show, it can happen - and that's inspiration in itself.

This is my first piece on the Cordon, and I feel honoured. I am but a West Indies fan who watches cricket through maroon-tinted glasses, and I thank everyone who has helped me to have the extraordinary opportunity to share my thoughts. I especially thank my dad for teaching me about this marvellous sport several years ago. Here's to many ideas shared with you, the readers, for a long time to come

Roger Sawh is a law student in Canada. He writes at www.sawhoncricket.com. @sawhoncricket