June 14, 2014

The utterly expected tale of the Kiwi Calypso

The only thing to raise an eyebrow at in the Sabina Park Test was Chris Gayle's vow of abstinence

The Kiwis graciously show excitement at beating West Indies despite no one in the stadium believing any other result was possible © Associated Press

Children are generally quite gullible. I was a child so I know. When I was young, I was happy to believe in all kinds of nonsense: tooth fairies, vampires, shape-shifting alien monsters, flying robots, talking cars, supply-side economics.

But if you'd told me that in my lifetime a touring New Zealand team would crush West Indies by 186 runs at Sabina Park, in Kingston, in Jamaica, I'd have given you a suspicious, narrow-eyed look, before backing away slowly and running off to find a policeman. Either that or I'd think you were a traveller from the seventh dimension and ask you for Darth Vader's autograph.

No film studio on the planet would have touched the script for Kiwi Calypso: an uplifting tale of how a plucky nation famous for flightless birds, wind, and unnecessarily confrontational rugby dances, overcame the odds to beat the greatest cricket team ever assembled in their own backyard. An audience can suspend disbelief in the case of bike-riding aliens, self-driving cars and flying men in blue tights, but New Zealand beating West Indies in Jamaica? Come on buddy, no one's buying that.

The remarkable thing about this reversal in cricket fortune is how unremarkable it now seems. Everyone who read the news had the same reaction:

"I see West Indies lost again, dear."
"Was it to Papua New Guinea?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Damn. I had money on them losing to Papua New Guinea."
"To be fair to them, dear, they weren't playing Papua New Guinea."
"So who was it?"
"Let me see. Ah, it says New Zealand."
"Oh. Well that's not very surprising."
"No, I agree, it isn't particularly remarkable. Could you pass the marmalade?"

New Zealanders would have had exactly the same conversation, accompanied, perhaps, by the raising of one eyebrow, whilst West Indies fans would know better than to read the cricket news during a home Test series.

So what has happened to West Indies? We know their Test team used to be very good. We know they are no longer very good. We can measure the angle of the slope of their decline (about 45 degrees) the extent of the deterioration in percentage terms (roughly 100) and we can even name the slump after the man who has diligently recorded it: let's call it the Cozier Rate Of Caribbean Test Cricket Performance Entropy.

But why has it happened? Experts on West Indian cricket have all pitched in over the years, but their explanations sound like the collected attempts of a series of druids, shamans and amateur wizards to explain why tides happen. Is it the lure of basketball? The magnetic power of athletics? Global warming? Bad karma? The Iraq war? Meanwhile, the tide comes in, the tide goes out and the West Indies lose.

There were two more alarming facts in this stranger-than-fiction, yet strangely predictable result. First, the home side played two fast bowlers. As far as I'm concerned, two fast bowlers is two fast bowlers short of a West Indies attack. I'm sure there's a clause in the WICB constitution requiring a minimum of four scary pace men in every West Indian team, and if there isn't such a clause, there should be.

Secondly, Chris Gayle appears to have taken a vow of abstinence. In the first innings, for possibly the first time in the history of the universe, he batted more slowly than Shivnarine Chanderpaul. This may be related to the fact that he has been reading Geoffrey Boycott's 13th volume of autobiography: I Told Thee I Were Right. But whatever the cause, he needs to rethink his strategy. There may be many reasons why Chris Gayle was put on this planet, but grinding out half-centuries at a strike rate of one run every two balls was not one of them. Pull yourself together, Chris. Your loose confederation of regionally proximate but mutually antagonistic sovereign nations needs you.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here