December 20, 1999

The West Indies Cricket Team: Excellence in Ineptness

One Sports Radio headline suggested: "New Zealand crush West Indies by 9 wickets." Considering the relative positions of the two teams after Day 1 of the 1st Test, this headline seems as if it came from the Twilight Zone. Yet, it was very true!!

I made the completely asinine assumption, at the end of the first day of this first Test match, to suggest that the West Indies could not lose the game from that position. I am sure that normal people would forgive me for that thought when one remembered that the West Indies were 282-1 going into the second day. This must be the best start of an innings effected by a Test team, which ends up losing the Test by nine wickets, with four hours left in the final day, after losing four hours in the fourth day.

Unfortunately for me, I gave too much credit to supposed normalcy in cricket, not remembering, firstly, that "cricket is a game of glorious uncertainty" and secondly, that the West Indies are very capable of "superlatives in ineptness." In a word, this was "crap cricket", as played by the West Indies!!

It was an extra-ordinarily bad display at the highest level of the cricket game. Except for the opening partnership on that first day, the West Indian cricket was really at a second rate standard. Obviously, New Zealand adapted better to the mental toughness needed to continue and win the game. The entire New Zealand team, from the captain, Stephen Fleming, onwards, should be complemented for their individual and team efforts.

A few decisions may have gone against the West Indies, the main one being Chris Cairns being adjudged "not out" when clearly "out" while making his first run. He eventually made a New Zealand top score of 72, maybe a Test winning innings, getting to 2000 Test runs in the process.

However, that does not overshadow the absolute capitulation of the West Indies batting in the second innings to be all out for 97. No technological snafu was present here. The New Zealand "Black Caps" simply outplayed the West Indies in the second half of the Test match. The overall display of the West Indies cricket team, in the field and when batting, after that first innings start, was a complete disgrace.

Some of the field placings and outfielding, and bowling seemed to be coming from the Marx Brothers, not a professional team of international cricketers, playing at the highest level. Even the usually level-headed Ridley Jacobs was below par with his wicket-keeping, and his run out in the second innings was highly comical.

Some figures are necessary to describe the facts here.

The West Indies second innings lasted 229 minutes. That is less than five hours for a Test innings, on a perfectly placid pitch. Maybe they thought that they were in a one day game, where an innings goes for about two and a half hours.

After that first innings start by Adrian Griffith and Sherwin Campbell of 276, the West Indian batsmen then managed a really dismal 180 runs for the additional 19 wickets lost in the Test. Truly unbelievable, under the very pleasant and less than hostile playing conditions.

The West Indies 97 in the second innings was the second lowest total made by the West Indies against New Zealand. The lowest was actually 77, made in Auckland in 1955/56, chasing 267. It could also be noted that the West Indies did manage 51, earlier this year, against the Australians at Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Incidentally, they did bounce back well to win two Tests afterwards, thanks to Brian Lara's phenomenal efforts. How they react to this latest debacle would only be obvious with time.

The chief destroyer, in every sense of the word, of the West Indies in this first Test match, was Chris Cairns, easily the "Man of the Match". He had some fantastic bowling figures in the Test. In the first innings, his figures were 31-11-73-3. In the second innings, he ended up with these figures; 22.5-10-27-7. His fifth day figures were an astonishing; 11.5-5-16-5; tremendous match figures of 10 wickets for 100 runs. Those figures take on an even more dramatic presence when one considers that Cairns only got his first wicket after conceding some 62 runs in the first innings. In effect, he had 10 wickets for 38 runs after that. That gives him 143 Test wickets so far in Test cricket.

Only Sir Richard Hadlee, for New Zealand, has better all round figures than Chris Cairns. Hadlee managed 3124 runs and 431 wickets in Tests. In the meantime, Chris Cairns has become the consummate performing all-rounder.

Cairns did exactly what fast bowlers are supposed to do in the West Indies second innings. He bowled aggressively, was very determined, varied his pace along the way, and kept the batsmen playing at almost all of his deliveries. The truth is that Cairns did nothing more than is expected of an international cricketer. He probably could not even think that his luck could be that great to be up against such an unconvincing set of batting as was displayed by the West Indies.

Personally, Cairns also did some special stuff. He has already taken 40 wickets in nine Tests this year, having not played at all against South Africa, injured with a torn calf muscle. He emulated his father in this first Test effort by getting seven wickets in an innings. Lance Cairns produced well for New Zealand in the 70's and 80's, getting his seven wicket haul, 7-73, against England at Leeds in 1983. Perhaps only Graeme Pollock, Peter Pollock and Shaun Pollock of South Africa, and of course, the Mohammeds of Pakistan, are comparable as father/son or family contributors to international cricket in recent times.

This seven wicket haul from Chris Cairns is also the third highest, or best figures, from a New Zealander. Only (Sir) Richard Hadlee, with 9-52 against Australia at Brisbane, in 1985-86, and 7-23 against India at Wellington in 1975-76, rate any better. Chris Cairns must have arrived when he has his name associated with such a tremendous and honored performer as (Sir) Richard Hadlee.

Brian Lara lamented after the game that he was particularly disappointed with both the outcome of the game and his own contribution to it. His extravagant drive in the second innings to get out might even have brought great embarrassment to Groucho Marx. Given the context of the game at that time, it was as poor a stroke as can be imagined.

Ricardo Powell, on the other hand, seemed to think that he could slash the cover from the ball. I am one who believes that once a player gets to Test level, he must acclimatize quickly. Test cricket is not for babies. Test cricket is not the same as any other form of cricket. Powell must learn, quickly, that he must respect the opposition, or, as was done in this game, he will be embarrassed.

Maybe two sets of positives came from this game for the West Indies. Firstly, both Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith played well enough to be given an extended run as openers. Indeed, I think that the selectors should openly suggest this. Secondly, Reon King should warrant special comment. He easily outbowled the rest of his fast bowling counterparts. Indeed, without King, the West Indies probably would have faced a larger deficit, as Courtney Walsh and especially Franklyn Rose were very ineffective, at best. Thirdly, Dininath Ramnarine showed, with his very positive returns, that, contrary to recent West Indies cricket thoughts and history, the West Indies will probably have to play with a spinner at all times in the foreseeable future.

A tremendous amount of work will now be necessary from Clive Lloyd, especially Viv Richards and Brian Lara. This is the ninth game in succession that the West Indies have lost away from home, having lost 3-0 to Pakistan in 1997/8 and 5-0 to South Africa in 1998/9. For the West Indies, the rot must stop sometime. At least they hope so. Perhaps it will begin with the Boxing Day Test.