January 4, 2001

Oh, For a Good West Indian spinner of any kind

Things have gone so badly for the West Indian cricketers on this tour of Australia, with the batsmen being the primary offenders.

However, the bowlers have also come in for some criticism, even though they have done a much better job overall. Lack of consistency has been the general complaint about the younger fast bowlers especially.

So, it was not until the series was long lost, and to no-one's surprise, that Mahendra Nagamootoo, the Guyanese leg-spinner and lone official spinner in the touring team, after myriad urgings, was selected by the West Indies for the final Test. Considering that the writing was on the wall for the West Indies so very early in the tour, perhaps Nagamootoo should have been selected as early as the third Test at Adelaide?

Mahendra Nagamootoo
Photo Allsport/Aus

For someone who was playing only his second Test, Nagamootoo did not do too badly, taking 3-119 from 35 overs. Unlike Stuart MacGill on the first day, however, Nagamootoo seldom found turn from the pitch, preferring to try to dismiss the batsmen with extra bounce and the occasional top-spinner.

For the leg-spinning pundits of the game, former Australian leg-spinners Terry Jenner and Kerry O'Keeffe, Nagamootoo "simply bowls too quickly, sometimes ripping it in at as much as 100kph. He does not 'loop' the ball enough to allow it to 'bight and turn'. He is more of a 'roller' than a 'spinner'." So said the experts.

Since 1996, the last time that the West Indies visited the Australian shores, there have been strange events when it came to West Indian spinners playing Test cricket. It must also be remembered that the West Indies have been so pace based that any combination of ten West Indian quickies could have played since 1996.

Many people have suggested that, "when the West Indies had Lance Gibbs, who finished up with 309 Test wickets, the West Indies had good spinners."

I would like to remind those folks that while Gibbs was certainly a great off-spinner, ably assisted by (Sir) Garfield Sobers, who was the all-in-one bowler, with his pace, orthodox and unorthodox bowling styles, the West Indies bowling attack was still pace based, with Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lester King, Richard "Prof" Edwards and even guys like Keith Boyce and Grayson Shillingford playing as fast bowlers. Pace has been boss for a long time now.

I know that many would also suggest that Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine have both done marvellously in their time, literally winning the series in England in 1950 with their guile and longevity.

Even then, though, and certainly towards the end of the 50's, the fast bowling stuff was starting to take hold.

Names like Patterson Thompson, Kenny Benjamin, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose, Franklyn Rose, Merve Dillon, Reon King, Nixon McLean, Marlon Black and Colin Stuart have featured in the West Indies pace attack since 1996.

Since 1996, when the West Indies actually toured Australia without a recognised spinner in their midst, the following have been the West Indies spinners. Rawl Lewis, leg-spinner, Dinanath Ramnarine, leg-spinner, Nehemiah Perry, off-spinner, Rajindra Dhanraj, leg-spinner, up until 1999, the almost ubiquitous Carl Hooper, whose off-breaks helped the fast bowlers much, and now Mahendra Nagamootoo.

The important thing to note is that none of the West Indies spinners, except Hooper, who was more of a batting all-rounder than a bowling all-rounder, was given an elongated run in Test cricket.

Except for Perry, who had three Tests consecutively, as the "real" spinner, the others have only played in single or maybe two Tests consecutively.

In the last four years, with tours to Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, England and now Australia, the West Indies had a new spinner for each tour, and then, that spinner hardly featured.

After having his Test debut way back in 1997/8 against Pakistan at Peshawar, Lewis has only played three Tests, taking one single wicket, giving away 318 runs in the process.

Dinanath Ramnarine made his debut against England at Georgetown in 1997/8, and he too has only played three Tests matches, being the victim of unfitness and injures too. His 12 wickets have been cheap, though; average 19.50. Had he been fully fit for the period since his debut, he probably would have had a long run.

Nehemiah Perry debuted against the Australians at Sabina Park in 1998/9. He even got five wickets on his debut, but has fared little better than the others. He has now played four Tests, taking 10 wickets at an average of 44.60

Rajindra Dhanraj debuted against India at Bombay in 1994/5. He was destroyed by some poor captaincy by Richie Richardson in 1995 in England, and never recovered. He played only four Tests, with eight wickets at an average of 74.37.

Carl Hooper, in the meantime, who has just come back to first-class cricket in the Caribbean, has taken 93 wickets in his 80 Tests, at an average of 47.10, most of which he repays with his batting, averaging 33.76 with the bat.

Now comes Nagamootoo, playing his second Test, on his second tour. He played in the last Test against England at the Kennington Oval last summer. If he continues in the Caribbean against South Africa is anyone's guess.

His display on day three of this final Test match has been encouraging, if not devastating. His 3-119 from 35 overs at least shows that he wants to bowl for long periods, even though the purists would suggest that he was indeed lucky.

Michael Slater, really well set and looking for another century, tried to hoik Nagamootoo over extra cover when on 96, while Steve Waugh, after his well made 24th Test century, actually padded out on the leg-side, the ball clipping the inner part of his left leg and then going onto the stumps.

What has happened to West Indies cricket is simple. While the fast bowlers ruled for the last twenty years or so, the spinners only made up the numbers. Viv Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and even Larry Gomes, not exactly the world's best spinners, were the "spin attack" when the West Indies were winning so often in the late 70's and early 80's, courtesy of the fast bowlers and these same guys, plus a few others, as batsmen.

Now that the fast bowlers have also become less effective in West Indies cricket, the West Indian attack has no bite, since both fast and slow bowlers are to be retooled. This is a wonderful opportunity for a few slower bowlers, from anywhere in the Caribbean, to make their mark.

In the meantime, one wonders what the policy will be for Nagamootoo, especially when the likes of fast bowler Reon King return against South Africa. Do not hold your breath to see the West Indies with two "proper" spinners operating together in the near future.

Those two spinners have not yet been identified, much less been selected. The West Indies attack will still be pace based in the new millennium, even if it is less effective that it has been in the past.