Where are West Indies' heroes?
There was something quite sad about the second day at Lord's, a sense of resignation to the facts. England's runs came at a decent rate and without alarm. In part this was due to organised batting but mainly it was because West Indies were not much good with the ball. If that appears unkind, it is not to question the players' commitment. Rather it is to say that the flair which once made West Indies both such an attraction and a threat was nowhere in sight.
The selection of a fourth seamer in place of the in-form offspinner Shane Shillingford was crass. Even in the glory days of four fast bowlers, Roger Harper might have got a game on a surface like this. The mitigation is that this Lord's pitch is drier and slower than predicted but five days is a long time without the variety of a competent slow bowler. Shillingford's ten-wicket bag against Australia in Dominica counted for nothing it seems. Generally, it is wiser to pick teams on the quality of the players not a suspicion of the pitches.
During the lunch break, the shrill of a mobile phone startled the occupants of the media centre lift. IPL music rang out and immediately those of us squeezed into the tiny space began to reflect on the West Indians who are absent at Lord's. Chris Gayle is the obvious one. Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine are the others at the IPL. Ramnaresh Sarwan is playing for Leicestershire, for heaven's sake. Jerome Taylor is injured. Seven good cricketers there. Three are shoo-ins, the rest are thereabouts. The verdict in the lift was that West Indies are better off with them than without them.
Clearly this is not the view of the WICB and selectors. The ongoing battle with Gayle does neither party any service, despite the recent agreement for him to play in the one-day series against England. Gayle should treat the game that has made his name with more respect and the board should find a way to harness his talent. Briefly when he was captain, the Jamaican seemed settled, batting with due care and attention, sparkling in the field and bowling useful offbreaks: a wonderful cricketer doing justice to himself and his people. Then the board offered him a contract that he refused and, reasonably, they said he could hardly be captain if he wasn't prepared to commit. In stepped T20 and the age of the mercenary and so began the uneasy and ultimately irreconcilable relationship between the Caribbean's best cricketer and those who employ him.
Well it's time to sort it out. And not just Gayle either, all the others and particularly Sarwan. Cricket needs West Indies for these wonderful islands hold the game in their soul. No other cricketers in the world put the IPL before Test matches for their country. Both the Board and the players are selling the game short. They simply have to find a way through the mess. The ICC could begin the process by scheduling a window for the IPL each year and continue it by investing in the Caribbean. It's all very well taking the game to China but let's get it fixed where the culture already exists.
In the meantime, Darren Sammy has done darn good job with limited resources. He doubtless knows that he wouldn't get in the best available team but he battles on, making something of not much and willing the young talent around him to get the best from themselves. Friday was hard because the pitch was slow and easy and the ball refused to swing. Fidel Edwards has lost the fierce pace of his youth and Kemar Roach, though honest enough, was subdued by the surface. After these two it is humdrum stuff. Sammy hustles in but needs something in the pitch and the new man, Shannon Gabriel, looks exactly that. In desperation, Marlon Samuels bowled some offbreaks that were barely half as good as Gayle's and, guess what, the variety he offered claimed the prize wicket of Kevin Pietersen.
What we don't want is to start patronising West Indies cricket. Yes, there is some spirit there and, of late, a decent Australia side were given a good run. But the raw truth is that West Indies are way below an acceptable standard and the fault lies with a few cricketers and a stubborn board. If the situation is allowed to drift, it will continue to infect the game at all levels back at home. Young cricketers need inspiration from heroes. They need to rejoice in stirring deeds that draw them to watch and play the game of their own volition. The side on the field at Lord's has men to admire but not players to revere. It is time to bring them in from the cold.
Former Hampshire batsman Mark Nicholas is the host of Channel 9's cricket coverage