April 3, 2009

Passing grade for Windies

Whatever happens, the West Indies have earned a comfortable pass mark for their efforts on the field so far at home in 2009

Win or lose, no result or strike, an overall assessment of the West Indies' performance against England over the last two months is not dependent on what transpires today at the Beausejour Stadium.

Of course, if nothing at all happens on the field, with the players elevating their discontent with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), then the instantaneous and no doubt heated reactions and repercussions will inevitably drown out considerations as to how much progress the regional side has made at the expense of the tourists.

And say what you like about lucky escapes at the Antigua Recreation Ground and Queen's Park Oval in the Tests, or dismissing the limited-over showings as typical flash-in-the-pan stuff, the inescapable fact is that, even if Chris Gayle's men are hammered in this one-day series decider in St Lucia, they have already over-performed against Andrew Strauss' band of not-so-merry men.

If nothing else, to have so many knowledgeable personalities in the game backtracking or disingenuously attempting to revise previous pronouncements - to the effect that a West Indian defeat was well and truly booked at the hands of a squad priming for the Ashes - is proof enough that the home team has far exceeded expectations.

To have Kevin Pietersen flailing like a drowning man at everyone and everything in sight, to the extent of targeting the opponents' premier batsman for one of his many gripes, is really music to Caribbean ears, ears that for almost a decade have had to endure condescending, patronising and occasionally utterly ludicrous comments from those rejoicing in the almost precipitous West Indian plummet from the summit.

So let us do some rejoicing ourselves and tell Pietersen that he is quite out of place to be picking a fight with Shivnarine Chanderpaul when he and so many of his team-mates have been the architects of their own demise, as much a result of their own complacency and inability to think on their own than the fact that West Indies have played with the sort of spirit and determination that hints at a growing self belief.

When Julian Hunte and Donald Peters, president and CEO respectively of the WICB, spoke optimistically about West Indies surprising the English before the first ball was bowled at Sabina Park, I was among those dismissing those utterances as the usual public relations tripe that now seems routine fare from the offices at Factory Road in St John's.

When fast bowler Daren Powell predicted a 3-0 Test series triumph for the hosts, it hardly elicited a forceful reaction in that it was dismissively flung onto the giant mound of baseless, vacuous, disconnected comments that are often associated with the contemporary crop of cricketers from our part of the world.

To have Kevin Pietersen flailing like a drowning man at everyone and everything in sight, to the extent of targeting the opponents' premier batsman for one of his many gripes, is really music to Caribbean ears

Indeed, it seemed the very height of doltishness that a man who should not even be in the side was making such an outlandish forecast.

Well, it wasn't 3-0, but to be honest, 1-0 with two nail-biting escapes actually makes it more satisfying in that it achieves the dual purpose of shutting up (if only for a while) some of those who seem to take a particular delight in rubbishing West Indian cricket when they should be focusing on issues with their own team, while also making it very clear this success, as enjoyable as it has been unexpected, does not automatically suggest that the journey back to the top has well and truly begun.

There is too much, from continuously tempestuous WICB-WIPA relations to a poor standard of regional cricket, that is wrong with the game in these parts for any sort of triumphalism to take root.

We have seen so many false dawns since 1995 that only the clinically gullible, like football fans and experts predicting a Trinidad and Tobago victory over the United States on Wednesday night, will fall for the heralding of yet another turnaround.

By the way, listening to a lot of what passed for informed analysis ahead of that World Cup qualifier in Nashville, I had to double-check yesterday for some secret record that has been wiped from the record books by those wicked Americans, for the one that remains freely available advises that no senior national football team from this country has ever beaten the Yanks in their own backyard.

Quite unlike those baseless expectations, the West Indies cricketers once bestrode the game like a collective Colossus, and it is that lingering and glorious memory that tempts the faithful into believing the days of spectacular dominance can somehow return, maybe even sooner rather than later.

If only it could be that easy.

Maybe if the Wisden Trophy remains in West Indian hands after the two Tests in England next month without considerable assistance from the weather. Maybe if the Caribbean side can give the Australians a real fight at the end of the year Down Under. Then, and maybe only then, those wearied by more than a decade of defeat and wary of excessive and unwarranted optimism will possibly entertain the prospect that better days are on the way.

Before that, though, there is a successful home series against the English to be completed, unless the players determine that today is the day they risk angering a significant segment of their support base to make a statement.

Whatever happens, the West Indies have earned a comfortable pass mark for their efforts on the field so far at home in 2009. Whether they are similarly successful in negotiations with their occasional employers is something else.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad