West Indies in Australia 2009-10 December 2, 2009

Undeserved abuse for West Indies

The abuse and scorn heaped in the Australian press following the Brisbane Test was uncalled for; much of it was simply beyond the pale

No one is more painfully aware of the rapid disintegration of West Indies cricket than West Indians themselves. The proof has been before our eyes for at least a decade now, at our once-filled grounds, on our television screens, in our newspapers.

Once the most powerful force in the game, it has become so weak and woeful that its Test and ODI teams languish in the nether regions of the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings. The reasons for the sorry state of affairs are myriad but easily identified. As responsible as any is the environment of constant confrontation between an inept administration, all but bankrupt both financially and intellectually, and mollycoddled players who have been allowed to become idle and indisciplined for lack of leadership.

For all that, the abuse and scorn heaped on the team in the Australian press following its defeat in the first Test in Brisbane last week - by an innings and in three days - was undeserved. Much of it was simply beyond the pale.

The circumstances of the match were largely overlooked. Until it was significantly pointed out by the Australian coach Tim Nielsen, so too was the recent history of the first Test at the Gabba. And comparisons with Australia's similar decline in the 1980s, when their overall win-lost ratio in 92 Tests was 18-36 (5-16 against West Indies), were conveniently ignored.

Instead, we had this supercilious comment from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving writer for the Australian: "Have the West Indies really sent their full-strength team to Australia? Surely the real team must be still on strike, because if this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline."

He was in the Caribbean with the Australian team in 1984 when West Indies did not lose a single second innings wicket in the five Tests, winning the series 3-0 on the way to six successive victories. As I recall, no one suggested then that Test cricket was in terminal decline because of it.

Nor was there any consideration by the West Indies board that the series "should be cancelled and all tickets refunded", the line Ben Dorries came up with in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the Brisbane match. And, as bad as the Aussies were back then, they were not chided that their Test cricket had become "a complete and utter joke", another of Dorries' pearls.

Th captain of Australia during that dismal period was Kim Hughes.In his 28 Tests at the helm, Australia lost 13 Tests, against four victories. He resigned in 1984 after his team had been beaten for the fifth successive time by the West Indies, ironically at the same Gabba.

He cut a forlorn figure as he openly wept in front of the assembled media, pleading: "The constant criticism, speculation and innuendo by former players over the past four or five years have finally taken their toll". Given such a background, he might have been expected to keep his thoughts about the present situation to himself. Instead, he weighed in.

West Indies, he charged, were "an embarrassment to themselves", adding that Chris Gayle doesn't believe in Test cricket and "his body language suggests he doesn't want to captain".

"I'm a passionate person about Test cricket and this was not a Test," Hughes added. It was an observation that could be applied to his last five Tests against West Indies that produced two defeats by an innings, two by ten wickets and one by eight wickets. As he made his whimpering exit from the captaincy, did Hughes think, as he did now, that "it's not fair on sponsors and the public, who would be asking `why did you accept this lot'".

I doubt it. Even though West Indies had shown signs of improvement, drawing short series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand and regaining the Wisden Trophy with a 1-0 triumph over England in the Caribbean earlier in the year (the same England that defeated Australia in the summer to regain the Ashes), the outcome of the Brisbane Test was not surprising. They had been beaten in their eight previous Tests in Australia and had not won a series there since 1992-93.

They arrived hardly a month after the upheaval that had led to the second strike in four years by the main players and were palpably unprepared for such a tough assignment. Their fastest bowler, Fidel Edwards, remained at home suffering from back and knee injuries.

Gayle made a flying visit to Jamaica to be with his ill mother and arrived back only two days before the toss. On the morning of the match, Ramnaresh Sarwan's stiff back eliminated him from the starting XI. Halfway through the first day, the only tested fast bowler, Jerome Taylor, damaged his hip badly enough to put him out of the tour.

These were serious handicaps, especially for the opening Test at the Gabba where Australia had prevailed in 15 of their 20 Tests since beaten by the West Indies in 1988. Six of those victories were by an innings, three by ten wickets, two by more than 300 runs, five by more than 100 runs. Gayle's team simply added to the list.

Yet, after Sri Lanka went down by an innings and 40 runs in 2007 (Australia 551 for 4 declared) or England by 277 runs in 2008 (Australia 602 for 9 declared and 202 for one declared), there were no snide remarks in the Australian media such as "this summer will be defined by the comical, not the competitive". (Jamie Pandaram in the Melbourne Age) and "how on earth can anybody be expected to maintain interest in this dog-eared series for two more Tests" (Robert Craddock in the Brisbane Courier-Mail).

There has always been a general perception among West Indians that their successes are grudgingly accepted by others, their failures celebrated.

At the height of their powers, when their fast bowling was its unequalled strength, legislation limited the number of bouncers in an over to one and there were proposals from serious commentators that the pitch should be lengthened. Prior to the tour of England in 1991, David Frith, editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, damned the team as "the most fearsome, the most successful and the most unpopular in the world".

"Their game is founded on vengeance and violence and is tinged with arrogance," Frith wrote. Now there is growing support for the specious thesis that the game in the region would be stronger if fragmented into its separate parts.

Fortunately there are those of substance and influence with a more sympathetic, and realistic, take on West Indies cricket, men such as Greg Chappell. "The region of the West Indies has been one of the great cricket-playing regions and it would be an absolute tragedy in my view if we lost the West Indian region to cricket," he said in his recent Bradman Oration in Melbourne. "I'm hopeful that some of the work that's being done to help West Indian cricket become strong again is successful because I think they're a very important member of the cricket family," he added.

It is up to West Indians themselves, on and off the field, to silence the detractors and fulfill Chappell's hope.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Montrose on December 5, 2009, 6:05 GMT

    I very much agree with Tony Cozier on this one, while I expect the media to be critical of the way the West Indies play and the way they have been playing for the last 15 years I am totally shocked when they write the things they do in their newspapers. I can accept criticisms to a point but for one to say that the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe should be playing with boys and not men is a total disrespect to these players.

  • Montrose on December 5, 2009, 5:46 GMT

    I think some posters who have now turned to criticising Mr Cozier missed his point. This was not about how the present team is playing or about the great teams of the past. What Mr Cozier is saying here is that the Australian media and some former players are being very unfair in their manner of criticisms. I acknowledge that fair criticism is fine but the negative things being said like "the cricket board should be ashamed of themselves to be inviting these players and should return people's money" was definitely over the top. A lot of talk about making test cricket into a two tiered thing with teams like West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe placed in the bottom tier would only kill Test cricket altogether. We already see what's happening in cricket with the introduction of 20/20 (I am not altogether a fan) and how almost everyone is being drawn to it because of the big bucks.

  • Marcus on December 5, 2009, 3:26 GMT

    Excellent article. Especially seeing as Tony is usually one of the West Indies harshest critics. In most cases rightly so. If people actually read the article they would realise that he is absolutely spot on. Yes it was a woeful performance, but how many teams have put in equally bad if not worse performances in recent times? After Australias whitewash in 2006/7 ashes did anybody suggest the ashes was dead?

    This is a very competitive team that has been caught out by the recent strike which was more the fault of the board than the players. Sarwan and Chanderpaul are world class. Gayle admittedly should be better. Barath has huge potential. Nash has shown he deserves to be here. Compare Bravos stats with Flintoff. Ramdin is one of the best keepers in world cricket and has to continue to develop his batting. Imagine if thea fit Edwards and Taylor to add to the potential of Roach, Sammy, Rampaul and Benn.

    WICB need to get the structure in place to develop this team.

  • Derek on December 4, 2009, 13:33 GMT

    I'm not asking Australia to donate towards the rebuilding of the WI team as a world force. They (Chapple) et al seem to want to decide who plays for the WI by calling for Darren Ganga to replace Gayle and proposing a two tier system. On the matter of Ganga, I would personally only pick one Ganga to represent the WI and his name is NOT Darren. What I would like Australia to do for WI cricket is allow my son, his friends and others to watch/listen to a match in which the WI is involved and hear a voice with which they can identify. I receive the Sky telecast and suffer the drones of Australian voices. Have the likes of Cozier, Bishop, Croft, Holding etc been relegated to the second tier of commentating / summarizing too?

  • Arthur on December 4, 2009, 12:31 GMT

    You have my sympathies Tony. You have seemed like an incredibly gracious and gentle person for all the years I've listened to you commentate on the radio and on TV, as well as reading your articles and columns. Having seen the rise and fall of West Indies cricket first hand over such a long time, I can't imagine how hard it's been for you to maintain your journalistic integrity and to keep objective. As the preeminent WI cricket journo, you've had a much tougher job than almost all from other nations, so I can understand why you've lashed out this time. Normally, I'd expect you to consider such poor cricket journalism beneath you and unworthy of comment, but even the gentlest spirit has his breaking point.

    SirSackrot is right, remember that all bar one of the offending journos are Murdoch's and with the conservative side of Australian politics in disarray, they need to humiliate someone to sell units.

  • Sangeeta on December 4, 2009, 10:43 GMT

    I am thankful that you saw it fit to remind us of the good ole days ...but let's not get carried away the Aussie press has been harsh but WI has played some awful cricket and as a West Indian it pains me each time. Seems to me that the West Indian cricketing wheel has forgotten how to spin and no one is willing to take responsibility or point fingers or say why we keep paying the same bunch of jokers to run and play our cricket? Is it as simple that the "West Indian" is a dying breed? I don't think so, there are numerous West Indian fans out here who still support the West Indian cricket team...it may be that the West Indian cricket board are the ones who no longer have faith in West Indian cricket. And to the persons who believe that Brian Lara's greatness destroyed the team ...why hasn't the Indian team crumpled under the weight of Tendulkar and Sehwag? Do not detract from his greatness beacuase he played with a poor team for most of his career. do not use it as an excuse.

  • Hopeton on December 4, 2009, 9:42 GMT

    Many of those smashing West Indies cricket have helped to seal its demise. The Australians and English did see to the introduction of the 1 ball bouncer per over to nullify the "fearsome" West Indies pacemen of the domininat era. Add to that batting helmets and other security pernaphanalia were all introduced to limit the West Indian dominance.

    The West Indies were just not ready for this test match worse against a team like Australia that will grind even the best prepared teams to the ground. It is also a weak W.I. team no doubt about that. Add the strke and ongoing confrontations with the board.

    Maybe we all must get to that point and accept that West Indies cricket has served its time. The West Indian society has grown more disparate over time, not more cohesive. That is why Trinidad and Tobago competed so very well in the recent T/20 competition as an island team but that performance of commitment and team spirit may never be emulated in a West Indies team again.

  • Nathan on December 4, 2009, 2:01 GMT

    Today's events have further evidenced that whatever criticism is directed at the WI, it is deserved. A captain who admits he is too unprofessional to spend ANY TIME AT ALL to familiarise himself with an opposition opening bowler then goes out swinging from the hip trying to hit a strike rate of 150 (there is only one Sehwag!) on the FIRST DAY of a test match and is dismissed early and cheaply. Sorry, Mr. Cozier, that does deserve scorn and ridicule whether you like it or not. And Jarr30 provides yet more evidence of the uninformed opinions eminating from the anti-Australian brigade. To state that the 'Australian media fails to critisize (sic) their own team and their meiocare (sic) captain' is just totally wrong and shows that a lot of people here are just writing what they want to believe or what they have been told, with NO consideration of the facts. Ridiculous comment - Ponting was crucified by Aus media after the 2005 Ashes, much worse than anything the WI have had so far.

  • hayden on December 4, 2009, 1:36 GMT

    @Jarr30 if ponting cant handle pace then why is his record so good in south africa & australia (the fastest pitches in cricket)? and have his worst stats in india (argubly the slowest wickets on earth)! mate i dont think any cricketer is totally comfortable facing raw pace regardless of how good they are, however i dont think you can captain australia or even make the australian XI if you cant handle raw pace given its generally australias bowling strength! pontings also incredibly strong playing shots of the back foot square of the wicket, shots taylor made for facing quick bowlers on a bouncy wicket! there is no logic to your argument at all!

  • A on December 3, 2009, 23:28 GMT

    compensate@ No matter how hard you try to degrade Brain Lara, he will remain one the games Greatest player along with Tendulkar because they faced the best bowlers during the 90's era. When Ponting arrived in '95, he was only considered a good player who could'nt handle raw pace. Records proves that.

    No matter how many centuries Ponting scores he will be considered just a mediocre player in front these two legends and specially Lara.

  • No featured comments at the moment.