November 12, 2012

West Indies might be on to something

The Bangladesh series offers them a chance to show they can make a break with their habit of taking a forward step only to regress

Perspective is indeed subjective. Depending on a person's circumstances, the same matter can appear quite different with the passage of time. Chris Gayle's most recent utterances show how time and events can change a man's point of view.

"When you're playing international cricket, you're always going to have a lot of issues to deal with, on and off the field, but as a player you have to know what's important for you and you have to be careful in how you deal with things around your cricketing career," he said recently.

"You have to be strong-minded in the middle to get the job done but it's part of life. We're going to always have these things to deal with off the field. Every particular board will have problems, but it's just something we have to live with… and try and make things easier for each other."

Reflective and philosophical, those are words coming from a man now settled back into international cricket, playing for a team that has just enjoyed major success; not a man just coming off a bruising, time-consuming standoff with his national board.

It might have been more difficult for Gayle to come to that point had his return to the West Indies side this year gone less well. But Gayle is approaching the first Test match of the new series against Bangladesh as part of a team that has just become world champions in T20 cricket. He has runs behind him in Tests, ODIs and T20s.

So even when commenting on the performance of his successor as skipper, Darren Sammy, he can throw off the previously reserved tone somewhat and say: "He's played a particular role in the last two years. It's not an easy role being captain and we as senior players have to try and make his job as easy as possible. He has done well and in the last couple years [earlier this year] he has actually gotten a Test century, which has been a big improvement from his personal point of view."

Those last words sounded less like obligatory soundbite fare and more like an expression of genuine respect. Gayle and Sammy may never be buddies the way Gayle and Marlon Samuels have bonded. But Gayle's respect for what Sammy is doing will be a critical element as the West Indies try to move their game along.

West Indies come to this Bangladesh series, therefore, not only with momentum following the World Twenty20 and from dominating series against New Zealand at home, but with a growing sense that they are on to something; that this tour presents an opportunity to put an end to the pattern of taking a step forward on the field only to quickly regress.

Victory over Bangladesh in itself will not achieve too much. Even playing away from home, Sammy's side will be expected to win. Failure in the Tests would be a body blow.

How West Indies go about their cricket, however, will say much more about the effect success in T20 has had on the playing staff as a whole. Test cricket still remains the weakest suit of this side. An unsettled opening pair, general inconsistency, and a nagging habitual inability to seize the key moments in games have kept the team in the lower half of the ICC rankings.

Their last series, against New Zealand, however, produced a 2-0 shutout, the result of a combination of performances. Marlon Samuels (589 runs, average 84.14) and Kemar Roach (39 wickets, average 22.25) have been West Indies' players of the year to date. Injury has put Roach out of the Bangladesh series, but this tour gives Sunil Narine more opportunity to settle into Test match bowling.

The presence of Gayle at the top of the order and Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the middle also gives the West Indies batting a far more solid look. There should therefore be less pressure on Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo and either of Kirk Edwards, Narsingh Deonarine or Assad Fudadin to get runs.

Edwards, plagued by injury and poor form this year, cannot be guaranteed a place in the side at this stage. The lack of time in the middle ahead of the first Test has robbed him of a chance to address the selectors. But Edwards is one in whom the regional selectors have invested. It would be good if this series gave him a chance to reassert himself in international cricket, given his impressive start in 2011.

If he did get the nod and took advantage, it would be another small step forward in the wider scheme of things. To a lesser degree, Bravo also has the challenge of rescuing a bad year. Progress in this series by these two would at least suggest a reverse in a long trend of West Indians who have started with a bang and then drifted away.

It would be another indication that a different order of things is being established and that West Indies cricket in 2012 does indeed demand to be looked at from a different angle.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express