April 10, 2013

Behind Jamaica's hot streak

Their record is the envy of Caribbean first-class cricket, but it needs to be put into context

It is a rare but most pleasant thing when sportsmen win so much that it is difficult to remember the last time they lost. In the case of Tamar Lambert's Regional Four-Day Jamaica outfit, you would have to stretch the mind back three years - February of 2010 to be exact - to recall that last occasion, a ten-wicket defeat to Barbados.

Since then, the Jamaicans have known, in the reggae words of their late countryman Bob Marley, only "positive vibrations". Counting their 93-run win over Trinidad & Tobago last week in the Caribbean's first-class competition, Jamaica have now won 13 straight matches spread over three seasons. It is a new West Indies record.

Indeed, the Jamaicans are on a run unlike any other in the history of the four-day competition since the era of sponsorship began in 1966 with the Shell Shield. So far they have won a record five straight titles and are well placed to complete a sixth this season. With a game in hand in the round-robin phase, they are poised to top the standings, which will guarantee them home advantage in the semi-final, and also the final, should they get there again.

So complete is the Jamaican domination of four-day cricket, they have not actually played a match over four days so far in this campaign. All four of their games have ended on the third day.

On paper, the credentials of Lambert's side seem impeccable. Their place, and his as captain, among the best in the history of regional cricket are assured. But statistics can be misleading if not put into context. And there is much context for this Jamaican streak.

What cannot be denied, however, are the solid foundations upon which this remarkable run has been built. The principal one is stability. Much like Trinidad & Tobago in the T20 and 50-over formats, Jamaica, over the last six seasons or more, have relied on a core group. Batting allrounder Lambert has been in the side since 2004, and has been captain for all five titles. Alongside him have been allrounder Dave Bernard Jr, wicketkeeper-batsman Carlton Baugh Jr, opener Brenton Parchment, Donovan Pagon in the middle order, steady fast-medium bowler Andrew Richardson, and the prolific spin combination of Nikita Miller and Odean Brown. In addition, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, and more recently Andre Russell, have added firepower when not on West Indies and T20 duty.

The role of left-arm spinner Miller and legspinner Brown cannot be underestimated. Think of great Jamaican bowlers and Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh come instantly to mind. But in regional cricket, Miller and Brown have combined for over 400 wickets. Miller, with sporadic appearances in limited-overs international cricket and just one Test, has been devastating at regional level, his 251 first-class wickets coming at a mean average of 15.45. The key for him has been his great accuracy and variations of pace. The combination has been too much for the impatient batsmen across the region.

Also, like in the T&T set-up, the Jamaicans have a settled technical staff. While Lambert has led well on the field, with instinctive captaincy, the coach, Junior Bennett, has been a nurturer and meticulous planner. It has helped that he has overseen the development of some of the island's best players at the dominant school, St Elizabeth Technical High School. Parchment, former West Indies pacer Daren Powell, and the gifted Jerome Taylor - struggling to revive an injury-plagued career - have all come up under Bennett.

The trainer, Dave Bernard Sr, is a former soldier and footballer. The discipline he has instilled has ensured that the Jamaicans have been relatively injury-free, a big aid to their consistency over the last six years.

Put those elements together and there is a profile of a steady, close-knit, well-drilled group of players, confident in their abilities as a team. What the Jamaica side of this era is not, however, is a team of stars, especially batting stars.

The slow, unpredictable nature of the surfaces gives bowlers a false sense of their own skill. Batsmen struggle to develop confidence in their footwork. Technique against quick bowling has suffered

Stalwarts Parchment and Bernard Jr both average below 30 in first-class cricket, and Pagon and Lambert just get there. Between them, they have played a mere seven Tests.

It is hardly a surprise therefore that while Jamaica have comfortably won all four games so far this season, they have passed 200 runs just four times in eight innings and are yet to total 300. Put those stats of the champs together with the fact that overall, in 17 matches so far this year, there have been 28 completed team innings of under 200, and five under 100, and another issue arises - the standard of play.

Comparisons are often odious but the paucity of runs, not just this season but over the last five years or so, would mark this period as either a very good one for bowlers in West Indies cricket, or among the poorest for batsmen. The great suspicion is that it is the latter. That belief tempers even Jamaican pride in what their team has achieved.

"[Jamaican dominance] would have been a great thing if our standard was high," says the Jamaica Observer's editor at large, Garfield Myers. "My biggest concern is the quality of the pitches. The pitches are not good. You keep getting pitches that are up and down. Batting becomes very challenging and it's too easy for the bowlers to get wickets."

The issue of pitches is as old as the decline of the West Indies Test team. Progressively, however, the effect on the quality of batsmanship in the Caribbean has worsened. The slow, unpredictable nature of the surfaces gives bowlers a false sense of their own skill. Batsmen struggle to develop confidence in their footwork. Technique against quick bowling has suffered. Don't expect to see hook specialists like Clive Lloyd, Richie Richardson or the late Roy Fredericks coming along anytime soon.

Times were different in the late 1970s, when Barbados won four straight championships between 1977 and 1980. Back then, captains David Holford, Vanburn Holder and Albert Padmore could call on a virtual Test team that included openers Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, solid wicketkeeper-batsmen David Murray and Thelston Payne, who both averaged in the 30s, and a pace attack that featured at various times the combination of Joel Garner, Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke, an emerging Malcom Marshall, and Holder himself. They were up against Lloyd, Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharran when they played Guyana; Holding, Lawrence Rowe and Jeffrey Dujon when Jamaica came to town; and Andy Roberts and Vivian Richards when playing the then Combined Islands.

Without a doubt, West Indies cricket in that era benefited from the players Barbados produced for the Test side, much in the way a number of Trinidad & Tobago players have had an impact on the success of the current West Indies T20 team. With the obvious exceptions of Gayle and Samuels, the 2008-13 Jamaicans have not had quite the same influence, in any format. No, this streak says more about the fragile state of West Indies cricket than it does about the strength of the Jamaican game.

Time will tell what kind of legacy they will eventually leave behind. It just seems at the moment to be as master Bob says: "Think you're in heaven but you're living in hell."

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Basil on April 13, 2013, 3:54 GMT

    There doesn't seem to be much recruiting between the teams in WI. If you are Jamaican you play for Jamaica, if you are Bajan you play for Barbados. Jamaica has the biggest population, therefore a bigger spread of talent. There are guys that can't make the starting Jam XI that could be key players for Leewards etc. the fact that Floyd Reifer captains a teams of schoolboys in this comp really highlights the standard of the comp. That and the poor pitches.

  • Ali on April 12, 2013, 17:07 GMT

    @ simonviller

    the truth is, no bowler in the WI has been as outstanding as Nikita Miller in the longer version of the game ..... no one, no where no how .....

    This season his average runs per wicket is less than 10 (about 7 actually) ..... He has a career economy rate of 1.6 ...

    his stats are not just outstanding ... they are insane ...

  • Dummy4 on April 12, 2013, 15:34 GMT

    Not because you have the best team means you have the best players. Nikita Miller can't even turn the ball. It baffles me how he gets wickets. It's not just about stats as a selector either or else statisticians would pick teams. It's about how someone looks when making the runs or how he takes wickets and against who. We act as if we are scouts calling for players when we know nothing. According to everyone's logic here Powell should not play for WI because he plays for Leewards but the selectors saw something now he's making runs.

  • charlie on April 12, 2013, 13:44 GMT

    The thruth is they are many outstanding players throughout the region , any number of bowlers who are performing well ; but what about the batsmen ? We play against an abundance of spin and pace , yet we struggle against spin and short-pitched bowling . I never thought that I would see WI batting succumb to pace like they did against England . My opinion is that 'the hook and cut shot [ the counter attack against pace bowling ] is often absent from our strokeplay ; and our foot-movement against the spinners . That's what we should be addressing ,more than anything . [ take a look back in time at some of the masters' innings ]

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2013, 19:51 GMT

    Yup , the poor batting continues.No room for excuses ,our bowlers take heaps of wickets but always come up short against tougher opposition. Our batsmen don't have any patience ,so everytime they go to the crease ,they approach thier innings with the attitude that the ball is doing too much and that the pitch is too uneven. What is surprising is that we have awarded stoke makers a place in ODI team ,when players liike Chanderpaul in his prime are left on the sidelines .We are going to Pakistan with batsmen playing this poorly and this is no less a recipe for DISASTER,i am hoping that our senior players understand what is taking place and get their acts in order.Test cricket requires discipline first ,by batsmen bowlers and fielders,but the glamour of T20 cricket is causing further disintegration of 4 day and 5 day cricket,because most of our batsmen and bowlers are not as versatile as they think.more development needed ,on the pitch and off it

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2013, 19:11 GMT

    I will agree with the writer about the type of pitches throughout the Caribbean. However i think there is something else behind this writing, 1 the writer make mention of the success of T&T in T20 & super50 and the amount of players that are in the WI team hence the world T20 title, 2 the success of the Bajon team of the late 70s and the amount of players in the WI team and the success the team had throughout the late 70s into the 90s, so what happen to Jamaican players such as Miller, Brown, Richardson, who have played on these same surfaces as the other players from the region and perform better but have not gotten the chance to represent WI team? Miller played one test and was discarded the other two is still waiting on a call from the selectors. These Jamaican players has been out performing the region for five years or more but cannot seem to make the WI team yet still we have players perform average in one season and make the WI team and this is where the problem is with WI

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2013, 11:17 GMT

    It is a really quirky approach to be using Jamaica's record breaking performances to berate the team. The writer complimented the team and then takes back the compliment. Jamaica have conquered what was put before them. Jamaica's success and the state of batting and substandard pitches in the Caribbean would have been better served if both matters were treated separately. By treating both together each has been deprived of its own focus by the substandard treatment in the article.

  • Jefferson on April 11, 2013, 1:58 GMT

    You are so so right sir Mr Wattley. Our bowlers think that are so great till they come up against a good test team and cant take twenty wickets. The scores said it all bad batting and poor pitches.

  • Pete on April 11, 2013, 0:28 GMT

    Doesn't Jamaica gave many multiples more men to recruit from than the other countries? It's a bit like saying NSW has one the Shield the most without acknowledging it's got two million more people than Victoria.

  • Dummy4 on April 10, 2013, 23:26 GMT

    Excellent article, obviously not written with any bias by the author.

    Jamaica has dominated all comers over the past 6 years and Tamar Lambert's captaincy has been excellent. It should be noted that although the batting has been very poor this year, the presence of Wavel Hinds, Donovan Pagon and Brendan Nash made them much stronger over the 5peat.

    The argument for Andrew Richardson is more than reasonable as for the past few years he has outperformed Best, Rampaul and others. One wonders if his post in WIPA which he relinquished last year has anything to do with the unfair treatment metted out to him by the West Indies selectors.

    A very good team with a very good captain, nowhere near the strength of the late 80s team that was led by Marlon Tucker, but they have soundly bested all comers before them