Why divide and rule is good for West Indies
Being West Indies captain is one of the most high-profile jobs in the Caribbean. Being a West Indies selector is one of the most thankless.
When the news spread last weekend that there had been a change in the one-day captaincy - Dwayne Bravo for Darren Sammy - it was doubtful that the stocks of Messrs Clyde Butts, Courtney Browne and Robert Haynes would have risen throughout the region.
In Trinidad, home of Bravo, the vibes were all positive, the moved deemed a good one. But moving slightly up the island chain, through Grenada, Dominica, St Lucia and the feelings will have been less warm.
Hardly a move in Caribbean cricket is taken merely at face value. So distrustful of how the bigger islands have historically treated them, certain quarters will have viewed with disappointment, even scepticism, the demotion of St Lucia's first international cricketer, the removal from the leadership, even if from just one format, of the first man from the Windward Islands to skipper West Indies.
All the selectors were doing, though, was being practical. Australia, England, South Africa and Sri Lanka have all gone for a separation of powers.
"We are probably one of the few countries in the world that still has a captain that captains in every format," Butts told the Sportsmax Zone TV programme this week. When we look at the T20s, Test cricket and ODIs... we've done well in T20 cricket, I think we've done well in Test cricket of late as well, but in our one-day format I don't think we have done well at all... so we decided we probably needed a little bit of new life in that team, and to take some of the pressure off Sammy as well, because he has been captaining all three formats of the game for a few years."
After taking over the side from Chris Gayle in late 2010, Sammy played 25 Tests, 49 ODIs and 19 Twenty20s in succession, missing only the three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe this past February, when the vice-captain, Bravo, was given the reins. Over the past year, West Indies have become T20 world champions and put together a string of six Test match wins on the trot. In contrast, they have far from mastered the 50-over game, winning 11 of their last 25 matches.
To some, like former West Indies fast bowler Tony Gray, the easing of Sammy's workload has been too long in coming. "To me, when you give Darren Sammy all the formats to captain, you are killing the player," he says. "Now you are giving him some more time to recuperate. It more likely will help him in the Test arena."
Butts would argue that it was not a lack of foresight that prevented the Bravo-for-Sammy switch earlier, but rather a matter of being prudent.
Bravo's name came up in relation to the captaincy in 2010-11. Sammy was chosen at a time when Bravo opted not to accept a West Indies Cricket Board retainer contract in favour of becoming a free agent. It was a bad period for the Trinidad and Tobago allrounder; a knee injury sent him home early from the World Cup on the subcontinent. Struggling to regain form and enthusiasm when fit again, he asked for a break after the first two matches of the ODI home series against India to "refocus" and "reflect", with the intention of returning for the Tests. The selectors gave him a longer rest than anticipated: Bravo did not play international cricket again until March 2012. One suspected there were more than just pure cricketing reasons behind his loss of joy. But the decision to forge ahead in the IPL effectively halted Bravo's Test career. He hasn't played Tests since 2010. His value as an all-round cricketer has never been in doubt, however.
Athletic fielding that is often brilliant, skilful changes of pace with the ball, and flamboyant shot-making have made Bravo a player to always keep the eyes on. And from his cricketing infancy to now, the joy of playing has very rarely left him. He still appeals with adolescent enthusiasm and winces as though struck a body blow when the ball just fails to take the edge - no matter if he is in a club game for his beloved Queen's Park Cricket Club, on IPL duty with Chennai Super Kings, or playing for West Indies.
What is evidently different now, at least to the selectors, is Bravo's view of himself in the West Indies set-up.
"It's Bravo's attitude over the last couple of months or a year or so," Butts said. "We have always seen a Bravo that has gone out there and given his all on the field." But he noted that what a captain did off the field was also important.
"Bravo has shown us that he has matured as a person. He had a little bit of a bad run a few years ago where he had asked for a rest and he was coming back into the team, and we thought he just needed some time to stay in the team to make sure he is there and he has earned his keep and doing the things we wanted him to do."
More ebullient than the more conservative Sammy, Bravo nevertheless will not bring a radically different style to the job. His natural zest and selfless play will be as infectious and effective as Sammy's positivity and industriousness have been. His team will play for him.
Bravo's years of experience in the IPL, coupled with his new responsibility, should help rather than hurt his own dynamic game. There will not be that pressure to perform with which Sammy was burdened when he took the job. Already, in the series against Zimbabwe he produced his best bowling effort in ODIs, 6 for 43.
However, that 3-0 win cannot foretell much about what West Indies under Bravo will do in the Champions Trophy. But the selectors are now giving themselves another option; one they may even be able to use in another format in the future, if necessary. Sammy also has the chance to narrow his focus and further raise his stocks as bowler and batsman.
The split roles could work to everyone's benefit.
Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express