November 17, 2013

A no-show by West Indies

All the apparent progress they made last year amounted to nothing when they faced India

Not for the first time in recent years, the pre-series words of a West Indies captain have come back to haunt him.

In the customary interview prior to the first Test in Kolkata, Darren Sammy said this about his side's preparation in Florida for the two-match series: "Many people may feel that we should have been hitting cricket balls, but the mental side of the game is very important, and team bonding and working on our mental toughness, I think will pay off for us, and I want to thank the West Indies Cricket Board for coming up with it... The guys really enjoyed each other's company and we became closer as a unit, so hopefully we can take that on to the field - the mental toughness - together with our cricket skills and have two good Test matches here."

The word "hopefully" was probably Sammy's attempt at caution should things not work out well.

They didn't.

So as so many before him have had to do following a series sweep by the opposition, Sammy had to plead guilty for his side.

"We never turned up in the series," he said after the innings drubbing in Mumbai. "We won six Test matches against teams we were ranked higher than. Now we play against a team that are ranked higher than us, it was an opportunity to showcase what we have. What we displayed over the last two Test matches, or over six days, we're much better than that.

"If you look at the way we played, every time we've been under pressure, we've not responded well... I guess it's is a mental thing. Myself as captain [have] not led from the front at all in this series."

A mental thing. How ironic, given that the whole purpose of the one-week camp in Florida was to prevent the kind of mental vacation the West Indians seemed to take against India.

In a series where Sachin Tendulkar and not India v West Indies was the focus, Sammy's side still managed to lose more than the two Tests they were not expected to win in any case.

India's master batsman deservedly went out as the champion that he is, but his final series was robbed of some of the lustre appropriate for such an outstanding competitor. Even by their less-than-stellar standards these days, West Indies outdid themselves. In four innings, not once did they bat the regulation 90 overs. They didn't even come close. The more they batted, the worse they fared. Saturday's final capitulation lasted just 47 overs. Such limited occupation of the crease meant that Indian fans could see their hero bat just twice.

More of Sammy's pre-series words were made to sound quite hollow. Words like these: "Now we have Shiv, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels. Two players that were young then, Darren Bravo and Kieran Powell, have matured. Narsingh Deonarine and Kirk Edwards were part of the A team that visited recently and did well, so we have more experience in the batting."

Even by their less-than-stellar standards these days, West Indies outdid themselves. In four innings, not once did they bat the regulation 90 overs. They didn't even come close. The more they batted, the worse they fared

That experience counted for nothing in the end after totals of 234, 168, 182 and 187. Even the West Indies A side would not have been excused for putting up those numbers. And what they reflect yet again is a mental breakdown. Psychological preparation of teams in the modern age is becoming standard practice. But the ad-hoc manner in which such help is given to West Indies sides is counter-productive. One-off events like the Florida trip are simply not adequate. Not in this era.

However, even without regular professional help, the current crop is still culpable. Powell and Bravo, who both showed much promise when they toured the subcontinent two years ago, did not demonstrate in their shot selection and management of their innings the maturity their captain had spoken about and was within his rights to expect.

Opener Powell, who averaged 30.25 in the series, did not improve from his unbelievable attempted hook shot that cost him his wicket before lunch on the opening day of the series. And Bravo's struggles - he averaged 25 - to maintain a scoring tempo in his innings continued. India's spinners could settle against him, not having to worry about conceding too many rhythm-disrupting singles.

Immediately therefore, much of West Indies' pre-series planning fell through. Success in India was dependent on heavy scoring by the top five. That only the old pro, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, fared better, and only marginally, (133 runs, average 44.33) was telling.

It is always dangerous to write off proven warriors like Gayle. But his recent numbers are worth some scrutiny. Since his return to the Test team last year, in 15 innings Gayle has managed two centuries and one half-century - of which a a hundred and a fifty came in his very first game back, against New Zealand in Antigua. Hand-eye coordination, not footwork, has been the big man's key to success over the years, along with his long reach, power and fighting attitude. It may now be that time is beginning to take its toll on his skills, at least in Tests. The cause for real worry for the selectors and coach Ottis Gibson must be that unlike India, who have found a Shikhar Dhawan to replace Virender Sehwag, there is no obvious successor at the top to Gayle.

Similarly in the bowling, a settled opening attack is still proving elusive. The big gamble to carry an injured Kemar Roach to India backfired, robbing the attack of its spearhead. It was a void that the big-hearted Tino Best did not fill, and the excellent Shane Shillingford was left to toil on his own virtually.

Watching up close the no-show in India, chairman of selectors Clyde Butts must have had an uncomfortable and depressing time. The progress that seemed to have been made in 2012 did not seem like much at all on this Indian trip. Yet another examination against a top team was flunked.

Maybe Clive Lloyd is right. Captain when professionalism and West Indies went together, Lloyd said this recently at a forum in his native Guyana: "I think our cricketers must start thinking about the West Indies; they need to start showing more loyalty to their country and once that is being displayed, West Indies cricket can move up the ladder. We have the talent here, but we don't have the players who are disciplined. Natural talent is just a part of it. You must have discipline to succeed. You must have discipline in your fitness, training, bowling, batting, fielding and all other aspects of the game."

Lloyd was stating the obvious in that last bit. However, on the latest evidence, his successors don't get it.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

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  • Aykroyd on November 19, 2013, 2:10 GMT

    I have read several postings regarding the state of WI cricket team and I thought I would chime in with a few comments.

    For the past 15 years or so the WI cricket team has lacked WICKET TAKING BOWLERS since the departure of the greats Ambrose and Walsh. As such, they have struggled to win Test Matches consistently unable to get 20 wickets. Despite this,however, we have been blessed and somewhat cursed with the advent of T20 as it has allowed us to somewhat HIDE this TRUTH.

    The fact is that the WI selectors, administrators,advisers and even some of its players have resorted to NOT STUDYING for the TEST but rather to enter each exam with a "Whatever" attitude, even leaving the exam before it is time. The mental toughness, occupying the crease,rotating the strike,talking to each other while at the crease and above all INTUITION are all characteristics missing and it shows in the TEST results.

    I believe if we start with these basics a higher score may be earned even if we just draw..

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:12 GMT

    Part7: Everybody in the stadium knows that, this inning was a payback time and I'm not sure how many Zimbabwean children must have been scarred by Sachin's onslaught on Olonga during the match or by his words after the match. In an instant, Windies were forgiven, completely. I am now able to understand my Father's words - Sportsmanship. Lloyd was reduced to that 'mean' child in your school who throws a tantrum when he loses, an insignificant but amusing remnant from childhood as we move into our adulthood. Grown up I am now, thanks to Sachin's uncomplicated words. I was once again able to enjoy Windies Cricket just the way I used to, before 1983. Felt good that I'm loving my Sobers again. Felt good that I'm loving my Viv again. Felt content with Lara's exploits. Felt good that I'm loving the Windies again wholeheartedly as I used to, when I was in my 6th grade. Watched Fire in Babylon, as a grown up man, to my heart's content, as soon as it was released.

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:11 GMT

    Part6: Caught at gully, I think. Heart break for me. The Master then faces Olonga again in the next match two days later. Olonga was now being dealt with utter disdain by Sachin, the same way Windies dealt with us on the 1983 tour of India. Sachin 1 - Olonga 1. Matter has been settled rather violently, on the field. Post-match interview with the Man of the Match - Sachin. Obvious question about Olonga and Sachin says something like this - "Olonga is also an international quality bowler. Sometimes he will dominate and sometimes I will." Not a word to the effect that Olonga or any Zimbabwean child should forget about that lovely bouncer Olonga bowled to The Master, two days ago. Take a bow, Master! What Sportsmanship! Matter has been settled rather amicably, post-match. My immediate reaction was what a contrast between Sachin and Lloyd. (TBC)

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:10 GMT

    Part5: Windies lost the match but won many a heart, thousands of miles away. Sunny retired and within a span of two years arrives a child called Sachin Tendulkar. Within an year, on the other side of the globe, in the Caribbean, arrives a Prince called Brian Charles Lara. By now, I was a teenager. Matches were lost. Matches were won. India were usually mid-table dwellers. Both the batsmen were doing wonders across the globe. Became Lara's and Sachin's fan and was looking forward for their performances. I'm now in my mid-20s and then came the day, in November 1998, when I was freed from Lloyd's reverberating post-match comments, the comments I was held hostage to, for 15 long years. India was playing Zimbabwe and The Master fell to a bouncer from Olonga. Olonga was a very very fast bowler. The ball crept on Sachin with steep bounce and The Master surrendered tamely by holding his bat in front of his face. (TBC)

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:06 GMT

    Part4: I developed some kind of dislike towards Windies Team for the way Lloyd confused me by downplaying the Greatest Joy of my life. With his post-match interviews in 1983, in India, he basically told a happy kid (me) that I should forget about my happiness. Still wondering, why? With Azharuddin, Siddhu, Sunny, Kapil, Cheeka and others, India was no longer a pushover. I continued to feel happy whenever Windies lost. But then came the moment when my bitterness towards the Windies team almost disappeared. Courtney Walsh showed the world in 1987 World Cup what is meant by sportsmanship by not Mankading Salim Jaffer of Pakistan, who was backing too much at the non-striker's end. Walsh's willingness to be sportive towards an unsportsmanlike sportsperson was in stark contrast to what Lloyd displayed in India in his post-match interviews. All is well with Windies. Lloyd didn't seem to infect the young minds of Windies, after all, with his unsportsmanlike philosophy. (TBC)

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:04 GMT

    Part3: At the same time, I didn't understand the politics of Indian Cricket in those days and the internal struggle for power within the team and the power struggle between the various regional boards of my country. I heard a lot from my father and other relatives about the lobbies in our team. Didn't understand their 'nonsense'. Kid was I. India embarked on 1985 World Championship of Cricket and passed in flying colors. My father clarified again to me, "India doesn't have to forget about Prudential Cup 1983 as you can see now that we again won a tournament that has all the international teams." Lloyd's words kept ringing in my ears, even after 2 years. My love for Kapil increased further and his single minded dedication for the team's cause AND results made him very endearing to me. India is now kind of a strong favourite in International tournaments. Felt good. Really good! (TBC)

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:02 GMT

    Part2: My father told me that "Lloyd isn't being graceful in defeat. However badly he might have wanted to win, he shouldn't talk in that unsportsmanlike manner." Hard for me to understand those 'superfluous' terms. Meanwhile, while the 1983 Windies tour of India was on, I developed a particular interest to imitate the bowling actions of Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Wayne Daniel (wickedly forceful deliveries) and The Big Bird (from Prudential Cup clippings). I mastered Marshall's action, without line and length. Daniel's was a close second, with decent line and length. I was decent with Holding's action and managed very good line and length. Wasn't bad at The Big Bird's and Roberts' action too, bad line and length once again. But since all my school mates and our teachers wanted to see only the perfect replica, I continued to entertain them with Marshall's action only. (TBC)

  • Srinivas on November 19, 2013, 1:01 GMT

    Part1: The following posts should summarize what Windies Cricket means to this Indian. Not sure, if any or how many of my posts will get published. But I just wanted to share my love story. I come from a generation of Indian kids who saw Kapil's Devils ambushing Windies in 1983 Prudential Cup Final. Windies came to India immediately after, and thrashed us black and blue. Lloyd kept on repeating like a mantra that India should forget about World Cup in his post-match interviews. Actually, I'm not sure if he kept repeating those words like a mantra, and he may have said those words only once. But his words were so disturbing that they reverberated in my ears for years to come and go on to have a profound impact on me, growing up. I wondered why I should forget about the world cup, as a child. For a child in 6th grade his mantra was very confusing. I didn't understand what he meant by India should forget about World Cup. (TBC)

  • trevor on November 18, 2013, 23:59 GMT

    I am appall that one fan would criticize me or anyone asking for the head of Denish Ramdin.He is a senior player, he is the # 1wicketkeeper,he is expected to perform a lot better than he did,India vs Windies.2 catches,3catches on the carpet cost the team.He is not the only one.The irresponsible batting of Bravo,Gayle & Darren Sammy,POOR FIELDING-The lack of rotation when the guys like Bravo, Gayle & others occupy the wicket is a recipe for failure.I have not criticize Chanders for his batting,I still won,t.It is unlikely that he will ever open-I am not sure he should.The openers along with Bravo & Samuels need to occupy the wicket,putting runs on the board.Kirk Edwards,Powell & Brathwaite should be seen as the WINDIES Openers;Gayle will not move to play the moving ball;At this phase in his career he will not make runs consistently against new ball bowlers that can move the ball away from & into the batsman.Darren Sammy's tenure as captain must come to an end.He needs to bat,not happen

  • V on November 18, 2013, 20:57 GMT

    In the 60's India had to play 4 day tests because they were told they were not good enough to deserve a 5 day contest. By that measure, the West Indies team should hereafter play 3 day tests. After all, they managed to lose two tests in about 5 days time both by innings defeats. It may do them some good. Just as it improved standards in India.

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