December 15, 2013

Wake up, West Indies

The biggest difference between them and New Zealand has been the force they radiate on the field

When the once-mighty West Indies went down limply to a frisky and impetuous New Zealand, I began looking for the underlying reason why. Beaten easily, with the conditions all in their favour, after a gallant batting fightback by Darren Bravo only days earlier in Dunedin, West Indies defied logic this time.

After returning from Adelaide and concluding that Australia had superior hunger and conviction, I realised that the two Test matches revolved around one simple thing - the force of energy; of vigorous activity and exertion of such power. Australia and New Zealand, the hosts, each ranked below their opponent, had significant tension that needed to be expressed.

They both had built up substantial torque in their bones and sinew, which needed to be returned, rotated for positive effect. They had to see a return for their pain in recent times. This was their present status: wound up, coiled like a spring, bursting for air. They leaped into action.

More than anything, what both these winning sides displayed so organically in their respective Tests was the collective art of fielding. They were simply flawless. It was as if the white line, the boundary rope, was the trigger. The moment they all bounded on to the field together was the start of the release. No doubt, too, their preparation was building to this crescendo.

Energy emerged in all shapes and forms - chatter, facial expression, speed of foot, the zing of the throw, the acrobatic dives, and the stunning catches. Superlative fielding wins Test matches. This was proved again in these recent Tests, as it has been for decades. The inseparable team aspect of cricket was epitomised splendidly in these two teams' togetherness. They won because they cared enough for each other and for their nations' pining.

Fielding is often underestimated. It too frequently takes second place to bowling and batting. Well, it has to, by order, yet without its energetic presence the bowler may not feel a propulsion from the combined force around him, supporting him, and the batsman may not feel the squeeze of being alone as all opposing eyes are upon him.

The fielding collective is massively important. It's fair to say there hasn't been a successful side without it. From my memory, growing up, I remember the Chappell era, and that mighty slips cordon plucking thunderbolts from the energy force of Lilleenthomson.

The calypso genius at the 1975 World Cup final was a young fireball called Viv Richards, who stole the show from Ian Chappell himself. Breathtaking energy, low to the ground, deathly zinging throws of incredible accuracy finding a tiny target at a stunning velocity. Run-outs won that final for West Indies that day. From that moment they became an irresistible force for the next 15 long years. Fielding propelled them into a different sphere. Energy became their antidote and no one could stop them once addicted.

Fast forward to Wellington this week. The same cricket nation, selected from glorious idyllic islands in the Caribbean, came with no collective force, no hunger, and definitely no energy. Their fielding was the worst I have seen in all my time. Not just the catches that went down, or the misfields, no, it was the total abject failure to represent what we are on this planet to do - simply breathe in and breathe out. They looked as if they didn't even try.

Get the fielding right and the bowler starts the day with a whoop in his stride, a lift in his delivery, a snap in his wrist

Denesh Ramdin has a job to do as the keeper of the faith. He has to demand an energetic call to action to his troops and to lead by example in delivering his all-important directive. Instead he said nothing, he coughed up an appalling amount of byes, and within an hour of the Test, West Indies were a weak, meek mouse of a team. All of this with conditions in their favour.

It says a lot for New Zealand that they smashed the team ranked two places above them comprehensively in three days. New Zealand played the perfect game, with universal energy as their drive. They thoroughly deserved their win, especially after much recent soul-searching and rehab. However, to win inside three days by such a margin was also testimony to a lazy, careless opponent.

England have dropped their standards alarmingly in their fielding too. Yes, they are ageing, that won't help a jot. They need an injection of something, and youth will help. Probably a bloody good fielding coach, like Jonty Rhodes, would too. Get the fielding right and the bowler starts the day with a whoop in his stride, a lift in his delivery, a snap in his wrist. At present they are playing with dough in their bellies. Get the fielding right and the batsman feels entrapped, surrounded and suffocated.

Playing West Indies in the 1980s was fraught with danger for obvious reasons: Roberts, Croft, Holding, Garner, Clarke, Daniel, Walsh, and the greatest of all, Marshall. That dealt with the first half-dozen pair of undies you carried. Then, for good measure, came Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Richards, and the leader of the pack, Lloyd. That wore out the 25 pairs of woollen socks the bowlers packed.

What lurked with vicious intent as you somehow survived all that talent and muscle was not only the smell of those fine batsmen in the field, but more so of Harper, Logie and Dujon, orchestrating it all. This was not only the finest bowling and batting combo the world has seen, it was also the finest collection of outcricketers the world has seen collectively on the field.

That the present side has reduced that legacy to nothing is not only sad, it's a sporting crime. Maybe one day when they sit in an office and earn half the amount they do now, reminiscing about what could have been, they will realise clearly what a waste of an opportunity it has been.

For heaven's sake, wake up. You are fine, athletic specimens, yet you are throwing away the very thing you were given - energy to burn. Use it to field for your Caribbean. From there your batting and bowling desires will have a better chance of coming to fruition, of rising to the ranks where your predecessors once were.

Alas, the game has changed. Test cricket, for some, like West Indies, is not as important as the tiny titivating runaround in T20. Or the quick buck. Guess what, when you are old and slow, play 20-over cricket all you want. That's what it's good for.

In the meantime, think for a minute about what you are doing. Cricket offers much. It provides the team dynamic, the individual stage, and a universal energy to express. To be truly you.

Seize the day.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

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