March 23, 2014

West Indies' rocky road ahead

The board president has a grand vision for the Test team but a short-first class season, poor pitches, and the lure of T20 could thwart those ambitions

Less than a year in as president, Dave Cameron has set himself and the West Indies Cricket Board what appears to be nothing less than a mission impossible. He asserted in a newspaper interview last week that his board considers West Indies' value to be based on the team's Test status so that "the plan is clearly to get us back to the top, not just the top three, but number one".

It was a U-turn since the board's cancellation last year of two Tests each against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in favour of a couple of one-day series, the first also involving India. Now Cameron said that "if the West Indies can be a force again in the Test arena, I would feel that strides have been made under my tenure". It was an understatement.

To produce such a transformation calls for a rapid rise in standards on the field, and at the same time reigniting the flame among a passionate public, so depressed after years of an unrequited love affair with Test cricket that it has found a new infatuation in the glamorous attraction of the T20 version.

West Indies presently languish at No. 8 on the ICC's Test rankings, below all the major teams. Since being toppled by Australia in 1995 from the top spot they held for 15 years, when they did not lose a series, they have rarely risen above halfway on the table. They haven't won a Test against India in their last five series, only one each against Australia and England in their last six.

So how can Cameron's goal be achieved?

The board's directors are to discuss setting up "professional structures" at a meeting in Port-of-Spain this weekend; Cameron regards this as a priority. So does new director of cricket, the widely travelled Englishman Richard Pybus.

Pybus, formerly in coaching positions in Pakistan (twice), Bangladesh (briefly) and South Africa, arrived last November to find obvious talent but a system that is well behind those of West Indies' competitors. At its forthcoming meeting, the board is to thrash out how best to implement his proposal to "professionalise the game properly".

The brevity of the first-class season is a long-term problem, especially since opportunities with English counties dried up, and more recently, as the top men were lost to overseas T20 franchises. One round leading to the semi-finals and final limits teams to a maximum of eight matches each; it is hardly ideal for developing Test cricketers.

It is a handicap compounded by slow, turning, unsatisfactory pitches, sometimes doctored to provide home advantage. They flatter bowlers and drain batsmen's confidence. In the 2013 tournament, eight totals were below 100, 34 between 100 and 200, just two over 400. Four of the five highest wicket-takers were spinners. Nikita Miller's 52 wickets were taken at eight runs each.

As important as boosting the team's strength is the task of reviving fans' interest in the regional game and Tests

Even with a longer season, properly marketed and promoted in a fully professional set-up, combined with more attention to pitches, there remains the predicament of how to retain players lured by the lucrative contracts of domestic T20 tournaments across the globe.

More and more are concentrating primarily on six-hitting and tight bowling; more will follow the lead of Samuel Badree and Krishmar Santokie, specialists not required for longer formats, even for their regional teams.

The latest prodigy is Nicolas Pooran, 18, a slim left-hander from Trinidad. He belted 54 off 24 balls in his first match in the Caribbean Premier League last year; his 143 off 160 balls, with six sixes and 14 fours against Australia was the innings of the Under-19 World Cup in Dubai. He is yet to play a first-class match. It won't be long before he is snapped up by an IPL outfit.

Chris Gayle, a batsman with a Test average of 42 from 99 Tests and a couple of triple-hundreds, is now universally acclaimed more for his T20 exploits. Sunil Narine, ranked by the ICC as the No. 1 bowler in T20 and No. 3 in ODIs, comes in at No. 68 in Tests. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, third among Test batsmen, doesn't get a game in the abbreviated stuff.

As important as boosting the team's strength is the task of reviving fans' interest in the regional game and Tests. Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago are the oldest and fiercest of sporting rivals. Think Lancashire and Yorkshire in England, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia. A couple of hundred diehards turned up for their current first-class clash at Kensington Oval where there used to be thousands. They were confined to one stand, the others closed to save on security costs. The same holds true everywhere - and has done for several seasons. When the T20 CPL comes around in July and August, every gate will be open, every seat taken, as they were last year.

The situation is not surprising. When West Indies triumphed in the World T20 championship in Sri Lanka in 2012, the Trinidad Express declared that it had "lifted the spirit of the entire region as one". It was a sentiment not heard since the days of Test dominance under Clive Lloyd.

It would apply again if there is a turnaround over the next two years - and fulfil Cameron's impossible dream.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CRIC on March 28, 2014, 20:16 GMT


    You would REALLY consider a recal for Fidel Edwards...? And select two players (Sarwan and Rampaul) who simply do not care about their fitness. Tagenarine Chanderpaul looks a fine prospect but at the moment, he is just that, a prospect. Give the boy another year (with the elongated first class system) and we can certainly look to bring him into the squad. I have to disagree regarding Fidel Edwards, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ravi Rampaul though, they should not be anywhere near the top of the list. Certainly not ahead of Delorn Johnson and Kirk Edwards, those two need to be in the make up from now on. Nic Pooran, Ray Jordan and Ronsford Beaton could all find their way into the selector's thoughts in another year or so too. Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach with the new ball for now, I agree.

  • G. Carlton on March 27, 2014, 17:18 GMT

    Edd Oliver, you just can't decree that Darren Sammy's "...time is up as a Test player..." without giving good reason. Of course one is entitled to one's opinion, as are those who state that Chris Gayle is losing his edge, based on recent performances!

  • mustaq on March 27, 2014, 4:35 GMT

    from Bangladesh , i luv wi since 1990 , but im very disappontd abt wi tm .they need solid test ,oneday & t20 tem .

    my test team #T.canderpaul/gayle/k.powell/D.M bravo/sarwan/S.canderpal/ramdin/C.walton/shillinford/M.samuels/J.taylor/K.roach/R.Rampaul/V.permuel/F.Edwads.

    One day team# Gayle/K.Erwards/Simmons/samuels/bravo brothers/J.charels/S.canderpaul/narine/benn/taylor/sammy/roach/J.holder/R.Rampaul here keeper J.charels or simmons .

    T20 team # gayle/Dr Smith/J.charels/DJ /simmons/samuels/sammy/badree/narine/miller/K.cooper/J.holder/N.pooran/J.taylor/R.austin

    Any body suggest ?? pls

  • CRIC on March 25, 2014, 10:30 GMT

    A fine article by Mr.Cozier, that echoes the recent comments made by the great Clive Lloyd. The main issues are as listed: 1) Pitches - need to be hard and true to encourage strokeplay and faster bowlers, 2) Season - must be doubled in length to allow for development, 3) How to combat T20's allure? - A difficult question. The ICC needs a window for the IPL, with no other cricket being played, that would be a good start, 4) Fitness - a point not noted above, but noted by Clive Lloyd. The great teams were based on Dennis Waight's fantastic system. Today, many players lack the required strength and conditioning - anybody calling for Sarwan and Rampaul in the test team needs to rethink their ideas. 5) Get back to what made WI no.1 - use the knowledge of former greats (Holding, Richards, Lara, Greenidge, Dujon, Ambrose, Walsh etc), let them bring on these young promising players, for they are out there - Beaton, Holder, Jordan, Johnson, Pooran, T.Chanderpaul, Narine etc

  • Dummy4 on March 24, 2014, 15:41 GMT

    Gerry the Merry, West Indies used to care about bowlers, particularly quick bowlers: Hall, Griffiths, Roberts, Garner, Holding, Croft, Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh, Patterson, Winston and Kenny Benjamin, Sylvester Clarke, Ezra Moseley, Tony Gray and Franklyn Stephenson all tell you that. As Tony says, what happened to the WI pitches that used to be fast and true? My understanding is they have been badly curated for a number of years (possibly due to WICB cost cutting).

  • GV on March 24, 2014, 3:13 GMT

    West Indies and India dont care for bowlers. But the West Indies have an additional problem - unlike India, they are not producing batsmen. Their batsmen used to be the best 30 years back. Greenidge, Fredericks, Kalli, Richards, Lloyd, Rowe or Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd, Dujon used to be an all star line up. Now there are no batsmen being produced. Perhaps the T20 is to blame, but only in the last 3 years. Why not for the last 20 years? After Lara, none.

  • abhijeet on March 23, 2014, 22:21 GMT

    I think one should enjoy what he has. I am proud to say that I had put my bets on West Indies winning last T20 world cup. In fact I still believe that West Indies might retain the cup since having a T20 team with Gayle, Smith, Bravo, Samuels, Sammy, Russel, Badree and Narine is nothing short of exceptional.

    But if you gotta cry about them being not so good Test players, you can keep crying. I am an Indian by the way.

  • Joshua on March 23, 2014, 20:48 GMT

    I would need an article or blog to explain my reasoning but I believe the XI below should be tried.

    1)Samuels 2)Edwards 3)DJ Bravo 4)Gayle 5)Chanderpaul 6)Ramdin 7)Sammy 8)Narine 9)Miller 10)Holder 11)Rampaul

    The average age of this team is about 31 which, with a grain of salt, suggests maturity and that the players (esp. batsmen) are probably just before, at, or just past their peak.

    Here are some reasons behind the lineup.

    *Samuels has the best technique against swing period. *Edwards has a good SR and has the temperament needed. *DJ Bravo has the ability to be a good #3 unlike the "off-side only" DM Bravo *Gayle should bat #4 to take advantage of ball as soon as it stops swinging. *Shiv is their best batsman and 5 is his preferred spot anyway. *Ramdin is has refined his batting hence him at 6. *Sammy (believe it or not) has a better technique than most; playing at him 7 allows 4 frontline bowlers to play. *Narine, Miller, Rampaul and Holder are the best 4 available ATM.

  • Dilan on March 23, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    The new 'ICC' have to insist that every test side plays 3 tests worse every other test side over a 3 year period....not 2 test and not 5 tests (i.e no more boring 5 test ashes)! ...with a minimum of 9 tests/year for each country. this will allow for major ICC events within the year.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    They could start by picking their best possible XI in tests. Darren Sammy has done a decent job as captain but his time is up as a test player. Gayle, Barath, Edwards/Sarwan*, Darren Bravo, Chanderpaul, Samuels, Ramdin+, Taylor (seems to be fit again at last), Rampaul, Narine, Roach. There's an XI that could compete with most test teams on their day.

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