May 10, 2014

Ramdin wears the thorny crown

The new West Indies captain is known to be an astute tactician. But without any standout players at his disposal, his job remains just as hard as it was for his predecessor, Darren Sammy

Denesh Ramdin has been at the core of West Indies cricket long enough to be aware of the complexities he must confront as the new Test captain. History, ancient and modern, reveals that he is inheriting a potential poisoned chalice. He has observed from close proximity the misgivings that were a constant companion to Darren Sammy - whom he now replaces at the helm - through his three and a half years in the job.

Ramdin's own career has been a bemusing roller-coaster ride: first-choice wicketkeeper and vice-captain at its peak, ignored on the downslides whenever his batting, not his keeping, fell away.

He was harshly criticised, by the players' association and his Trinidad & Tobago board among others, for his bizarre gesture of displaying a defiant message from the middle to a critical Sir Viv Richards on completing a hundred at Edgbaston in 2012. In the Champions Trophy last year, he was suspended for two matches for claiming a bump-ball catch against Pakistan, in spite of maintaining that it was an innocent mistake.

For all that, his reputation as an astute tactician has been long recognised. He led the West Indies Under-19s to the World Cup final in Bangladesh in 2004, later captained the A team, is the current T&T skipper, and was Sammy's most recent deputy.

His promotion comes just when he is at the top of his game, a significant advantage.

For two years, between 2010 and 2012, the diminutive Jamaican Carlton Baugh filled the keeper's spot in Tests and ODIs after a Ramdin batting slump. Devon Thomas, a young Antiguan, was brought in for the 2011 World Cup and an ODI series in Australia without fulfilling expectations.

Since Ramdin's return to the Test team in 2012, his forthright approach has earned him an average of 44.29 in 14 matches, with three hundreds and three fifties.They are numbers to stack up against the best of the contemporary keepers: MS Dhoni, Brad Haddin and Matt Prior. His 128 from 109 balls, with six five sixes and 12 fours against England was the highest in ODIs by a West Indian keeper. It confirmed his new self-belief.

While he personally is having the time of his life, West Indies cricket is at its lowest ebb. The refrain from disenchanted fans, and some former players, is to recall the glory days when West Indies dominated the world game under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. They ring incessantly in the ears of the current generation. The chorus reminds them that their predecessors went 15 consecutive series during the 1990s without losing one, goading them that for the past decade and more they have languished near the bottom of the ICC ratings.

The era when the captaincy went only to well-connected white amateurs has long passed. In the age of meritocracy, even great players like Garry Sobers and Brian Lara have been pilloried for their unconventional leadership. Lara quit twice. The pressures at the top prompted Shivnarine Chanderpaul to step aside, and Courtney Walsh was shunted back into the ranks.

The captaincy tested Sammy and will undoubtedly test Ramdin.

The state of West Indies cricket at the time of Sammy's appointment in October 2010 was no better than it is at his departure.

When Dwayne Bravo, the favourite to succeed Chris Gayle, preferred the life of a free agent rather than to be constrained by a WICB retainer contract, Sammy was the only alternative. In other circumstances, the job would have been Ramdin's. He had then played 42 consecutive Tests. The problem was that while the selectors mulled over Gayle's successor, Ramdin was not in the team, having been replaced by Baugh as his scores tapered off. So Sammy it was.

It is doubtful whether the recent record would have been any better whoever the captain was. Sammy simply led teams that were a match only for New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Sobers and Lara too had earlier discovered that even with their presence in weak teams it was impossible to squeeze blood out of stone.

Ramdin can expect a similar experience as no outstanding new players have come forward, while others have gone backwards. His first two series as leader, at home against New Zealand and Bangladesh, at least offer some relief before other, far more taxing ones, against South Africa, England and Australia, follow.

Sammy won't be involved. Predictably, he has now retired from Test cricket. He remains captain of the T20 team that won the World T20 in 2012, got as far as the semis this year, and can hold its own against any opposition. That is now his niche, as a specialist, six-hitting finisher. That ability is likely to help him maintain his place in the 50-overs format.

Whatever his Test record, Sammy made a universal reputation as what Ramdin described at the handover as "a very humble and hard-working cricketer [who] gave his all to the job". WICB president Dave Cameron described Sammy's leadership as "energetic and resolute". The reality is that he didn't qualify as an authentic allrounder. As such, the misgivings always concerned whether or not he merited a place in the Test XI.

The obvious rejoinder was that Bravo was the only other option and he was committed to T20 franchise teams. Presumably, now that he has accepted the WICB contract, he will return for the first time since 2010 to take Sammy's responsibility of batting at No. 6 and bowling medium-pace swing in Tests.

In the end, Sammy himself recognised that his time was up. After the drubbings in the recent series in India and New Zealand, and a year in which his batting average in seven Tests was 21.9 and his eight wickets cost 49.87 each, he acknowledged that "some careers are on the line; could be mine as well".

While his returns in Tests verified his prediction, Sammy leaves that version with appreciation for his wholehearted commitment to West Indies, even from those who were never persuaded that he was quite good enough as a player.

Now it's Ramdin's turn to come under the microscope.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on May 14, 2014, 1:53 GMT

    Sammy gave the impression that he was a fantastic person. When he started, he appeared too polite, too obedient to the coach, and unsure of his decision making authority. But in my eyes, Sammy gradually grew in stature and the T20 WC win was a testimonial to his leadership skills. I also remember a test vs INDIA where Sammy bowled unchanged for close to 35 overs and didn't let INDIA take the game away from the West Indies. This fighting spirit was unbelievable and showed the real strong character of the man - a man who put his health at risk to save his country's pride. I only wish that the likes of Gayle, Bravo and Samuels had contributed to their potential when they played under him. Had they done so, his record - at least as a captain- would've been much better. I'm sure he will go on to being a terrific coach.

  • Douglas on May 13, 2014, 3:30 GMT

    When will Sarwan return from the wilderness to lead West Indies after being banished by coach Gibson?

  • kent on May 13, 2014, 1:35 GMT

    @Gerry_the_Merry, |Maybe what you said sounds funny, but I am not laughing though. Or maybe it is an innocent quip poking fun at the team structure, but I cant appreciate it and I am not seeing the funny side. Could you be so kind to refrain from such remarks, in the interest of the game in WI? Thanks a lot man...

  • Rupesh on May 12, 2014, 18:44 GMT

    Captain is irrelevant, what WI needs is better batsmen. Gayle is starting to decline and is injury prone, Chandra is likely over the hill. None of the young batsmen are in that class. Bowling is decent, but without a solid top 4 Ramdin is not going to do much better than Sammy.

  • Dummy4 on May 12, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Good luck to Ramdin. Cricket is better off with a strong West Indies, not (I'm afraid) that I see that happening any time soon. One thing WICB could do at little cost is sort out the pitches. What happened to those quick true pitches which encouraged the likes of Holding, Marshall Roberts etc? They also encouraged West Indian stroke play (not the same as slogging).

    I think Sammy did a good unifying job on the team, but was never really worth his place in the test team as a player (he is worth his place in the limited overs teams as a player). i think he's done the right thing by retiring as a test player.

  • Clifford on May 12, 2014, 12:52 GMT

    Very short term goal is to beat NZ in the next series. Since we last played them in the WI the Kiwis have come along leaps and bounds in Tests so if we can beat them it will show some progress by the Windies. It's going to be tough though.

    Our best tow fast bowlers (Roach and Rampaul) have been injury prone and haven't played much and the young guns haven't necessarily shown much at test level. I would carry two spinners against the Kiwis on any WI pitch because it is still a Kiwi weakness - good for us the we have good spinners but will the selectors man up?

    Batting-wise I think Jr Bravo, Chanders, Gayle and Samuels can be pencilled in but to be honest neither Samuels or Gayle has been impressing recently. The WI need to have a couple younger batsmen in the squad as C,G, and S aren't going to play forever.

    In the longer term it's going to be up to more than the captain to move WI cricket along...

  • Android on May 12, 2014, 12:18 GMT

    sarwan & Bravo senior should be in test team Gayle..Sarwan.Bravo.samules.Chanpul.Bravo.Ramdin.Holder.Narine.j.teylor.shillingford

  • mahjut on May 12, 2014, 11:30 GMT

    "Roach, Taylor, Holder/Rampaul , Miller, Doenarine/Bravo , Ramdin, + any 5 batsmen ..."

    I reckon that looks like a decent attack to work with ... so who are the five bats: maybe Gayle/Braithwaite, Powell then Bravo, Sarwan and Chanders and that looks a decent batting line-up too.

    Though Chanders, Sarwan and Gayle are all pushing mid-30s now

  • henry on May 12, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    be good to see the best WI players available to take on the likes of hopes Gayle is fit by the time the tests come around. Am looking forward to his 100th test appearance. Great milestone for any player.

  • GV on May 12, 2014, 4:42 GMT

    Better call it Indies, with very few African descent players in the team now.

  • No featured comments at the moment.