July 6, 2014

Lack of self-belief hampering West Indies' progress

Even though they surprised everyone by bouncing back from defeat to win the second Test, West Indies still remain a mentally frail side, prone to disintegrating when the odds are stacked against them

The pressure of captaincy has begun to badly affect Denesh Ramdin's wicketkeeping © WICB Media/Randy Brooks

After New Zealand's seminal triumph in their hard-fought, wildly fluctuating Test series against West Indies, Kane Williamson described the team as "a positive and a good young group that can win a lot in the coming years and ultimately move higher and higher in the rankings". It was impossible to deny his optimism. The average age of the squad that completed its first overseas triumph against significant opponents in 12 years was 26. Only the assured, assertive captain Brendon McCullum, Peter Fulton and Ross Taylor were over 30.

Williamson is 23 and is already spoken of back home in the same breath as Martin Crowe - by Crowe himself, among others. Player of the Series, his 113 in the first Test at Sabina Park and unbeaten 161 in the third at Kensington Oval was batting of high quality that lifted his tally to seven hundreds; Crowe had scored five at the same age. Williamson's first was in India, on debut, aged 20.

The ICC ranks him 14th among Test batsmen; he is certain to rise quickly. Taylor is ninth, McCullum 19th. Of the trio of swing bowlers who rarely offered West Indies respite, Tim Southee is sixth, Trent Boult ninth and Neil Wagner 22nd.

The only West Indians in ICC's top 20 are Shivnarine Chanderpaul, now a month away from his 40th birthday, fifth on the batting list, and Kemar Roach, impressively recovered from a shoulder operation last October, tenth among bowlers.

A more pertinent guide is the teams' rankings. New Zealand are seventh on the list, West Indies eighth. In other words, their recent meeting was akin to a Wimbledon first-round match between two unseeded players.

Sterner examinations are ahead for New Zealand - three Tests against Pakistan in the Emirates in November, two against Sri Lanka at home in January, two each away to England and Sri Lanka next summer. Williamson's confident prediction can then be properly assessed.

West Indies have the welcome cushion of two home Tests against the hapless Bangladesh in September before the daunting prospect of three against No. 2 South Africa in December and January.

The Bangladesh mini-series is an opportunity to introduce young players.

Kraigg Brathwaite, the 21-year-old opener, immediately responded to his recall for the second Test against New Zealand with 129.

Jermaine Blackwood, a 22-year-old dasher who came to prominence with successive hundreds against the touring Bangladesh A, stroked 63 on debut before he was jettisoned to boost the bowling in the final Test.

At the first signs of resistance, Ramdin dispersed his fielders to the deep. Even when an innings victory beckoned in the second Test, Mark Craig and wicketkeeper BJ Watling were placed under little pressure

Jason Holder's height suggests his preferred sport should be basketball. At 23, he made an encouraging entry into Test cricket at Kensington Oval with calmly compiled scores of 38 and 52 and tight fast-medium bowling.

There are other promising potential recruits from A teams who have done well against their counterparts from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Whatever talent there is and as much as the board plans to boost domestic standards through increased contracts for players, improved pitches and an extended first-class season, West Indies will make no progress until they shed the lack of self-belief ingrained by two decades of disappointment. Their spirit in transforming a hiding in the first Test at Sabina Park, by 186 runs in four days, into categorical victory by ten wickets in the second at the Queen's Park Oval reversed a sequence of five losses in six Tests. It was a thorough team effort; all 11 contributed.

The customary response to adversity used to been further disintegration. Now there was optimism that such frailty was at an end. It took the five days of the decisive match to negate the notion.

For the first three, West Indies held sway, until their familiar inability to seize the moment once more took hold. Replying to New Zealand's modest first-innings 293, they were 153 for a quarter-hour before rain intervened on the second afternoon. A platform was laid for a lead similar to the decisive 239 in the second Test; in the end, it was an insignificant 24.

The balance was still marginally in their favour when New Zealand were four down for 135 early on the fourth morning, ahead by 111.

Crucial chances had already been missed. Their bowling became as flat as the pitch was throughout, the situation compounded by mystifying decisions on the part of Denesh Ramdin, in his first series as captain in place of Darren Sammy.

He appeared ill at ease combining the always tough responsibilities of determining tactics and keeping wicket. His standards with the gloves dipped to such an extent that he allowed 57 byes in the three Tests and missed chances he would usually have gathered without fuss.

It led to an ultra-cautious tactical approach. At the first signs of resistance, he dispersed his fielders to the deep. Even when an innings victory beckoned on the fourth day of the second Test, the New Zealand No. 9, Mark Craig, and wicketkeeper BJ Watling were placed under little pressure in their partnership, which sent the match into the last day.

The selectors had changed the victorious second-Test XI, omitting a batsman to boost the numerically limited attack. Bold as it appeared, the move backfired. By the second innings, Jerome Taylor had shot his bolt after his earlier efforts, Sulieman Benn was feeling the effects of 182 overs in his previous five innings, and Shane Shillingford, denied his doosra on the ICC's direction, never looked like taking a wicket.

Yet they kept going for 60 overs, while Holder was restricted to ten. Taylor's late wicket was the only one to show among the three; Holder collected two. Williamson's unbeaten 161 duly led New Zealand to 331 for 7 by the end of the rain-shortened day. There was a definite momentum shift.

Jason Holder performed creditably on debut in the final Test, but why was he given only ten overs to bowl when he had taken two wickets? © WICB

McCullum's immediate declaration the following morning recognised it. He offered West Indies the challenge of scoring 308 at the plausible rate of 3.14 runs an over to win the match and take the series. He was emboldened by the conviction among his players that they would not be denied. More to the point, he had prior first-hand experience of how West Indies tend to waver in such a situation.

In the final Test of the preceding series between the two in New Zealand last December, West Indies carried a lead of 18 into their second innings. A collapse for 103 ensued and New Zealand took the match and the series 2-0.

At Kensington Oval, the prospect of winning was never a consideration after the first three wickets fell for 31 in the first ten overs; by tea, it was 161 for 7. It required an eighth-wicket partnership between Holder and the No. 9, Shillingford, to show what might have been and delay the New Zealanders their elation until the sun was slowly setting over Kensington Oval.

It was a familiar ending with a familiar cause.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2014, 19:40 GMT

    The Kensington Oval is notorious for producing last day blues for batsmen, and the Windies chose to reduce the number of batsmen playing to include more bowlers. I cannot imagine that a team which is struggling to win consistently needs a management selection policy that further challenges the team. Blaming Ramdin's captaincy here is shambolic. I think he needs, much as Sammy, Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan did a group of selectors who give him a balanced team at home.

  • Steven on July 8, 2014, 9:37 GMT

    I think when dwayne bravo is fit again he should captain the windies in all forms let ramdin focus on keeping and batting the selectors need to get it right cos the departure of the glue in the team shiv can't be to far away unfortunately and when that happens there will be Abig whole in the middle order no one to bail them out so I hope they are thinking ahead to make this team better before they have to find replacements for shiv and gayle the batting is the main issue for me they collapse so much the bowlers there's adecent crop there with holder roach Taylor rampaul fidel narine benn shillingford they do a solid job trying find batsman to put runs on the board for them is a prob dwaynes return should help maybe Simmons should have another crack at tests or even try pollard I know the short ball is a prob but he could afford to duck it in tests I'd would be looking at all options I was the windies selectors

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2014, 3:20 GMT

    The situation is not so bad in the test arena as it seems. The selectors got it wrong by changing the side that won the second test against New Zealand. They did not realise that they finally got it right. The batting needs to be bolstered and you will hardly loose a test match. In the second test all the bowlers got crucial wickets. However the rocket scientist selectors decided to reduce the batting and add a bowler. The selectors basically muffed the job. West Indies cricket will only be in a crisis if you keep the same selectors.

  • Patrick on July 8, 2014, 2:29 GMT

    @Clifford Bradford I agree. Any plans that Pybus and co are proposing now will not bear fruit for a few years. So what needs to happen is for former greats to beg, steal or borrow favours to get key youngsters FC contracts in England for an entire season. I spoke with Lara in 1994 after he had made his 501 for Warwickshire - he said that he had never played so much cricket in his life, but this toughened him into the player he became. This gen Y has things too easy and easy money to be made in T20s. Let them be out of their comfort zone in an England FC season, they will grow and become strong mentally and physically. Also, a radical move once Braithwaite had established himself say after the Bangladesh series, would be to elevate him to captain - At the rate he scores runs, he is unlikely to become drawn to T20 leagues and could provide stable leadership with the right mentoring from a former great.

  • Dummy4 on July 7, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    ok mr cozier players lack self belief, mayb but how does a player like blackwood develop self belief when he is in good form,, made first runs , came into the test team 7 made a half century on debut n is then dropped to play a spinner who in ur words can hardly buy a wicket? or how does holder develop self belief when he is not given enough overs to bowl even though he did not do anything blatantly wrong.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    "Whatever talent there is and as much as the board plans to boost domestic standards through increased contracts for players, improved pitches and an extended first-class season, West Indies will make no progress until they shed the lack of self-belief ingrained by two decades of disappointment." is Tony Cozier's central thesis but I strongly disagree. During the Lloyds and Richards years the great majority of WI Test team players played FC in England and that developed their game skills, professionalism and mental toughness. At the same time WI FC was also at a pretty high level. Today our FC is quite poor and International FC is mostly closed. The WI must develop it's FC to a higher standard in order to progress and our most promising players need to gain international experience in "A" teams and similar before getting thrown into the deep cauldron of Tests.

    Yes there is a lack of self belief but these players aren't just going to wake up one day and become Malcolm and Viv.

  • ESPN on July 6, 2014, 21:45 GMT

    Our fortunes would not change unless we deal with the root cause of the problem, one of which is NOT the talent of our players. They have had no really successful role models to follow within the recent past, and largely rely on the current coaching/management, and we have seen how successful they have been.

  • Donna on July 6, 2014, 19:51 GMT

    I'd venture to say that Ramdin was the main reason we lost the series. Poor field settings, failure to seize the moments, poor choice of bowlers. In short very poor captaincy. As wicketkeeper, he was unrecognisable! Was that really Ramdin behind the stumps? Is he going to do a Ritchie Richardson? He was unrecognisable as a batsman after he became captain. Some people can't handle the pressure. I hope Ramdin will be sensible and make the right decision if he can't because his keeping and batting are more important as was Richardson's explosive batting. Ramdin was beginning to fulfill his potential as a batsman. We need that. Who shouldl be captain? Perhaps Dwayne Bravo. Nobody could do worse than what I've seen so far from Ramdin. This bunch of guys isn't so bad. They just need some inspiration and self belief. We know they can do better. How come they don't?

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2014, 19:51 GMT

    Cozier well respected and an icon in what he does. but the story is always following him and makes it easier to highlight his country men than others. who can blame him. He will be missed, hope he get his roses while he is alive and hope he gets them in the smaller island state. good luck going forward.

  • Joshua on July 6, 2014, 12:57 GMT

    With so many of the current WI Test squad being 30 & over, I expected these older players to be more consistent, mature, and nurturing to the younger players. All I see on the field is everyone with their arms folded and looking uninterested in proceedings. They need to get their heads straight as Cozier has said.

    I thought, and still think, Ramdin is the best choice as captain but he seriously needs to observe how Clarke and McCullum captain their respective teams. With the best WI team in ages, Ramdin has no excuse as if BMac or Pup were to captain the WI team, they would at least have a 50% win ratio.

    Sammy wasn't fortunate enough to have Roach, Taylor, Benn, Narine, Shillingford, Blackwood, Holder, Johnson, Brathwaite, Gayle, Edwards, Bravo, Chanderpaul and Gabriel all fit and available for selection. This group of players should be regularly winning matches (and the odd series) against Pak, Sri, Eng, Ind and NZ. The Aussies and the Proteas are just too strong at the moment.

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