December 13, 2015

Where to next for West Indies as a Test team?

If the trend of heavy defeats continues, and if the board refuses to take responsibility, their status in the longest format could be in jeopardy

With three defeats since he took over as captain, the pressure is beginning to tell on young Jason Holder © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Of all the harrowing days West Indies have endured on the Test grounds of the world over the past couple of decades - and heaven knows, they have been plentiful and persistent - none was as horrific as the two and a half it took to capitulate to Australia in the first Test in arctic Hobart.

The Australians were sensible enough to not expect a competitive challenge. Recent results alerted them to the situation. The tourists' loss by ten wickets to a Cricket Australia XI in their solitary lead-up match immediately justified the media's earlier proposal, impractical as it was, to switch the showpiece Tests in Melbourne and Sydney - assigned to West Indies - with those scheduled earlier for palpably stronger New Zealand.

Yet they couldn't possibly have foreseen just how limp West Indies would be at the start of a contest that offered them the chance to at least restore a little of their pride.

As Jason Holder slowly and ruefully trudged back to the pavilion after his second-innings dismissal on Saturday, to a leg-side tickle to the keeper, it was the first sign that the pressure after his third defeat as captain - two by an innings - was impacting on the young, inexperienced leader.

Ian Chappell, a former Australia captain, speaking with the obvious admiration he holds for West Indies cricket, termed it "ridiculous" to hand such a youthful cricketer the most difficult job in the game and "then burden him with a poor team".

The Caribbean and Tasmania are as far apart as the disenchanted players are from the WICB. The results in the boardroom in Castries and on the field in Hobart are closely related

He referred to the glaring lack of support for Holder from senior players, those "who need a kick up the backside". There were no prizes for deducing that those he had in mind were Marlon Samuels, a talented, underperforming batsman in his 15 years of international cricket, and Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, the new-ball pair who have 79 Tests and 250 wickets between them.

Samuels loitered around the outfield in Hobart, showing little interest in the proceedings. His fingers on both hands were taped, resembling a version of some Egyptian mummy. Occasionally he donned his designer sunglasses, occasionally he broke into a casual trot in pursuit of the ball.

Taylor, the same bowler who started his previous Test against the same opponents on his home ground of Sabina Park in Kingston in June with five consecutive maidens and two wickets, and Roach, well down on pace from his previous Test tour to Australia six years earlier, each got the series underway with a no-ball. David Warner and Joe Burns picked off their listless offerings, knocking 58 runs off the first eight overs, including 12 boundaries. The die had been cast.

The only sparks for West Indies after Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh had amassed their record partnership and seen Australia to 583 for 4 before Steven Smith mercifully declared were Darren Bravo's delightful first-innings 108 and Kraigg Brathwaite's uncharacteristically belligerent second-innings 94 out of a total of 148.

A raft of post-mortems has inevitably followed, yet it remains difficult to foresee where West Indies cricket goes next.

The most feasible, if disturbing, answers point to a split into the separate territories that have banded together for over 100 years, or else inevitable demise in Tests, with concentration solely on the shorter formats.

Will the next generation of fans still be supporting West Indies or the individual countries that make up that union? © Caribbean Premier League

Tom Moody, a former Australian player, is now the director of the T20 Caribbean Premier League (CPL). He believes its popularity over its first two seasons can be the catalyst for reviving diminishing public interest in the game overall. Whether those who fill the stands wherever the CPL is played are there for the cricket or for the off-field entertainment under lights is a moot point.

Even before a ball was bowled in Hobart, Baldath Mahabir, a director who quit the "unprofessional, tardy, lax" West Indies Cricket Board last month, spoke of his concerns that there may be no such thing as West Indies cricket within ten years.

Mahabir maintained that the present generation in their 20s would have no recollection of the heady times when West Indies ruled the world. All they know is an entity that languishes near the bottom of the ICC rankings for a couple of decades. His concern is that young fans increasingly favour supporting their individual territories, rather than enduring the embarrassment of West Indies' constant defeats.

Six years ago Daren Ganga, then Trinidad and Tobago captain, who played 48 Tests for West Indies between 1998 and 2008, made a similar point. "If you speak to any West Indies player, you will hear them talking about this special affiliation to their country," he said. "When you play for the country that you were born in and brought up in and you sing your national anthem, it brings a different individual spirit to you."

There is no such political entity as the West Indies. Its shareholders - Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the Windward Islands - are all fully independent mini-nations with their own governments, currencies, flags and anthems. It is a wonder they have held together for over 100 years, since a 1900 tour of England. That unity has become increasingly fragile.

More than one player, now unavailable due to their commitments to global T20 franchises, has told me they feel the West Indies they would officially represent is really the WICB. It is an interesting perspective, given the mutual lack of trust between the two.

Shortly after Ganga's comments, the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) boycotted the annual general meeting of the WICB. Then president Deryck Murray, the former West Indies wicketkeeper and vice-captain during the glory days of the late 1970s, acknowledged that it was a difficult decision.

"We want to send a signal to the WICB that this is not a time for business as usual," he said. "I want to be clear. This is not a threat to the unity of West Indies cricket. In this time of crisis, we cannot afford to sit back and keep doing the same things over and over again. That is not doing anything for our cricket." His message was that "the people of Trinidad and Tobago expect and demand that things be done differently from here on in."

Six years later, nothing has changed, in spite of three commissioned reports that have recommended extensive adjustments to the structure of the WICB. Murray was a member of the latest, mandated by the Caribbean governments, that is being discussed by the WICB's quarterly meeting this weekend in St Lucia.

It calls for the board to be immediately dissolved, and all its members to resign in favour of a new board with wider, more varied representation. Predictably the WICB is strongly resisting the recommendation.

The Caribbean and Tasmania are as far apart as the disenchanted players are from the WICB. The results in the boardroom in Castries and on the field in Hobart are closely related.

In the meantime, Holder and his players have a two-day match against Victoria XI as preparation prior to the daunting Boxing Day Test at the MCG, followed by the final match in Sydney early in the new year. They need to stir themselves into a stronger showing than their obliteration in Hobart; if they don't, West Indies might well be wiped off future ICC Test itineraries.

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

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