March 27, 2016

Remembering Rangy

The late West Indies offspinner played when spin was undervalued in the region. The success of the current lot in T20 would have pleased him

Rangy Nanan played one Test, in 1980 in Faisalabad © Getty Images

It is not difficult to imagine Rangy Nanan going to his grave with a wry smile on his lips.

The most successful bowler in West Indies cricket, in a first-class career between 1973 and 1991, the heavy-set Trinidad and Tobago offspinner was restricted to a solitary Test by the numerical strength of Clive Lloyd's battering-ram pace attack that was the foundation of the team's record 15 years without losing a series.

Before his death on Wednesday, aged 62, after a lengthy battle against poor health, Nanan witnessed the sharp decline in West Indies fast-bowling stocks and the continuing futile fixation with replenishing them to the disadvantage of spin. Just days before Nanan's passing, Richard Pybus, West Indies Cricket Board's director of cricket, spoke of a series of camps and off-season training programmes for fast bowlers as "part of a plan to rekindle an area of the game that has been struggling in recent years".

"This is going to be central to us getting that [fast bowling] back at the heart of West Indies cricket again," he added.

Memories of George John, George Francis, Manny Martindale and others of the early days still linger alongside those of Hall and Griffith, Lloyd's formidable group, and Ambrose and Walsh of the modern era.

The only regular fast bowlers in the Test team at present are Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, both with over 100 wickets at the highest level, yet their effectiveness is waning. In the three most recent Tests in Australia, Taylor's two wickets cost 128.50 each, and Roach took none at all.

Alzarri Joseph and Chemar Holder were at the heart of the Under-19 World Cup triumph in Bangladesh in February. They are the ones Pybus is likely to bring on. Others are not immediately evident.

Last July, the WICB charged its cricket committee with coming up with ways "to prioritise the development of fast bowlers in the region and for the West Indies team, recognising that the majority of the overs in regional tournaments are bowled by spinners and [that] is impacting negatively on the production of fast bowlers for the West Indies team". Nothing was heard from the committee until Pybus, the Englishman with previous coaching stints in Pakistan and Bangladesh, revealed the WICB's proposals. It sounded very much as if there is to be no place for Nanan's successors.

Ravi Rampaul hails from Preysal, the home town of Nanan © AFP

At least he could take satisfaction from the surprisingly secure place of spin bowling in T20, typified by its role in the current World T20 in India.

Nanan's one Test was in Pakistan in 1980, when there was the inevitable presence of five fast bowlers - Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Sylvester Clarke, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. An injury to his right shoulder diving for a return catch in the first of three ODIs eliminated Holding for the remaining matches.

Nanan broke the sequence in the second Test, in Faisalabad. Ironically, it was the only Test of four that produced an outright result in a low-scoring series, with West Indies prevailing by 156 runs. Nanan's contribution was two wickets in each innings. He was never picked again. Imtiaz Ali, a legspinner who was Nanan's contemporary, had the same treatment after his only Test against India in Port-of-Spain in 1976.

Nikita Miller, the consistent Jamaican left-arm spinner who passed 400 first-class wickets in the 2015-16 Professional Cricket League (PCL), is Nanan's modern equivalent. He was dropped after one Test in 2009 and has not been recalled so far. Others with impressive records at domestic level have taken back seats despite the present dearth of fast bowlers.

Each team in the World T20 in India has at least two spin bowlers. In the enforced absence of Sunil Narine through a suspect action, Sulieman Benn, the skyscaper left-arm spinner, and the crafty legspinner Samuel Badree are West Indies' spin pair; Benn's economy rate in the three West Indies victories to date (not including the Afghanistan game) is 5.09; Badree's is 6.18.

Benn's 26 Tests have been scattered over seven years; Badree, pigeonholed as a "T20 specialist" has played none. Nanan was from the hotbed of cricket in Central Trinidad. His club, Preysal, the place of his birth, has produced two other Test players - Inshan Ali, a chinaman bowler, had 12 Tests in the 1970s; Ravi Rampaul, the 31-year-old seamer who, in spite of his 18 Tests, 92 ODIs and 23 T20Is, is no longer on the West Indies radar, and has now signed a two-year contract with Surrey.

Nanan was realistic enough to perceive the reasons for his fate and that of others of his ilk. He kept plugging away in the Shell Shield, the annual regional tournament. When he called it quits after 94 first-class matches, he had 366 wickets at 23 runs apiece. He was a decent batsman, whose one hundred, 125, was against a Leeward Islands bowling attack led by Andy Roberts and Eldine Baptiste in 1983.

He immediately became involved in administration, serving as liaison officer to West Indies teams and in the 2007 World Cup, as well as enthusiastically mentoring promising young players and testing their ability in the nets.

Brian Lara played alongside him in the Trinidad and Tobago team during his developing years. He spoke of Nanan's passion and dedication to the game as a player and administrator, and about "the integral role he has played in my own cricketing career".

"It always felt as if I was at school when facing his prodigiously turning offbreaks," he recalled. "I learnt a lot about the art of playing spin from him."

Spin continues to dominate in the PCL. Nine of the top ten bowlers were spinners this season and last. The performances of countrymen Narine and Badree in T20Is will have been cause for special pleasure for Nanan.

Such performances in the limited-overs, white-ball format do not relate to the needs of Test cricket. It explains the enduring obsession with pace. In the meantime, those who follow Nanan a generation later will simply persevere, claiming more wickets than anyone else while the concentration is on rekindling "an area of the game that has been struggling in recent years".

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

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