All's not well that ends well
Up to the end, West Indies' 2007 was crammed with historic events and twists. Feverishly, Caribbean territories prepared to host their first World Cup, a logistical feat that cannot really be appreciated without understanding the political, cultural and economic background.
The legacy of the tournament itself - despite the immovability of nearly a dozen modern stadia - remains a fluid one, dependent largely on intelligent and creative use of the physical infrastructure that cost more than most of the countries could afford.
The games themselves were not fascinating affairs, and it was only after strident complaints about the ICC's heavy-handed insistence on security measures that stripped away the Caribbean essence that there was finally some relaxation in the rules. Yet the event was clouded by Bob Woolmer's death, which ended in a murder investigation as bizarre as the death itself. Following closely was the surprise announcement by Brian Lara that he was retiring from international cricket, with rumours surfacing within a month linking him to the new Indian Cricket League. They turned out to be true, but Lara was a dud at the event, and it was clear to see he really had no sporting interest in it.
It was also a year of shifts and changes in personnel. In April, coach Bennett King resigned, and after considerable speculation, the position was filled by John Dyson. Ramnaresh Sarwan was also named as captain, and Michael Findlay the new manager. Sarwan and Marlon Samuels later voiced harsh criticisms of King as coach, Sarwan calling him the "worst coach" ever. Whatever the truth, it was evident that team and administrators continued to be at loggerheads.
Bruce Ananensen, appointed WICB CEO in February, exacerbated already fractious relations with the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA). Arbitrators had to be called in to determine who was really saying what in negotiations. By the tour of England, where they lost three matches and drew one (with Sarwan injured and out, and Daren Ganga filling in), things grew even uglier as Aanensen publicly called players "incompetent". Chris Gayle, named captain for the ODIs, offered his own criticisms of the WICB and was reprimanded by the president, Ken Gordon, who demanded an apology. Gayle declined and went on to lead the team to a 2-1 win in the ODI series.
|Lara had been a divisive force in Wet Indies cricket, but the way he went acknowledged nothing of his large contribution. What it said about the cricket culture was the saddest part of it all|
By the time the WICB's annual general meeting rolled around, things had grown so hostile, it was clear changes had to come again. The long-serving Julian Hunte was voted in with a mission to soothe jangled nerves and restore some harmony to relations. Adroitly, he included WIPA president Dinanath Ramnarine on the board of directors, and promised to be friend and guide to all. Also on his agenda was the implementation of the comprehensive report of a three-member governance committee, headed by PJ Patterson, to chart a course of rehabilitation for West Indies cricket. One committee member, Ian McDonald, pleaded that the report not end up as a dust magnet like all its predecessors.
In the meantime Allen Stanford began his campaign for the 20/20 tournament, which had been a resounding success in 2006, to be held in Antigua in 2008.
At the end of the year, as the team headed off to play first Zimbabwe and then South Africa, with Chris Gayle retaining the captaincy and Clive Lloyd as manager and Dyson due to join them, expectations were so low that Hunte's Christmas letter to the team focused more on putting up a good fight than winning: "If we go down, it must be to a superior team and that we go down fighting. There is no shame in losing, the shame is when you do not put out or give of your best."
That the team outplayed South Africa for more than 90 per cent of the first Test to achieve their fist Test victory in nearly three years could not have been imagined by anyone who has been following West Indies cricket. It was a solid end to a tumultuous year and a really high note on which to start 2008.
New men on the block
Jerome Taylor, Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards may not be new kids on the block, but they seem to be new men. All have demonstrated more finesse with their bowling lines and lengths than in the past, and this has been accompanied by greater concentration over longer periods. Even their physical statures have altered, the lankiness of the teens now giving way to the more substantial frames that are necessary for a fast bowler's stamina and strength.
It might be extreme to pitch Ramnaresh Sarwan as a fading star, but he's had an injury-shadowed year that snatched the captaincy away from him before he even had a chance to explore its meaning. Worse for him, it has pitched a bright star up at the helm, thus reducing his chances of reclaiming it when he is fit. Sarwan still has a lot of life as a player, but he may find that it will require more than he was putting out to keep his desired spot.
For supporters and players the team's performance against South Africa in the first Test would have been encouraging. More than anything else, it suggested that West Indies were still capable of resolute batting, strong bowling and alert fielding all at the same time. It had been so long since a Test victory, it felt like a series win.
Brian Lara's retirement in itself was not so much the low - although he could easily have stayed another year. It was the shabbiness surrounding it. He'd been left out of the tour to England, and it was clear that the board was preparing for an offload. At his last match in Barbados, Marlon Samuels ran him out without a care that people had come to say farewell. Lara had been a divisive force in West Indies cricket, but the way he went acknowledged nothing of his large contribution. What it said about the cricket culture was the saddest part of it all.
What does 2008 hold?
Within days, the South Africa encounter will give a broader indication of the state of the cricket on the field. In the meantime the much heralded restructuring of West Indies cricket should begin in earnest, with the implementation of plans such as an academy based in Barbados with supporting arms in the territories.
The Stanford 20/20 tournament is scheduled early to set the tone for the new wave of exciting cricket. Following that, Sri Lanka and later Australia arrive for Tests.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad