December 27, 2011

Look ma, a B+

West Indies capped a generally decent year with an excellent second half

The task facing Darren Sammy and his men at the end of 2011 was threefold: to become consistent, to be mentally tough, and to win. It is fair to say they made a good go at fulfilling that mandate - so much so that, at last, it began to look in 2012 as though the players themselves could save West Indies cricket.

The World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka in October, sandwiched between four consecutive Tests wins, over New Zealand and Bangladesh, rescued a year that had threatened to be overshadowed yet again by the uneasy, acrimonious relationship between the cricket board and the players' body, but even that relationship - kept tense by a series of court battles in 2012 - seemed less abrasive as the year closed.

For over a decade and a half, followers of West Indian cricket have been looking for the new dawn that would mark a return to play of which to be truly proud. Instead they have been left dismayed by false dawns, which have been as frequent as the comings and goings of captains, coaches and board presidents.

In 2012, however, there was a rare sense of stability. Sammy, appointed in place of Chris Gayle amid much scepticism in late 2010, kept the captaincy for a second full year. It meant that the coach, Ottis Gibson, was able to continue implementing his plans without disruption, and in the company of someone equally committed to seeing them through.

The West Indies selectors also retained the nucleus of players assembled the previous year. They tried to show patience with a somewhat green bunch despite their failures. At least one exciting new talent was introduced. And most telling of all, the older hands showed leadership.

For 12 years, inclusive of two on suspension for involvement with an Indian bookmaker, the West Indian public has been waiting for the real Marlon Samuels to emerge. In 2012, at age 31, he finally did.

Always splendid in his strokeplay, Samuels finally realised that he had to stay at the crease if he was to make a statement to the cricket world. The Samuels of 2012 was a driven man, determined to play his shots around a sound defence and to play them to the right balls. The outstanding result was 866 runs in seven Test matches, average 86.60, with three centuries; a Man-of-the-Match display in the World Twenty20 final unhinging of Sri Lanka; and more match-winning displays in ODIs against New Zealand and Bangladesh.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Old Man Windies himself, kept oozing out the Test runs, getting 987 at 98.70. And Gayle, restored to the side in May, after more than a year on the sidelines because of his dispute with the WICB, averaged 53 in Tests and got hundreds in both the five-day and 50-over formats. He was also a pivotal presence at the top of the order at the World Twenty20.

When any combination of that trio played together, West Indies looked a much more solid batting side, but in 2012 the team got contributions all round in all formats.

Denesh Ramdin contributed two centuries on his return to the Test side and averaged 42.87; "mystery" offspinner Sunil Narine proved himself a match-winner in limited overs play; 22-year-old Kieran Powell made up for a slow start to the year by claiming the other opening slot with three centuries in his last four Tests. Then there was Kemar Roach, who forced his way back into the Test team this year and became the leader of the attack with sustained, controlled pace bowling that earned him 39 fairly cheap wickets (22.25) on different surfaces, and a great deal more respect besides.

Ravi Rampaul continued to get regular early breakthroughs, and Tino Best came back to Test cricket and became a match-winner twice in Bangladesh. In the shorter formats, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell brought experience, dynamism and plenty of power-hitting, as did Sammy.

The captain, under the cosh for his lack of runs since taking the job, was no passenger in 2012. In England, he got his first Test century, and he averaged in the 30s both in Tests and ODIs, playing with more calculation and confidence than in the past.

Here was a man growing in his job. And his team grew with him. The 2-0 Test defeats to Australia and England were reminders, however, that the glory days are not quite yet here again. The surprise ODI series loss to Bangladesh at year's end drove home that point. But the long, dark tunnel is brightening up.

High point
The comprehensive 36-run victory over Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20 final delivered West Indies' first global title since the 2004 Champions Trophy success under Brian Lara. The Gangnam dancing the team did following that win was fitting, for it was cohesive and dynamic play that got Sammy's side through to the final and to the title. Style and substance worked beautifully together for West Indies for three weeks.

Low point
Embarrassingly for the WICB and its now former CEO Dr Ernest Hilaire, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lendl Simmons and Narsingh Deonarine all successfully won lawsuits against their employers over their exclusion from the regional team at various times. The WICB was made to look like an organisation playing loose with its own rules. The final outcome of a US$20 million lawsuit filed by WIPA, over the board's withholding of no-objection certificates to players, could bring further suffering to the governing body in 2013.

New kid on the block
The cricket world had marvelled at Sunil Narine's variations in the IPL. And the offspinner took his beguiling deliveries into international cricket with success this year. Beginning with the bemused Australians in the two drawn one-day and T20 series, Narine troubled batsmen the world over in limited-overs play with his well-controlled, effectively disguised spin. He took 34 wickets in ODIs at an economy rate of 3.60. In T20s, he got 16 with an economy of 6.16. Test cricket has so far proved a greater struggle for him, but the ICC's Emerging Player of the Year has the time and the talent to make a lasting impression there too.

Fading star
Devendra Bishoo can give Narine sound words of warning about the "emerging player" mantle. It has proved something of a poisoned chalice for the legspinner, who won the award prior to Narine. Bishoo snared a team-leading 39 wickets in 2011, but the selectors lost patience with him after just one off-colour Test this year. While he has time on his side, Bishoo has fallen well behind Narine, Veerasammy Permaul and Shane Shillingford in the spin-bowling pecking order.

What 2013 holds
New leadership in the players association and a new board CEO, Michael Muirhead, have given hope of less fractious times off the field. Success at the World Twenty20 has provided energy to the effort on it. However, not enough time has passed to determine whether the WICB-WIPA "truce" will hold. The outcome of the court matter over the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding will possibly test the peace. And the ongoing standoff between the Guyana government and the WICB over who should run that country's cricket is another issue with potentially damaging long-term consequences.

Meanwhile, the players must prove that the latter part of 2012 was no fluke.

West Indies cricket's stakeholders thus enter 2013 with grounds to be optimistic. But doing so with a heavy dose of caution would be wise.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Marcos on December 30, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    estraker, I notice you have asked who can captain the WI in the current team. Since you have put forward no suggestions yourself, here are mine: M Samuels - never been captain of a top level cricket team and needs to focus on his own performance to continue his good form. D. Ramdin - good tactically, but never secure of his place in the team and known for poor judgement (viv note) K. Pollard - current limited overs vcapt, but not near the test team. K. Edwards - recent test vcapt, but lost form and no longer a starter. S. Chanderpaul - will retire soon. C. Gayle - players play for him, but WICB will never reinstate him as capt. None of the bowlers (except Sammy)have the experience to lead and leading may affect their bowling. Who will you pick from those? or any others? That leaves Sammy being the obvious choice. Unless Dw Bravo gets back his test place? Also Bang is an improved ODI team who best India and Pak/SL (away) recently in Asia cup, and we won easy in test matches.

  • ethel on December 30, 2012, 1:15 GMT

    windiespalm You have your point,as weak as it is, but sammy is taking the place of a player who could contribute more to that team.Are they any players in that team who could captain W.I ?? Had they demoralize BD i would overlook his inability to captain but because he made so many mistakes he has no place in the team especially since he cannot bat or bowl and you know that he is not a test cricketer.BD is at the lower end of the pole ....if we cannot beat them up at will what will a team like Aus or Sa do to us . He is taking the place of on of the fast bowlers. Why did he not strike along with the other players. The heads of the Caribbean got rid of Hunte who was pulling W.I cricket in the toilet ans hopefully the selectors would get their act together. laura was a goog player who only looked out for laura ......thats why we did not win but he could maintain his place in any side unlike sammy.

  • Marcos on December 29, 2012, 19:08 GMT

    @astraker, I cannot understand why you guys are still somuch against Sammy even after his MUCH improved batting this year. The man is doing a job at the moment and has lead well, even if he is not the best tactician. Better tacticians like Lara could not get the team to play for him, as Sammy has clearly been able to achieve. Sammy had nothing to do with senior players being left out. I think that was strictly the doing of the WICB trying to save money(Senior players earn way more per match than inexperienced ones). I have been unconvinced by Sammy in the past as well, but his performance with the bat has clearly improved and his stats with the ball are better than the so called attack leaders. Give Sammy a chance till he is no longer needed......when we start regularly beating better teams.

  • ethel on December 29, 2012, 10:42 GMT

    Sammy, when the main team was on strike you might have had a legitimate chance to be playing for the west indies but to be captaining W.I when you should not even be playing now makes me wonder what the W.I selectors are all about. Maybe it is they they are saying,"Sammy you scratched our backs by not striking therefore we would scratch yours now by allowing you to continue to be captain". Let me repeat sammy you have done nothing to be keep your cannot bat, bowl and you drop catches in the wonder you conspired with GIBSON to try to keep the senior players out of the team.

  • Daniel on December 28, 2012, 16:56 GMT

    Surely Bishoo can't be out of the picture just yet. Narine has not proved to be a danger in the longest format, and doesn't exactly deserve a place right now.

    Losing the ODI's to Bangladesh was not the greatest way to end a good year. Not really sure what that shows about the WI team as Bangladesh also beat SL and India.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    Great article Gareth. Hit every point, especially about prodigal son Samuels, Old Man Windies Shiv and the WICB (the less said the better).

    And yep, I think a B+ is just about right. Aside from our World T20 victory, our test victories came against weak sides. 2013 will be the true test of whether this is truly a new dawn.

  • NAZ on December 28, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    great writing mr watley. hope to see naraine making a comeback soon

  • Luke on December 28, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    2012 was a good year, but with the like of; Roach, Powell, Narine, Russell, Ramdin, Braithwaite and you could even say Bravo and Sammy to keep improving 2013 should be an even better year for Windies cricket.

  • Jed on December 28, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    A great year for the West Indies. Their young players are starting to rise up and their senior players are cashing in with bat and ball. Let's hope in 2013 they get better

  • Sarfin on December 27, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    Well done WI. It was a good year. Sammy was good. He has certainly proved his leadership quality bring back WI on track. He would love to be more consistent with bat and bowl. Best wishes for 2013...

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