It would not be far-fetched to compare a nation's Test cricket history to a long and elaborate book.
Books are divided into chapters and chapters, on occasion, into headings and sub-headings. All writing is put into paragraphs, and paragraphs into sentences. Every sentence, it may be said, is a statement or a thought. Individually sentences have little influence, but when they are made into paragraphs and subsequently into chapters, and ultimately compiled into a tome, little sentences can make a world of difference.
In a similar vein, an over in cricket or even a spell or a session, might be likened to a sentence. A Test match might be considered to be a paragraph, and a Test series might be a collection of paragraphs under a common heading. What might a chapter be compared to? I suggest an 'era' - an 'era' under a particular regime of leadership, an era of captaincy.
In the book that is West Indies' cricket, it now looks like the chapter titled ' Darren Sammy' is over. An earnest reflection will show that strides have been made even though questions still heavily outnumber the answers. Much will be written of Sammy, the captain, just as much has already been said. For what it's worth, he was not the worst ever, yet he was also far from the best. To engage in a fulsome analysis requires an article in and of itself - I leave that to the sagely hands of Tony Cozier, Ian Bishop or Michael Holding. I wish to peer ahead to the next page.
Denesh Ramdin is the new Test captain of the West Indies. A new leaf has turned. The first I ever heard of Ramdin was when he was the keeper for the World Cup winning West Indies Under-15 team in 2000 - a team in which Ravi Rampaul opened the batting as well as the bowling, and names like Krishmar Santokie, Xavier Marshall, and Assad Fudadin were prominent. It must have been difficult for such young men to envisage themselves in maroon at the highest level. Most players from that tournament seem to have fallen off the international radar. Ramdin, though, is a case of quite the opposite, for he has ascended the ranks from under-15 to under-19 (where he captained West Indies team to the Under-19 World Cup final) to the senior team.
Before discussing Ramdin, the leader; one cannot help but dwell on Ramdin, the player. One of the most vitriolic criticisms towards his predecessor was his reported inability to 'command' a place in a starting XI. Ramdin's place as the wicketkeeper of the squad is currently in no doubt, though it had been tenuous only a few months ago. Challenges from the likes of Carlton Baugh and Devon Thomas, and all the contenders since his first Test in 2005 (just a few months past his 20th birthday), have been more out of frustration with what Ramdin ought to be. Make no mistake - Ramdin is the best wicketkeeper in West Indies, and he has been and will be for a long time. The fault has almost always rested with his batting.
Maybe it's the curse of his era. As masters like Adam Gilchrist and Kumar Sangakkara displayed poetry with willow, the lack of weight in Ramdin's batting average has been magnified. It isn't that he is a bad batsman, it's that he should and could be much better. In a perfect world, Ramdin would be a silky smooth shot maker who could contribute 40-50 runs an innings at No. 5 or 6, occasionally getting a quick hundred or battening down the hatches to consolidate after a top-order collapse. In a perfect world, of course, there would be no wars, no hunger and no poverty. In the real world, Ramdin's Test average after 56 matches is below 30, with 4 centuries and 11 half-centuries. In fact, that average and those conversions might explain why he has played only 56 Tests in a 9-year span.
Taking a closer look, one might forgive Ramdin just a bit - when he arrived on the big stage, there was a vicious battle between the players and the authorities, and although he was captained by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, he would have found woefully little class to cling on to. The culture of losing and the air of dismay that immersed West Indies cricket were in full force, and the introduction of a young player into those circumstances cannot have been easy.
Ramdin's first Test century came in his 33rd Test and by that time he was in his fourth year of Test cricket. His second came 12 Tests later, but it took a further 3 years to attain because in 2010 (when Sammy was first named Test captain) he was dropped to fix his inefficiencies. His return tour to England in 2012, when he made his second ton, has become popular for all the wrong reasons: upon crossing the three-figure mark at Edgbaston, Ramdin revealed a hand-written note directed at Viv Richards - 'Yeh Viv, Talk Nah' it read. It was insulting, though no doubt spurred on by the pressure of that time in exile and the weight of public opinion. It was a sign of some immaturity, and though apologies and regret were forthcoming, the damage had been done. Ramdin, again, was at a crossroads.
To his great credit, it seems as if that incident and its fallout were important for the Trinidadian. He has added two more Test tons since Edgbaston, averaging 45 in 11 Tests. His wicket-keeping has remained efficient and steady, providing surety against the likes of Sunil Narine with his mysterious wiles. He is one of the seniors in the dressing room now, and his captaincy credentials have always been mentioned. He has led Trinidad & Tobago well in all formats after serving as a deputy to Daren Ganga, himself one of the region's best leaders in recent times. 'Captain' Ramdin always seemed to be a matter of when rather than if.
So what does the Ramdin chapter have in store? West Indies has shown signs of improvement in recent years, but there have still been sorry displays, especially overseas. Having been through a lot, Ramdin is now a hardened international cricketer who has seen and done it all. This instalment, the reign of Ramdin, will hopefully feature a fortification of the troops, and their transformation into a more productive and consistent unit. Sammy's tenure was to gel the team into a common force with a common goal; Ramdin's mandate should be to aid in the progress of West Indies cricket from triers to winners.
International cricket is not without its trials and times of difficulty - every player, at some point, will face hard times. The true measure of a player and of a leader is how they overcome and learn from their adversities. For the new captain's sake, and the sake of the West Indies Test team, here's hoping that the chapter of Denesh Ramdin leaves the world talking about all the right things.
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Roger Sawh is a law student and a die-hard West Indies fan. He tweets @sawhoncricket
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