The effect of Twenty20 on West Indies cricket September 14, 2007

There is worse to come

Fazeer Mohammed

Chris Gayle, who made a sparkling century in the opening match, went for a duck in the next as West Indies crashed out of the ICC World Twenty20 © AFP

Don't feel so bad. Save your anguish for much worse that is yet to come.

Given what West Indies cricket has been through in the past decade, defeats to South Africa and Bangladesh in two three-hour vupping sessions are no real cause for any additional weeping and wailing, unless you're one of those who believes that success or failure in the ICC World Twenty20 is an indicator of anything meaningful in the longer versions of the game.

If cricket's latest and most popular hybrid is your bowl of callaloo, and lifting the new trophy after the final on September 24 would have soothed all the aches and pains of previous disappointments, go right ahead and bawl for murder.

Test cricket too boring? One-day internationals too long? Cool. Should this abbreviated variety carry all your hopes and aspirations for a return to those increasingly distant years of Caribbean glory, then the mournful demeanour following elimination in the first round of the tournament in South Africa is fully justified. However, if you dare to entertain the radical notion that an obsession with the Twenty20 game will actually bury us even further down the pit of cricketing irrelevance, then there should be the realisation, in appreciating all of this in a wider context, that the two losses in three days at the Wanderers are merely symptoms of an incurable malaise.

This bigger picture is only relevant if Test cricket is still accepted as the highest form of the game, a standard at which greatness is truly measured and a level to which all young players should aspire. If not, there's no point reading any further, because what follows is an attempt to put the damaging consequences of the sport's version of instant gratification within the sobering realities of a West Indian context.

In the first place, we must appreciate that the vast majority of our current crop of cricketers lack the maturity to be able to adapt to the significantly different demands of the increasing varieties of the game. We lack the mental strength to concentrate for long periods, and as such, seem far more competitive the shorter the contest is.

Yet even in the narrow confines of 50 overs-per-side, or now the 20-over version, we remain blighted by inconsistency: incomparably brilliant one day, woefully inadequate the next. Whereas every catch was held and every fielder fired in his returns over the top of the stumps in Nottingham in the finale to the England tour two months ago, the same players struggled often to fulfil the very basics of cricket in Johannesburg yesterday and last Tuesday.

Chris Gayle was at his most spectacular in the tournament opener, but only the hopelessly naive would have been thrown into despair at the sight of the opening batsman walking back to the pavilion within the first over less than 48 hours later. All of the ingredients that contribute to consistency are critically deficient. There is brilliance, no question. But like the fireworks around the ground on that first night, they glow spectacularly for only a brief moment.

With one or two exceptions, there aren't too many boring old light bulbs around, the kind that glow continuously. Not always eye-catching, but almost always switched on to the context of the moment. Apologists may wish to tolerate this period as just a phase or a cycle, or use some other description which ties in the implication that it is only a matter of time before the good times start rolling again.

Ricky Ponting accused his players and himself of playing diabolical cricket and not respecting the game in the aftermath of Australia's shock defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday. Such strong words, though, are too insulting and demeaning for our proud, sensitive West Indian ears. "Learning experience" is as offensive as we are prepared to go
Yet more and more, the grim realisation takes hold that we are living in West Indies cricket's Dark Age, not because of what happened yesterday or two days earlier, but because the social circumstances in the Caribbean that produce players and administrators of the current variety will not be reformed for at least another generation.

But wouldn't the fun and excitement of Twenty20 give us cause to smile? Only if we can see no further than the next towering six or the next bunch of dancing girls and boys that accompanies the white ball's disappearance beyond the boundary. Batsmen who already suffer from a flawed temperament will only become more heavily addicted to measuring the worth of an innings by sixes, fours and strike-rates. Bowlers incapable of following one good spell with another will now see the sum total of their contribution to the game as 24 balls, barring wides and no-balls. Conversely, fielding should be much sharper, but only if players are able to cope with the concentrated pressure that the shorter forms of the game impose. Recent evidence is not encouraging.

All of this analysis becomes irrelevant, however, if the men in the middle, and their assortment of minders and ego-protectors, fail to acknowledge that radical treatment is necessary to, at the very least, slow the spread of the cancer.

Ricky Ponting accused his players and himself of playing diabolical cricket and not respecting the game in the aftermath of Australia's shock defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday. Such strong words, though, are too insulting and demeaning for our proud, sensitive West Indian ears. "Learning experience" is as offensive as we are prepared to go.

If we are so fundamentally insecure and lack the honesty and integrity to acknowledge the shameful reality of what lies before us, then we should accept that the last 12 years were just a prelude of what is to come.

Thank goodness it's only a game.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayush on September 16, 2007, 16:33 GMT

    As a fan of West Indian cricket, and as a cricket lover in general, the West Indian defeat has left me dejected, no doubt, but not surprised at all. In a way, I think this is for the betterment of West Indian cricket. Their Cricket Board, which for a long time seemed to be preparing the team for such a tournament by discarding steady players, can now see that that is clearly not the way to go. Even this team, which seemed perfect for the shortest form of cricket, has been left high and dry by the ugly sister of batting and bowling : the fielding. This loss, in a tournament still in its infancy and not yet counted as among the premier yardsticks of a team, should encourage (or force) the board to take steps to improve the status of the game, so that the West Indian team is able to perform in the tournaments and series that really DO matter

  • Mohan on September 16, 2007, 6:09 GMT

    What the West Indies team and most of the Caribbean leaders have in common? answer 'A below par performance' Until the WICB is convinced in their minds and thinking that the game is not played on natural ability alone, then we will continue to have these results. To be honest,even the basic fundanmentals of the game we could not get right in these two matches.

    I suggest that we give the job of information officer to Sarwan and captain to Gayle.

  • Ali on September 15, 2007, 21:24 GMT

    I think that overall W.Indies hasn't done bad. Bangladesh surely is an emerging team, they were in the limelight when India was out of the worldcup due to them. But i think that some sloppy fielding was the reason to loose against S.Africa. The guys need to take on responsibility, its noit just the case os gayle or chanderpaul to stepin every difficult situation.

  • Harrinarine on September 14, 2007, 21:47 GMT

    Typical West Indians; ready to put the blame on someone/thing and reluctant to praises. In the context of everything, I actually thought we did great -- set a few records, good and bad. As for captaincies, we all saw Chris's batting going to South America while Alpha...

  • Ravi on September 14, 2007, 20:30 GMT

    I am an ardent follower of west indian cricket. This T20 world had a big loss when WI got knocked off. In some sense they deserved to be out. With players like Devon smith having ridiculous and irritating approach it fits well. What chanderpaul and he were doing in middle overs was a very distressing chapter. What made them not sending Dwyane smith up the order makes them culprit of what happened to them. I feel,Dwayne Smith is the best batsman for this cricket. And Devon Smith the worst. Devon smith should not be allowed near the playing XI in atleast T20 matches.And Chanderpaul requires a good discussion with somebody who can explain T20 to him.

  • Kiran on September 14, 2007, 20:22 GMT

    First of all, Gayle should be made the captain. Secondly Viv Richards should step in as batting coach, Michael Holding as bowling coach. Look tat the number of extras conceded, if Mike can speak in all interviews about art of bowling tight & straigh - why not get him to coach?

    Though 20-20 is no benchmark for performance, loosing against Bangladesh is something not acceptable. Its high time we see WI play as they used to in the 70's & 80's. High hopes huh..?

  • Tyrone on September 14, 2007, 17:30 GMT

    I agree that the 20/20 format of the game is not the best form to really judge the teams performances. However the point must be made that intensity levels throughout the three hour excercise must be maintained, and the sad truth is the dropped catches and the numerous wide deliveries showed lack of intensity. I think Chris Gayle would have inspired more intensity and committment just as he did in England. I think Sarwan should step down now and allow a smooth transition before the tour of South Africa in December.

  • Daryl on September 14, 2007, 15:50 GMT

    West Indies need to learn WHEN to play their shots, how to CONTROL their bowling, and understands that FIELDING can win or lose a match. Their batting is ok, the bowling is mediocre at best and the fielding is horrible. They need to get some PROPER fielding coaches. They also need to be taught the importance of control.

    If West Indies decide to focus on these aspects, they will begin their ascent to the top of the cricketing world. If they continue to ignore, then they will remain languishing at the bottom. Soon Bangladesh will be a better team, just watch and see.

  • dhiraj on September 14, 2007, 15:22 GMT

    West indies cricket is in a sorry state. But the exit from the Twenty20 Cup was simply down to two reasons; their bowling/fielding lost them the match against SA and wasted a great innings by Gayle but I think the match against Bangladesh was lost simply because Devon Smith should not be in the twnenty20 side and certainly not batting at the top of the order.

    He hasnt got the big shots and this meant they werent able to push on midway through the innings and get an extra 30-40 runs, which would have made the difference. Sorry to blame one player, but if he wasnt selected maybe they would have won the second match and possibly have got an even bigger total in the first.

  • Pushpendu S on September 14, 2007, 15:20 GMT

    I do not rate 20-20 as a good form of cricket. It is no more than a para game. It does not have drama, five act, of a test. People would say that it has got all the features of an instant drama. I would differ; if you happen to visit a slum during one of the many brawls, you will get plenty of drama. 50 over is a reasonable comprmise. But it is after all not a battle between bowlers and batsmen. It is essentially a competition of batsmen of the combatting teams. The WI/SA match will prove my point. It produced enough runs, but do we see cricket just to counterpoise the runs by either teams? P S Mukherjee

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