Lone star state
When West Indies ended 2007 with a surprise victory in the first Test against South Africa, it invited salutary comments that Chris Gayle's comradely leadership was suitably laidback so as to eke out the best efforts from his players. But tour results begged to differ, with South Africa winning the next two Tests and easily whitewashing the West Indies in the five one-day matches.
It was merely a flutter after all, the kind that typified the year for West Indies. After his retirement, Brian Lara faded from sight, and almost entirely from cricket conversation. He surfaced in January with a century in the regional tournament, but fractured his arm and only flitted across the international scene when he announced he was not taking part in the Indian Cricket League on account of the "permanent problem" with his shoulder.
Meanwhile Allen Stanford was overhauling his Antigua ground in preparation for the intoxicating US$20-million tournament that would provide year-round intrigue. Not to be outdone, the West Indies Cricket Board thoughtfully launched its giddy agenda by firing Ian Bishop, Desmond Haynes, Andy Roberts and Courtney Walsh from its cricket committee in February, leaving the four to wonder if their role as Stanford-contracted "Legends" had made them redundant. Frankly my dears, said WICB president Julian Hunte, you don't fit into our strategic plan, but within a month they were reinstated.
Marlon Samuels had his bowling action analysed after the final South Africa Test, but his real trouble came when he was found guilty of breaching the ICC's Code of Conduct regarding receiving monies disreputably. The WICB banned him for two years, but the CEO, Donald Peters, "offered him all the help needed to get his life in order". Samuels' lawyers asked for a judicial review instead, but the ICC was unmoved and upheld the ban.
The West Indies captain, whose capacity to unite and inspire had been heralded, revealed the illusory nature of regional bonds during the Carib Beer Series. Complaining about poor umpiring "year in, year out", Gayle fumed: "Jamaica always seem to have it tough, and decisions always seem to go against us." The umpires' association waited to see what the WICB would do, but they had other fish to fry… and according to incoming manager Omar Khan, "a new era" to begin.
The WICB was kept twittering with the Indian Premier League schedule threatening to disrupt tours by Sri Lanka and Australia, the prospect of a two-tiered Test ranking system, and the looming Stanford Super Series tournament.
Pedro Collins effectively retired when he chose Surrey over West Indies (against Sri Lanka) after two years on the sidelines.
For the first time, Sri Lanka beat West Indies on home ground, provoking Ramnaresh Sarwan to complain that the pitch at Providence Stadium lacked pace and bounce, but the WICB made up for that by bouncing the Sri Lankans off their practice match with "flight problems", and the pitch in Trinidad had enough pace to help the WI draw the two-Test series.
Sarwan had starred in the second Test, and was called to replace his replacement as captain against Australia when Gayle's groin injury flared. Amit Jaggernauth made his debut after heated Caribbean debate about the value of spinners on the team, and though he collected a wicket he was not picked again and the debate continued.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul continued his working ways, shrugging off a knock out from a Brett Lee bouncer to score 118 in the first Test, and positioned himself so implacably as a dogged accumulator that he was named the ICC's Player of the Year and topped the batsmen's rankings at year-end.
Australia won the series 2-0 and it was on to the ODIs, which ended with Gayle declaring his unhappiness with the selectors. By the end of July he sent the WICB a resignation letter, but after "discussions" had a change of heart. At the same time Peters was sent on leave by the WICB and its corporate services manager, Tony Deyal, was fired. Peters was returned to his post within days; Deyal would later give testimony against the WICB in London's High Court.
The matter arose out of Allen Stanford's $20-million match between the Stanford Superstars and the England team. The sponsors, Digicel, contested the right of the WICB to sell to Stanford what it had in essence already sold to them regarding the West Indies players. The row had raged for months, and it ended in the courts, with the WICB losing and facing legal costs that would easily erase the profit made from staging the World Cup.
The match went on as arranged, the Superstars beat England by ten wickets and kept the money, but no end of bacchanal over everyone's behaviour and moral standings surrounded the event. In December, Stanford disbanded his board of Legends and announced that he would be revising his relationship with cricket in the future.
Unfazed, the team went off to New Zealand, where both Tests were drawn, Chanderpaul scoring 126 and Gayle 197 in Napier. As with other matches, and with the consistent exception of Jerome Taylor, no one else ever seemed to do much more than flutter into sight fleetingly.
Off the field, the pace was as dizzying as usual, with no decision standing unchanged, no sign of a cohesive management plan and, with the Stanford funding riding abruptly off into the sunset, no sense that the shadows would ever lift.
New kids on the block
Perhaps Sulieman Benn and Brendan Nash are worth watching, and if spinners ever get something like tenure in the West Indies, Jaggernauth may have a thing or two up his sleeve.
Barring Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jerome Taylor and Xavier Marshall, the team seems to be a stagnant bunch inside a comfort zone, without the desire to fulfill the potential that got them thus far. Dwayne Bravo has been strung out on his injury, and while he still seems skittish, may be the only other who demonstrates zest for the game. Everyone else seems to be simply standing in the same place.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul deserved all the accolades of the year, proving the value of his stoic, unflappable determination to get on with the game. On the third day of the first Test against Australia, he was knocked flat out after a Brett Lee ball smashed into his helmet. He rose up and resumed his innings, scoring a hundred, and then in a spell of inspired bowling, his team-mates reduced Australia to 17 for 4. The Chanderpaul effect was clear, though they lost the match.
The WICB sank even deeper into the culture of ineptitude, bumbling through the entire year until it finally hoisted itself on the petard of greed as the row with Digicel went to court and the board lost millions in the process; it lost Allen Stanford's millions too. It was as disgraceful as watching the captain stand his ground after he was clearly out in one of the ODIs against Pakistan in November.
What 2009 holds
England tours from February for four Tests and five ODIs before West Indies visit England in May for two Tests and three ODIs and the ICC World Twenty20. India will also play West Indies once venues are confirmed.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad