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Match Analysis

Amid competing demands, West Indies still find a way to rally round

The challenges for Test cricket in the region are huge, but this team is taking the fight to England

Cameron Ponsonby
25-Mar-2022
Joshua Da Silva dug in for the cause to eke out a slender lead for West Indies  •  Getty Images

Joshua Da Silva dug in for the cause to eke out a slender lead for West Indies  •  Getty Images

The best ability is availability. And as the West Indies middle-order fell from 50 for 0 to 95 for 6 in the heat of Grenada, another West Indian excelled in the heat of Rajasthan as Shimron Hetmyer hit 70 off 39 balls in a IPL warm-up fixture.
The selection of the West Indian side is fraught with politics and difficulties. No first-class cricket was played over the previous two years; pitches have been loaded in favour of bowlers; the top players are being enticed away by franchise cash, and inter-island bias and politics are points of regular discussion.
The result is a team that can at times feel like the best players available as opposed to the best players in the region, with the icons of West Indian cricket often not being those we see out in whites on the pitch. On the flip side, such events have transpired to give us a Windies team full of players with incredible back-stories, both personal and professional.
In 2018 Nkrumah Bonner briefly gave up the sport and took up a job in construction in the USA. As a teenager, Shamarh Brooks was considered the next Bajan prodigy but scored just one fifty in the first six years of his career. He was dropped and didn't play a first-class game for three years between 2012 and 2015. Joshua Da Silva, who shone on the second day with an unbeaten 54 off 152 balls, didn't have a professional contract as recently as 2018. Kyle Mayers was caught up in Hurricane Maria in 2017, as it devastated the island of Dominica.
The West Indies of old were everyone's second-favourite team because they won all the time. The West Indies of new are everyone's second-favourite team because they are full of people you want to succeed.
But that mentality leads you perilously close to the worst emotion you can have of all towards professional athletes: that of pity. And that isn't fair either. Because this team contains genuine world-class performers as well: Jason Holder, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Kraigg Brathwaite.
But where Brathwaite paints masterpieces with his bat and forces everyone to watch them dry, his team-mates show flashes of brilliance that lead to wise heads nodding sagely that "there's a Test player in there somewhere".
It is a notion that is best encapsulated by Brathwaite's opening partner, John Campbell, who frustrated again today as he fell for a well-compiled 35. It was his highest score this series despite reaching double figures in four of his five innings. It is a trait of Campbell's that he often gets in but doesn't go on, capable of doing the hardest part of the sport but not the easiest. Like a pianist being able to play Beethoven but not Baa Baa Black Sheep.
Hailing from Jamaica, the same island as Chris Gayle, Campbell was dubbed "Little Chris" early in his career. Along with Brooks, he is another player who had the weight of expectation thrust on him from an early age. But it has never really happened for him, and another failure in the next innings could lead to him being dropped from the side once more.
Bar a ludicrous couple of hours yesterday where Saqib Mahmood and Jack Leach brought out their frustrations, anywhere you look with this Windies team, there are people putting in absolute effort and pride in representing their region. Whether it be Brathwaite batting for days, Holder or Da Silva leading the team in mid-game, on-field group exercises, or Seales celebrating every wicket as if it were the matchwinner, this is a team who work incredibly hard for one another.
And that is rather the point. While this team has been toiling against England, Hetmyer - who failed the required fitness tests to be eligible for selection - has been preparing for the IPL on a deal worth US$1.13m. A contract that is worth two-hundred-and-thirty-six million dollars when converted into his home currency.
Much, if not all, of this is caused by messy and overflowing schedules that lead to the likes of Nicholas Pooran, one of the most talented batters in the world, feeling as if he simply doesn't have time to play red-ball cricket despite the five-day game being an aim of his. Some may say that the prioritisation of cash is immoral. But watch the video of fellow West Indian Rovman Powell, who scored a century against England in the T20s in January, explaining how the sole motivation in his career is that his mum never experiences poverty again, and that argument rather falls apart.
So too is the idea of blind patriotism that places the pride in representing your country above all. Because while that same pride does exist in the West Indies in the same way it does all over the world, it's different here. You're representing your region, not your island. Does that make that affiliation any less intense? Perhaps, for some. Maybe not, for others.
This is a vast area home to more cultures and political landscapes than you can really fathom. Jamaica is closer in distance to Texas than it is to Guyana. And for all the talk of island culture, Guyana isn't even one of those either. It's a South American landmass that borders Brazil.
It has long been said that cricket in the West Indies is a fading light. And compared to the glory days of yesteryear there is without doubt some truth to that. But that is not to say that the talent pool is not still deep, as evidenced by Da Silva's innings today. Da Silva himself is a player who, if Pooran was available, may well not be playing. That's not a slight on him, but instead a credit to the strength of the region.
So perhaps rather than the talent pool shrinking, there's an argument that it has rather been diluted when in need of concentration, with talent escaping - be it to England, in the shape of Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer and now Jacob Bethell, or the white-ball leagues in Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard then, and Pooran now.
West Indies' administrators know and realise this, and launched the CWI Emerging Players Academy two weeks ago. The aim of which is to select 30 players, male and female, between the age of 19 and 25 to bridge the gap between U19 cricket and the first-class game. Hopefully, it will be the first step towards keeping talent in the game, and on the pitch, for the region. But closing out this contest, and sealing another gutsy home series win against England, will go a long way towards proving that these guys are Test cricketers after all.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby