Another False Dawn?

It hasn’t really been so long since the previous West Indian triumph in a major global tournament: the Champions Trophy  in 2004 was if anything a far more surprising victory. The team had spent an entire summer in England being trounced; dominated by a precociously talented side outperforming their counterparts in all aspects of the game. This was the summer I began to take a real interest in the sport; I was aware of the historic heritage of the tourists, but it is only in hindsight that I recognise the catastrophic embarrassment that the whitewashing must have been to the Caribbean cricket playing islands. The dramatic final with the West Indians coming out winners must have felt like the first light peeking over the horizon after the darkest of nights. The eight years since instead saw the team drop further down the rankings amid player-board disputes; strikes; a shambolic World Cup as host nation(s) and the general disillusionment that has set deep within even the staunchest of West Indian cricket supporters. There have been stabs of stark light in the intervening years, but these positives have remained as only isolated moments.

The victory in Sri Lanka was hardly surprising, as the West Indies arguably came into the tournament as favourites, definitely as the most dangerous team. Possessing an array of power hitters, the greatest T20 batsmen of all-time (Chris Gayle) and a mystery spinner who has proven lethal in the shortest form of the game, there were no excuses for a sub-par showing. The only doubt was whether such talent could be marshalled together, toward one goal.

Here we come to Darren Sammy the West Indian captain. No man in the last eighteen months has had his place in any side questioned with such frequency as Sammy. Many illustrious commentators and previous players have despaired at the sight of Sammy’s military medium seamers coming on at first change. They scald him for his lack of bowling talent; for his slog or nothing batting and defensive field settings. They have huffed and puffed; fumed and seethed. Yet nothing has wiped the smile off of his face; nothing has distracted him or prevented him from sweating blood for his team. The relationship he has formed with the coach Otis Gibson has been crucial in stabilising a side in seemingly terminal decline. For a year they carried themselves with great dignity throughout the Gayle saga; quietly creating a team that pushed the Indians home and away, particularly in the drawn test at Mumbai where with two bowlers limping through their overs, they competed in one of the greatest tests of the decade. Darren Sammy has been a key factor in the upswing of the West Indies’ performances of late. His captaincy has seen him restore unity where there was disunity; a work ethic missing from the side for much of the previous 17 years and a sense of the history that playing in the Maroon cap conjures. I find him to be a steely cricketer, underrated with bat and ball. I’m not sure he would like it any other way than beaming that winning smile whilst dragging his team from the mire. He is clearly in possession of a formidable inner resolve and I truly believe he can play the part of a Nasser Hussain or an Allan Border, in laying the foundations for a future side capable of re-capturing glories past.

Beneath Sammy, the depth of talent looks far better than at any time for a generation of West Indian cricket. With Gayle back at the top of the order; Marlon Samuels having hit a fine vein of form and Shivnarine Chanderpaul enjoying a late-career run feast down the order, the line-up has a far more solid look to it than at any time since Lara’s retirement. Add to this the potential of Darren Bravo (who has a fantastic technique reminiscent of the great Lara), Deonarine’s graft at six and others like Powell; Kirk Edwards; Brathwaite; Fudadin; Adrian Barath, and the near future seems bright in the batting stakes for the West Indians.

The fast bowling stocks do seem to be quite bare, as has been the case since the demise of Walsh and Ambrose. Fidel Edwards and Tino Best have returned to the fold in the last eighteen months, possessing more vigour than they have in many moons, but remaining frustratingly inconsistent. Ravi Rampaul has proven himself a willing workhorse with plenty of nous, though question marks remain around his general fitness. Kemar Roach is developing into a fine bowler and at 24 is already the undisputed leader of the Windies attack. Quick, with a mean bouncer and an angle of assault not dissimilar to Allan Donald, he came of age against the Aussies this spring, and has since taken 20 wickets at an average of 24.65 in 4 tests against the English and New Zealanders. He is a serious bowler and if managed properly could develop into a dangerous spearhead over the next five years.

Perhaps reflecting the nature of the under-nourished pitches Caribbean cricketers are brought up on in the 21st century, there is an abundant of quality spinners plying their trade in the regional tournaments. In the last year alone Devendra Bishoo, Shane Shillingford and Sunil Narine have all made waves in the international arena. I find it staggering that the finest young legspinner in the game (Bishoo) has been ignored since the first test against the Aussies this March, but such is the nature of the beast. He has even been left out of the squad for the upcoming tour of Bangladesh despite his success on the subcontinent last winter, the role of second spinner going to another youngster with bags of potential, Veerasammy Permaul. The West Indies have been producing spin bowelers of a good standard of late; and unlike the Indians or Sri Lankans they also can boast a few quality quicks. Alongside the depth in their batting there is much to be excited about; perhaps the recent victory in the T20 world cup will not prove to be another red herring or false dawn. Maybe under the organised, combative leadership of Sammy and Otis, the beginnings of a new era for West Indies cricket can begin and the seeds planted for a new generation, crafted in the image of Darren Bravo and Kemar Roach as opposed to Courntey Walsh and Brian Lara.

 My West Indies XI:

Chris Gayle

Kraigg Brathwaite

Darren Bravo

Marlon Samuels

Shivnarine Chanderpaul

Narsingh Deonarine

Dinesh Ramdin (Wicket Keeper)

Darren Sammy (Captain)

Kemar Roach

Fidel Edwards

Devandra Bishoo

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