Due to the high levels of shame and embarrassment involved in discussing England’s latest hit and giggle thrashing from Sri Lanka, we at 51allout have had to find something else to discuss. Something a million miles away from our usual coffee machine discussions. Something that doesn’t involve mentioning absurd English batting collapses or Luke Wright. Let’s see how we get on.
Luckily for us, the second test between the West Indies and India starts in Bridgetown on Tuesday. Last week’s 63 run victory for the visitors means Darren Sammy’s side have still won just a solitary test match since 2009, when Jerome Taylor and Suliemann Benn tore through England’s batting lineup to give this website its name.
Damn. We were doing so well.
Anyway, that (in)famous innings was a throwback to the glory days of West Indian fast bowling. It was the turning point, the beginning of a revolution.
In fairness, it was, but not for the West Indies. Instead of pushing on from that victory they were content to play out four tepid draws (two of which England would have won but for poor declarations), culminating in picking only two specialist bowlers in Trinidad. In a sense, the series was a perfect summation of West Indian cricket over the past decade: sporadic moments of inspiration followed by long periods of falling into the same old traps; Poor management coupled with players who were either not good enough or had a terrible attitude. After regaining the Wisden Trophy they stepped in for Sri Lanka to tour England and were ruthlessly brushed aside, before yet another dispute with the Board meant they took a nothing team to Bangladesh. It wasn’t until May of this year that they finally won another test, after Pakistan’s middle order inexplicably subsided to Sammy’s fearsome medium pace with victory in sight.
The problems go deeper than just the longer form of the game too. Between beating India by eight wickets in June 2009 and the Kemar Roach-led demolition of Bangladesh at the World Cup in March, the West Indies went 22 ODI’s without beating a single test-playing nation, and not since Christmas 2007 have they managed to win a one day series against anyone other than Zimbabwe (a bizarre three match triangular series with the might of Canada and Bermuda notwithstanding).
But amongst all those depressing statistics, in the midst of all the beatings, maybe their fortunes have begun to change. There has been no watershed, no defining moment, largely because defining moments are picked out with the benefit of hindsight. In future the previous year will almost certainly still be regarded as the dark days of West Indies cricket, but in reality the shoots of recovery are already beginning to show.
The biggest worries are perhaps the most experienced of the line-up: Ramnaresh Sarwan averages just 21 since his monumental 291 in Barbados whilst Shiv Chanderpaul is clearly not the player he once was. As for captain Sammy himself, it’s difficult to see what he actually brings to the team. A second or third change bowler and specialist number eight? Without wanting to give the ECB ideas, it’s like making Luke Wright captain.
Arse. Ah well, at least we tried.
Whilst there’s still a long way to go, it’s promising that the West Indies seem to have earmarked some players and stuck with them. Daren Powell has disappeared into the wilderness and Benn too has been replaced, and they now have an attack which looks capable of taking 20 wickets. The Board’s inability to manage its players is still a massive concern (one has to question the decision to allow Dwayne Bravo time off during international matches when he has just played a full IPL season), and until that fundamental issue is resolved it’s difficult to see consistent success returning to the Caribbean, but at least progress is finally being made.
The current series with India should not be used as a measure of their development. This Indian side, even without some of its stars, is a fantastic one. What it can be is a springboard for the future. The management team can make a statement, they can stick with the players they have now and let them grow into Test cricket. Alternatively, they could panic and change everything again. If it is the latter, the dark days are here to stay. If it’s the former, the comeback, one that Test Cricket desperately needs, just might be on.