Welcome to an official 51allout myth-busting special. Ever since the West Indies arrived on sunny English shores a fortnight ago we have been treated to never-ending diatribes about how they would be far more competitive if they could pick their strongest side. A bit like Tim Bresnan’s 100% Test match record, it seems to be the fall-back commentary whenever nothing’s happening in the game. Which, with Shiv Chanderpaul playing, is quite often. We (well, I. Whenever it was brought up in the 51allout bunker you’d have thought I’d nicked the last pork pie by the torrent of abuse hurled in my direction) aren’t taken with this argument. Finally the West Indies have begun to improve, albeit steadily, and they’re doing so without the ‘stars’ who have been completely unable to guide them in the right direction for the best part of a decade.
Chris Gayle is the poster boy of this particular argument, which is a classic case of players improving in absentia. His overall Test average is a shade over 40, but against England that falls to just 36. He’s only managed two hundreds against them in 34 attempts. Openers of that ilk, like Virender Sehwag and Tillakaratne Dilshan, have been made to look hopelessly out of their depth by this bowling attack. It’s difficult to see how Gayle would have fared any better. T20 runs do not a Test match opener make. Which is lucky, or we’d have Owais Shah trying to see off the new ball this summer. There’s also a lot to be said for team spirit, and while we’re not Darren Sammy’s biggest fans it’s abundantly clear that he’s a good leader of men and is moving his side in the right direction. To suddenly bring back such a big personality who, although he is not entirely at fault for his absence, had a hand in the complete breakdown between management and players during the latter part of his Test career can only disrupt what seems a harmonious dressing room.
Ramnaresh Sarwan is another of the old guard who could return to ‘strengthen’ the batting. He has been treated poorly by the board, there is little doubt about that, but their abysmal man-management skills should not mask the reason they got involved in the first place. He was extremely unfit, which is inexcusable for a supposed senior member of the side and veteran of 80+ caps, and he was also in horrific form. In his final 12 innings for his country after scoring 100 in a losing cause at Chester-le-street he averaged 14, with a top score of 48. By anyone’s standards that’s a hopeless record.
Sunil Narine is yet another who has turned into a vital part of the side despite never having even played a Test. The bowling department is one in which the West Indies are reasonably well-stocked, but they wouldn’t suddenly become a great side were Narine a part of it. They already have Devendra Bishoo, with 40 Test wickets, and Shane Shillingford, who took ten in a match against Australia last month. Those two have proved they are at least capable of competing at the highest level, while Narine has done nothing of the sort. He is not the missing ingredient. Nor is Jerome Taylor, of whom much has been spoken over the past week. How he’s been treated by the board is essentially irrelevant when looking at what he’d bring to the team (and, again, the player is not blameless). His bowling average is virtually the same as Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards, and considerably worse than Kemar Roach. That alone is enough to discount him as being some sort of saviour, but when you consider that he’s played just two Tests since that England tour in 2009 and none at all since November of that year, he’d do well to get in a West Indies second team.
Then there are the likes of Dwayne Bravo and 51allout favourite Brendan Nash, neither of whom would bring much to the party other than mundane medium pace and batting averages around 30. Kirk Edwards already has the same number of centuries as Nash in fewer than half as many attempts. This is the point in a microcosm: why the call to go back to failures past instead of sticking with the players of the future? Some of these guys are going to struggle at times; as the way they wilted under pressure against Australia and have struggled in English conditions demonstrate, but these are the ones who could still be playing in ten years’ time. They are never going to develop as players if they’re ditched for the old guard in some sort of misguided attempt at short term fix.
Under Sammy they have made India, England and Australia all work hard to beat them. Just by watching their cricket now as compared to a couple of years ago it is obvious they are moving in the right direction. To bring back the likes of Gayle, Sarwan and Bravo would not only be destabilising but force the likes of Barath, Powell and Edwards out of Test cricket, where they should be learning and improving together. It’s time to leave the old guard to their T20 world tours and get behind the next generation.