Tuesday, 8 November 2011

In Praise of ...West Indies cricket

It has been a forlorn time of late for the West Indies Cricket Board.  How far the mighty can fall?  For so long the team were the most dominant teams in there and any sport, the envy the world over for the way they played and how they played it - always with a smile on their face.

Now when you think of the WICB you think of an organisation who struggle to pay their players, who cannot manage to come sort of arrangement with their most prolific player so he can play at the highest level and elevate a struggling team.

And yet it seems, very slowly and very surely, The West Indies cricket team are turning the corner. They are currently in Mohali playing the first of three tests against a formidable Indian batting line-up, newly bouyed by their demolition of England in a recent one-day series.

Tellingly, the West Indies for all their talent remain a team that have forgotten how to win.  Since the legends Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose retired they have won just one test match away from home (nevermind a series) when they surprised South Africa in 2007.  Now lets not get ahead of ourselves, the West Indies do not look like winning this test match or series of India with a fresh Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid returning to the line-up.

And yet for the first six sessions of this match, the West Indies were leading this test convincingly helped by another Shivnarine Chanderpaul century which allowed them to post a first innings 304, although they were 269-6 the adding of only 35 more runs would have been a disappointment considering Shiv was set.

Yet in the Indian's first response is when West Indies deciding to wake up dismissing India at that prolific line up for 209.  Fears in the Indian camp would have returned to the same worries when in England this summer, unable to match first innings and giving in to scoreboard pressure, although 304 is not usually a fright. 

The congratulations should be extended because India had put on 89 for the first wicket before the fortuitous run-out of Gambhir when Darren Sammy deflected a straight drive from Sehwag onto the non-striker's stumps, leaving Gambhir stranded and out on 41.  Sehwag would go onto score 55, and Dravid also scored a half century of 54 yet only two other batsmen (Yuvraj 23, Sharma 17) reached double figures owing to some disciplined bowling by Devandra Bishoo (2-55), Ravi Rampaul (2-44) and Darren Sammy (3-35). All bowlers took at least one wicket to give the Windies a 95 run lead.

Yet the West Indies are like that average NFL side who cannot seemingly play a full four quarters of the game.  Entering the third quarter of the game, the Windies had the opportunity to cement a dominance of Indisa and score a 300 plus lead, alas they ended up being bowled out for 180 with only Shiv 47 and Sammy 42 contributing to the scorecard, with Ashwin on debut gaining 6-47.

India require 275 and ended Day 3 on 152-2 with both Dravid and Tendulkar set with 148 more required, the pitch is not getting worse in fact these two mammoths of batting are going to pick off the runs easily, unless a miracle arises and a spinner can make magic happen.  Unfortunately, you feel the Indian batsmen have the discipline to see out these difficult conditions.

The second innings dismissals were more about their inability to play spin rather than a pitch gettting worse on the third day, also nobody was willing to play the anchored innings, even Shiv's 47 came off a brisk 58 balls.  This could be an indictment of the influence of Twenty20 forcing players to play more shots, even when the situation does not demand the expansiveness of shots.  The Twenty20 has been played a lot in the Caribbean, and the West Indies gained a morale boosting victory over England at the Oval when fielding a second string XI, but at least it showed youngsters coming to the fore and stepping up.

Too often in the past the integrity of the West Indies has rested on senior professionals like Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo - now you have youngsters like Adrian Barath, Kraigg Braithwaite, Kirk Edwards and Kemar Roach; and when combined with the experienced yet mercurial captain Darren Sammy (at times inspirational, at times infuriating - why is he coming in at 9?) along with the x-factor Chris Gayle when he does finally resolve his issues with the WICB.

The West Indies will never reach the heights of the late 1970s and mid 1980s but Test cricket and cricket in general needs a solid West Indies team that competes and ultimately entertains, lets hope that half the work they did in Mohali does not go to waste in the remainder of the tour.

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