EARL BEST examines some cricket lines
“If our bowlers remain fit and if we continue to improve, we can do well against India.”
The speaker is former West Indies captain and current manager of the West Indies cricket team, Richie Richardson, responding to a question from television commentator Ian Bishop about how the West Indies team is likely to fare in its upcoming three-Tests, five-One-day Internationals tour in India.
Richardson, it is important not to forget, is the West Indies captain who ended the playing days of I.V.A. “Master Blaster” Richards. When the mantle passed from the latter to the former in 1992, Richards is reported to have expressed an interest in staying on as player for the World Cup in Australia. The story goes that the request was denied on the grounds that the Great Man’s continued presence on the team would not allow his successor to begin to impose his own culture on the team he had inherited. The source of the objection? Richardson himself. History records that the West Indian domination of the international arena ended in 1996 in the tenure of one R.B. Richardson…
I was certain that Bishop’s follow-up question to his ex-teammate would be about the absence of Christopher Gayle. I fully expected the former-West-Indies-pacer-turned-international-cricket-commentator to ask, “Even if we continue to exclude Chris Gayle?” But Bishop is not an easy man to second guess; the question never came. In fact, neither the issue of the captaincy nor of Gayle and his problems with the West Indies Cricket Board ever surfaced in the entire interview.
That had not been the case when the team landed in Bangladesh early last month. With Darren Sammy’s side fresh from a 1-0 defeat by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Indians at home in the Caribbean, everyone was keen to find out what would be done differently by the same old personnel who could so easily have lost both Tests to the World Cup champions and World number one team. Few were prepared for the answer that came from West Indies Coach Ottis Gibson: “We don’t need Gayle.” Even fewer, one feels, were prepared to agree with Gibson.
But Gibson does not need our agreement because Gibson is – take a deep breath here- a highly respected international coach.
Gayle, the hard-hitting Jamaican opener, made his Test debut in 2000 and eventually rose to become skipper of the team in 2007 when he took over the mantle from an injured Ramnaresh Sarwan. In his eight series as captain, he led the regional team to three Test wins as against 13 defeats. But his personal record of achievement as batsman was rather better. Veteran commentator Tony Cozier has often pointed out how Gayle’s performance with the bat was markedly better after he assumed the captaincy, his 22 matches at the helm yielding five half-centuries and six centuries while he managed only seven centuries and 28 half-centuries in the 69 Tests he played on the way to the top post. But it was not with bat or ball that Gayle has repeatedly – if not frequently – offended the purists but with his irreverent comments and questionable actions. One of the more memorable of these last came in England in 2009 when he requested the Board’s permission to stay on to play in the IPL after the scheduled cut-off departure date and only arrived in England a couple of days before the start of the First Test. The West Indies were convincingly beaten inside three days, their skipper contributing 28 and 0 in his two innings.
However, along with Brian Lara, Don Bradman and Virender Sehwag, Gayle is one of only four players in the history of Test cricket to have reached 300 twice. And his 13 centuries also include a 204 versus New Zealand in Grenada in 2002. As a One-day International player, Gayle has amassed 8087 runs in 223 innings at an average of 39.06 with 19 centuries and 43 half-centuries to his credit. His average in T20 matches is less impressive, standing at a mere 32.47 from 20 matches. But he boasts the first century in that format, a whirlwind 117 scored against a strong South African attack in Johannesburg in 2007, as well as an overall strike rate of 144.49!
So Gayle is indisputably a good player. But Gibson says WI don’t need him. And Gibson is, as we already know, a highly respected international coach.
I have no doubt that, without Gibson, Gayle’s successor, Darren Sammy, would find it more difficult to honour us with his presence on the team, a presence, you might say, which is onerous. Sammy’s men contrived to almost lose the First Test against Bangladesh last month despite playing time being reduced to a mere three days. And then, on the back of a huge double-century by Darren Bravo and a splendid spell of hostile fast bowling by Fidel Edwards, they hammered out a memorable 229-run win in the Second Test. Those two results made Sammy’s record as captain two wins and two losses in 10 Tests. More relevant perhaps is the skipper’s individual contribution with bat and ball in Tests played in the current year. That reads 215 runs in 12 innings at an average of 17.9 and 21 wickets for 560 runs in 251 overs at a cost of just under 27 runs per wicket. That is hardly something to write home about. But, as far as I can make out, Gibson has no problems with Sammy’s performance on any level.
And Gibson, we’ve already established, is a highly respected international coach.
Gibson has made it clear that, as far as he is concerned, discipline is a much more highly prized criterion than talent – perhaps achievement is more accurate – for membership in the Gibson West Indian Club. He keeps insisting that the arrangements leave no place for senior players who are not prepared to mentor their juniors. So I imagine that, now that Bravo the Younger has finally come good, the coach is now over the moon. It proves, I reckon he thinks, that he has been making the right choice. How else can one reasonably construe a convincing away from home Test win, a near double-century by Bravo, a second Test century by Kirk Edwards and half-centuries by Keiran Powell and Kraigg Braithwaite all in the same match? The Gibson chickens are coming home to roost! In a grappe! Which means that the post-Gayle era is now well and truly launched.
I don’t expect the coach to concede that it was outstanding individual performance that earned the outstanding victory for the West Indies in Mirpur. Were that not so, were the commentators convinced at the end of a fourth day which closed (with the home side needing a further 344 runs to reach their target) that Sammy’s team qua team had finally found itself, would they have continued to entertain the possibility of a Bangladesh win?
“The West Indies’ bid for victory in the Second Test against Bangladesh hit a snag yesterday,” the Express CMC report began, “after Darren Bravo set things up narrowly missing a double-hundred.” The “snag,” it turned out, was “Tamim Iqbal in rampant mood.” And since “the left-handed opener was unbeaten on 82 at the close,” the story hedged its bet, the 508-mark the home side needed to reach was “a highly improbable, if not impossible victory target.” The current record team score for the fourth innings, mind you, is 418, posted by Brian Lara’s West Indians in Antigua in 2006. So, make no mistake about it, that uncertainty about whether Sammy’s side could defend a massive target was a resounding vote of confidence, one might say, in the captaincy and the leadership of Gibson.
And Gibson, remember, is a highly regarded international coach.
No reporter, as far as I am aware, has attempted to draw the coach on the issue of the future of the West Indies as a Test cricket-playing nation. The issue arises, of course, in the light of comments made by T&T captain Daren Ganga on the eve of his team’s participation in the 2011 edition of the Nokia Champions League in India. The T&T Ambassador for Sport was widely quoted as making comments suggesting that going it alone as a Test-playing nation was a viable option for the country. TTCB President Azim Bassarath responded with a hurried statement re-affirming his Board’s commitment to the regional enterprise and giving the assurance that the issue was not even on the stove, far less on the front burner. But Ganga went without further public censure and was retained as captain of the Champions League squad as well as, less inevitably, of the squad subsequently named for the Regional Super50 Tournament in Guyana.
In that competition, his side rebounded from a surprise first match defeat by the unfancied Combined Colleges and Campuses side (CCC) to earn the runner-up slot in the final versus Jamaica. These setbacks came on the heels of T&T’s elimination in the qualifying round of the Champions League where Ganga’s side, surprise runners-up in 2009, had opened with two narrow losses in their first two games, leaving their eventual fate in someone else’s hands. It spawned an albeit muted debate about Ganga’s future at the helm of the team. There were those who felt that, like the West Indies captain, the 32-year-old with 48 Tests under his belt was no longer earning his place on the team; there were those who, more nuanced, felt that he no longer deserved a place on the team in the shorter versions of the game and there were those who felt that he could no longer command a place on the National T20 squad. The West Indies selectors have repeatedly taken the position that he does not deserve a place on the regional team but the TTCB seems not to be sympathetic to any of these positions.
And no reporter has so far sought to find out what Gibson thinks although it is beyond dispute that Gibson is a highly respected international coach.
What, however, do Ganga’s recent performances say? In the last regional four-day tournament, he was the most consistent performer, finishing with the highest aggregate of all the T&T batsmen and Team T&T acquitted itself well but, if you believe the TTCB’s version of the story, were cheated out of a place in the final. In the Champions League, though, Ganga’s reputation took something of a beating – in some eyes. In the opening game against the Mumbai Indians, T&T came within a knn of defending a paltry 98. Ganga’s supporters praised the feat while his detractors saw only the eventual defeat which came off the last ball of the opposition’s innings.
In the second match against Bangalore, T&T successfully defended a modest 139 – for 19 overs! In the last regulation over, bowled by Ravi Rampaul, New South Wales’ scored 16 runs to earn the right to a “super over” play-off. Inspired, say some, idiotic, say others, Ganga again opted for Rampaul to bell the cat. The 18 runs that NSW’s MC Henriques slammed off him in that over proved to be three more than Lendl Simmons could manage in T&T’s turn at the crease, leaving the “Red Force” directly behind the eight-ball as far as the rest of the competition was concerned.
Combined with the fact of the skipper’s paltry contribution with the bat, his flawed – “questionable,” some commentators preferred – captaincy fuelled calls for his head on the talk shows and in the newspapers. And it largely silenced those who had been agitating for him to be recalled to the West Indies team to replace Sammy as captain.
But Gibson has not publicly pronounced on Ganga. And Gibson, as we all agree, is a highly respected international coach.
My hope is that, buoyed by their fine recent showing in Bangladesh, Sammy’s troops will prove good enough to make a contest of the India leg of the tour. Having thumped a surprisingly pathetic England in their latest outing, Dhoni’s side is likely to prove an entirely different proposition from the unit that eked out a narrow victory over the home side in the Caribbean. And with Sachin Tendulkar back in the fray and seeking still to make more history and score that elusive 100th international century, the Sammy/Gibson leadership duumvirate will have their work cut out for them.
So all who claim to be true supporters of the West Indies should pray that, when this is all over, Gibson will still be an internationally respected coach.
Because it is not only in the alphabet but, more importantly, in the annals of West Indies cricket that Gayle comes before Gibson. And Sammy.