EARL BEST shudders on the eve of Australia’s Caribbean tour
I don’t think of myself as someone who scares very easily. Last month, however, a cricketing event sent sundry shivers up and down my spine. I suspect, although I am unable to say categorically that this is so, that West Indies captain Darren Sammy had a similar, perhaps even a stronger, more violent reaction. The cricketing event to which I refer, of course, is the comprehensive mauling of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India, the former World Number One Test team, by Michael Clarke’s ruthless Australians. It was, shudder, shudder, scary, spine-shivering stuff.
Leading 3-0 in the four-Test series and ahead by almost 400 runs on first innings in the Fourth Test, Captain Clarke opted to bat a second time. The message was clear; we are not content merely to beat the opposition, we want to obliterate them. They did. Needing exactly 500 runs in the fourth innings for an unlikely victory, India managed a mere 201 to fall a whopping 298 runs short. Having suffered huge innings defeats in the Second Test at Sydney and the Third Test at Perth after the 122-run First Test loss in Melbourne, Dhoni’s high-flying World Cup champions had fallen to their second consecutive 4-0 whitewash, their seventh overall in a series of at least three matches.
But this, shudder, shudder, is arguably a stronger version of the same Indian side which came within a run of whitewashing Sammy’s men in the three-Test series that ended in November. And if that was not enough to make West Indian supporters wet their beflannelled crotches -cricinfo provided more than one additional cause for genuine concern. On their list of all series of at least three Tests in which one side has lost all matches, the West Indies are featured a total of 11 times. Interestingly, in the almost seven decades between the first Test series we played (and lost comprehensively!) in 1928 and 1997, WI appears three times on the Victors’ left side and not once on the Vanquished right side. But in the 14 years between 1998 and the present, the pattern is reversed; WI appears not once on the left and no fewer than six times on the right. I fear, shudder, shudder, that after April 27 when the Australian tour of the Caribbean is scheduled to end, there may just be a new WI entry – in the Vanquished column!
Another cricinfo report informs us that “the three-Test series (between Australia and the West Indies) begins on April 11, a week after the start of the IPL, and ends on April 27,” the last scheduled day of the Third Test as we have already seen. Because the three Tests coincide with the first half of the fifth IPL season, the report continues, that “may result in some players missing out for their respective franchises.” Cricinfo identifies Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, David Warner, Ryan Harris and Brad Haddin as “among those in the current Test squad who are contracted with IPL teams.” However, it makes no mention of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo or Keiron Pollard, all of whom have played in every IPL season so far. It is, of course, true that none of this trio represented the West Indies in their last major outing in India. But one wonders whether the cricinfo reporter is acting on his own assumptions about continuity or whether he got a zeppo from someone at the IPL – or at the WICB.
And there is still more. The 28-year-old Sammy has captained the West Indies since October 2010 and, as far as we are aware, was appointed for the duration of the 2011/12 season. That ended, we know, with the last series against India. His Test record at that point showed a mere 626 runs scored in 38 innings at an average of 17.38 and 59 scalps earned in 37 Tests at an average of 30.05. That compares favourably with the Test record of Coach Ottis Gibson but it can hardly be called a proud record. Yet, curiously, Sammy was recently reported to have turned down the offer of a place in the Bangladeshi Premier League on the grounds that he has to prepare for the Australia tour. Hear him:
“While I enjoyed playing cricket in front the enthusiastic and passionate Bangladeshi fans, the BPL’s schedule clashes with that of the West Indies Cricket Board’s Regional 4-Day Tournament. Participating in the BPL would mean missing the first four rounds of the Regional 4-Day.
“West Indies will host Australia starting mid-March and it will be a tough and challenging series. I have decided that it would be best for me to participate in the Regional 4-Day in order that I am properly and fully prepared for the challenges of the series against Australia.”
Beg your pudden? Shudder, shudder. Am I hearing things? As Fazeer Mohammed pointed out in the Express of Monday January 23 (pg 57), “Two questions come immediately to mind: 1 – Why then did he put his name up for the auction given that it was well known that the BPL would clash with the first half of the 2012 first-class season here? 2 – Has it already been determined that he will be retained as captain for the visit of the Australians, seeing as how he doesn’t command a place in the regional side otherwise?”
So what is the answer to the second question? In the wake of the Windward Islands’ victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the recently concluded Regional Twenty20 competition, I heard it argued that Sammy is still the best candidate for the job. Making the case and adducing the evidence of that victory over the eventual champions, a Sammyphile friend of mine noted that the St Lucian had “put allyuh boy Ramdin in he place” and “show all ah allyuh who is boss.” Heady with the spirits of the early win, he asked, rhetorically as far as he was concerned, “Besides, even if we want to move Sammy, who we go put? (Denesh) Ramdin?” I suspect that, now that the tournament is over, the question is no longer quite rhetorical. Ramdin’s Trinidad and Tobago and not the Windwards have emerged champions, with the result that my Sammyphile comrade can now pass a breathalyzer test. But the question should detain us for a moment because it raises the issue of why Sammy was appointed captain in the first place.
The question that needs to be asked is what role does performance as captain in the regional tournaments play in the selection of the West Indies captain. Or perhaps more specifically, what role did performance in the regional tournaments play in the selection of the West Indies captain last year? Unless I am mistaken, T&T’s Daren Ganga, who had a long and successful career at the helm of the national team, was passed over for the regional leader’s mantle on the grounds, it was said, that he could not on merit earn a place on the team. Sammy, however, got the job so that he could earn a place on the team. And now, one has reason to suspect, he may have been guaranteed a place on the team so that he can keep the job. Why else would he, as Faz notes, put up his name and then decline the invite?
But are there really no other candidates for the job?
Let us for the moment ignore the Chris Gayle issue; it seems clear that, without divine intervention, the erstwhile captain has been put permanently out to pasture. Are the leadership cupboards really so bare that there are no competitors for the job of West Indies captain? In the regional T20 tournament, Sammy’s Windwards finished behind the runners-up, defeating a deflated Barbados in the third place playoff. And we have to wait to see how they will fare in the recently commenced four-day, perhaps a more reliable guide to what is likely to happen in the Test arena. My guess is that Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, both under new management, will again emerge top of the pile. The return of Gayle for Jamaica and Dwayne Bravo and Keiron Pollard for T&T will make a real difference to the way these two will perform this time around. But that will make no difference to the West Indian selectors whose current criteria for determining the West Indian captain seem to have little to do with the reality of performance.
But there is also cause for concern on the administrative front. There is still no end in sight to the ongoing dispute that has split the Guyanese cricketing family down the middle. With less than a week to go before the start of the regional tournament last Friday, it was still unclear whether or not Guyana would play and, if yes, where. The Board continues to sit on the fence and say one thing while doing another. One moment their pronouncements seem to support the establishment Guyana Cricket Board but nothing they actually do says unequivocally that the Clive Lloyd-led Government-backed Interim Management Committee is not running the show. Last week, the situation reached farcical proportions with each group naming a team and a captain and organising separate training sessions for the same group of players.
It is obvious that the West Indies Cricket Board has got to take a firm stand. Quickly. On the best assumptions, we are going top have our hands full with the marauding Aussies who are out to show the world that the temporary loss of their Number One ranking was an aberration. The West Indians, whatever the squad that turns up for the March/April showdown, stand in their way. The West Indians are, in my view, certain to be mere, shudder, shudder, collateral damage. The way things look at present with Sammy a shoo-in for the captaincy, Gayle still out in the cold, the Guyanese in complete disarray and the crucial regional tournament likely to be disrupted, Clarke’s men have only to show up to ensure another West Indian whitewash.
Or perhaps even, shudder, shudder, a pre-Easter crucifixion.