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A flicker of hope for West Indies cricket

A flicker of hope for West Indies cricket

It’s far too early to tell whether a new era is about to dawn on West Indies cricket, but Phil Simmons got off to a very good start with a drawn series against England. The task at hand is much bigger than that, but for the time being, he can pat himself and his players on the back. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Just a few months ago, West Indies cricket was in such woeful disarray that their players walked out of a tour to India. Pay disputes had become so unbearable that players thought it better to duck out of a commitment – and risk further pay sanctions – than stay on the road to nowhere. Now, they are fresh off a Test series draw with England and there are plenty of young faces who have showed enough promise to offer a glimmering of hope for the future of the sport in the Caribbean.

The cliché everyone likes to trot out is that “the world needs a strong West Indies” team. That might be largely based on sentiment, because back in their heyday, watching the Windies was a spine-tingling thing. These days, many would rather close their eyes and flinch in horror as the team continues to struggle.

In Tests, the formula has been very much the same for the men from the Caribbean. They start off well and then fade away as the pressure gets tough. Against England in the third and final Test, they managed a valiant five-wicket win, after failing to erase the deficit in the first innings. Some fine bowling in both innings as well as an immense contribution from Jermaine Blackwood with the bat and England’s incompetence got the Windies over the line.

It’s too early to say whether the win that squared the series is going to bring a new chapter to West Indies cricket, but the spirited fight back is a breath of fresh air. Currently sitting eighth in the Test rankings, it was a significant win.

Whether or not incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves calling the team “mediocre” had anything to do with their fierce fight nobody knows, but some have compared it to Tony Greig’s “grovel” comment from many years back.

But it’s not just words which made the difference in this series. Most encouragingly, the average age of the squad for the third Test is a touch over 27, and that includes the 40-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul. In each of the three Tests, one of the young guns stepped up to the plate when the pressure was on.

The 23-year-old Jason Holder combined for a match-saving 105-run partnership with Denesh Ramdin on the final day of the first Test. Holder was only playing in his fourth Test at the time and his approach showed a calm temperament which belied his age. He backed up his batting with eight wickets at an average of 31.12 and an economy rate of 2.77 in the three Tests.

Kraigg Brathwaite also managed an impressive century in the second innings of the second Test, despite the team having their backs to the wall. Then, in the final Test, there was the 23-year-old Blackwood, who salvaged the first innings with his 85 – the only half-century of the Windies’ first innings batting at number six – and saw the team home with an unbeaten 47 in the final innings. He was the hosts’ leading run-scorer in the series with 311 runs at an average of 77.75.

It was a tremendous effort from such a “mediocre” team that has had to overcome a number of challenges to get here. Cricket in the Caribbean has been on the decline for some years now. The pitches are in terrible condition and the gap between domestic and international cricket is a bridge too far for many.

“The thing is, our young players are learning international cricket on the international stage. And that’s not ideal,” Coach Simmons explained.

“When you play county cricket, the level is close enough to Test cricket. And when I think back to my days – and I hate to do that – I learned a lot in regional cricket. But I don’t think there’s a lot to be learned at that level now. So it’s when you come up here that you start learning.

“You can get away with reckless batting in our four-day game. It seems to be the normal thing to do. But you don’t get many bad balls and you have to bat for longer when you play international cricket. And if Bishoo bowled 50 overs in our four-day cricket, he would take 20 wickets.

“I saw a 50-over game a while ago. The standard of the wicket was terrible. Terrible. That is the first part of my job. Not the international team. The biggest part of my job is getting the proper coaching set-up, the proper fitness set-ups, the proper wickets in our regional cricket right around the Caribbean. We have to address these things. I don’t know how yet, but we’ll find a way. That’s the only way we’ll produce better cricketers,” he added.

With all that said, Simons will breathe a quiet sigh of relief that his new job got off to a fairly good start. His task now is far bigger than just being an international coach. His job is to take these talented young players and shape them into becoming world beaters. Along with that he has politics and other stumbling blocks to deal with but, at least for the time being, he can give himself and his players a pat on the back for ticking the first box. DM

Photo: West Indies batsman Chris Gayle celebrates scoring 200 runs, a double century, during their World Cup Cricket match against Zimbabwe in Canberra, February 24, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray

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