The West Indies cricket team leave the region in a few days’ time to defend the ICC World Twenty20 title which they won in 2012 at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was their first major global silverware since the 1979 ICC World Cup and the 2004 Champions Trophy, both staged in England.
2012 was a time of great rejoicing. But two years later the West Indies have achieved little, with victories against the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and New Zealand in the Caribbean welcomed, but scant consolation for their continued travails against teams ranked higher than they on the International Cricket Council’s ratings.
As of today, West Indies are the eighth ranked team out of ten on the Test ratings with minnows Zimbabwe and Bangladesh below them. They are also the eighth ranked team out of 12 on the One-Day International ratings, with only strugglers Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, as well as non-Test playing nations Ireland and Afghanistan below them.
The regional side’s best ranking is to be found in the shortest format of the game, where they are fifth on a list of 16 teams, six of which are non-Test playing countries. They are ranked ahead of Australia and England of the global powerhouses, as well as New Zealand. But this may be a mere aberration within the context of the low to which the West Indies have sunk over the past decade and a half.
That the West Indies have fallen on hard times since 1995 is a major understatement. The very occasional victories have been overwhelmed by persistent defeat. Indeed, West Indian fans have now settled into a pastime of relishing past glories, suffering through present defeats and dreaming of an unknown future.
One of the features of West Indies’ era of futility is that many of the same suspects have been at the forefront of the team’s abject failure. Dwayne Smith, 30, made his debut in 2004 but has done little in a decade to suggest he is the solution to any West Indies problem. The same may be said for the likes of Marlon Samuels, 33, who made his debut 13 years ago and has failed more than prospered.
Et tu, Dwayne Bravo, a 2004 debutant; Darren Sammy, a 2004 recruit; Ravi Rampaul, a 2003 debutant; Tino Best, 11 years of honest, enthusiastic failure; Narsingh Deonarine, a 2005 debutant. Their professional records, within the context of excellence and what transpired between 1976 and 1995, are unworthy of mention.
Of those presently playing and who have been associated with Caribbean cricket misery, only Christopher Gayle and the laudable Shivnarine Chanderpaul can point to their international records with pride. But cricket is a team sport, a heart sport, a brain sport, and two warriors alone a team cannot make.
That lovers of West Indies cricket expect better from average players with average records is akin to a drowning man catching a passing leaf to find solidity. The weaknesses of our cricketers have been reflected in the myopia of regional selectors, fearful of making bold decisions, and fooled by the belief that they must persist with failures because the cupboard is bare. But as long as the sport is being played the cupboard is never bare.
West Indies cricket is replete with examples of players being plucked from the embryo and emerging as greats because of opportunity. Perhaps, our selectors should follow the example of the Pakistanis who are as likely to select a player for international cricket from their first-class set-up as they would from an informal game beside a rice field.
West Indies cricket has suffered from fear. Defeat, so often tasted, has become not only tolerable, but is now akin to a delicacy. Platitudes and excellent speeches at dinner and cocktail parties, retreats in Miami for the purpose of bonding, have become more important to administrators than being innovative and imaginative in trying to rescue the regional game.
The preparation of pitches, the recruitment of coaching staff, the selection of teams can be made better by boldness and a willingness to try other avenues if those used since 1995 have become culs-de-sac.
Following another series failure in Antigua, the West Indies team will take to the green this Sunday in a series against England that will provide an appetizer for the imminent ICC Twenty20 World Cup in Bangladesh. It is a format through which most of the team’s failures have enriched themselves across the globe.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, while they have individually got richer, the collective has become poorer. The month of March should prove instructive.
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