The new direction is one of excellence, trying to win Test matches.
–– Ottis Gibson, May 26, 2014
Perhaps West Indies coach Ottis Gibson spoke tongue-in-cheek. Maybe his comments were the result of a load being removed from his shoulders. Then again, his words might just have been straight talk clothed in the purest of innocence.
The assertion from knowledgeable cricket commentators over the past four years, many of them former high-quality cricketers, has been that the presence of the courageous and very likable Darren Sammy, as captain of the West Indies Test team, left the regional side in a state of constant imbalance. Sammy could neither bat nor bowl well enough to merit a play in the side, far less be its leader. Nor was the team strong enough to carry anyone simply to be the skipper.
The post-colonial era of West Indies cricket has been marked by the appointment of captains who could command a play as ordinary members of the team. The list reads like a who’s who of regional cricket over the past five decades –– Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran, Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Richie Richardson, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Christopher Gayle.
Each might have had varying leadership strengths, weaknesses and personality quirks. But it could not be denied they merited their respective places in the team. No one could accuse the West Indies Cricket Board, whether of control or not, of deliberately manufacturing an imbalance in the side.
Enter Sir Julian Hunte. Enter Ernest Hilaire. Enter Darren Sammy. It was a triumvirate made in the shadow of the Pitons and an issue that conservative regional media and cricket commentators either skirted around or ignored, perhaps for fear of being accused of insularity. But unlike swimming where only the bad swimmer suffers, cricket as a team sport occasions mass drownings.
West Indies bowling great Michael Holding described the advent of captain Sammy thus two years ago: “They want Sammy as captain, irrespective of whether it’s good for the team balance or not.”
For the past few years pro-Sammy apologists have found creative ways to make Test losses less painful. Defeat over five days was an improvement over defeat in three. A loss by two wickets was highly commendable when a previous defeat was by eight. A century in a losing cause brought cheer and the expectations that the team was turning the corner, even if that corner led straight into a cul-de-sac.
But now, for the first time, the West Indies Cricket Board, through its principal team officer –– coach Ottis Gibson –– is acknowledging that there was a previous team imbalance under Darren Sammy. Coach Gibson is now over the moon at the possibility of boosting the bowling with another attacking, wicket-taking option.
“We look at where we are right now as a team and where we need to go to and perhaps a change in more wicket-taking bowlers . . . . We need to win Test matches and we need to pick teams that are going to try and win consistently,” said Gibson at a recent tete a tete with the media.
This is all very refreshing but it begs the questions: why did the WICB stick with an imbalance in the side for four years? And, if the new direction is now one of excellence, what was the direction in which the board was heading prior to this catharsis?
For those who will argue that the West Indies team was doing poorly prior to the Sammy reign, they should be reminded that one does not chop off a hand simply to alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome. Gibson has some very difficult months ahead of him.
With the captaincy change, regional cricket fans will be hoping, and in some cases, demanding positive results. He now has the opportunity to put a balanced Test team onto the field. Continued losses could lead to another casualty, where someone else might very well state that the new direction in the post-Gibson era is one of excellence.