by Feroz Khan
From bad to worse, that’s how 2014 can be summed up for West Indies cricket. Just when you thought the team was showing signs of improvement, in a blink, the focus suddenly shifted from their cricket to differences between the players and home cricket board. One event in particular made it a memorable year for them, although for the wrong reasons, when the ODI team, led by Dwayne Bravo, pulled out of the India tour leading to a direct confrontation with the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
West Indies churned out contrasting performances throughout the year. On January 1, they were at the receiving end of a brutal assault by Corey Anderson, who smashed the record for the fastest ODI century. A week later in the same series, when struggling to put together a fit playing XI, they condemned New Zealand to their second worst ODI defeat, levelling the series 2-2. England visited for a limited-overs tour and bagged an evenly-contested ODI series while losing the T20I series 2-0. West Indies played four ODI series in 2014 and could win just one of them, against a lowly Bangladesh side ranked ninth among 12 teams.
They contested three Test series, hosting two of them. They lost to New Zealand 1-2 at home but in the process, ended a Test victory drought that began in March 2013. Next came Bangladesh, who were comfortably seen off 2-0. However, the real test came when West Indies met the No 1 ranked South Africa in December. The first Test resulted in a humiliating innings defeat while the next one ended in a draw due to persistent rain.
The only format where West Indies looked competitive was in T20Is where they won seven and lost seven. In terms of tournaments, they won just one, lost two and drew three; the highlight being their semi-final appearance in the WT20 while a defeat to Ireland before was certainly a shocker.
West Indies came into the T20 WC, hosted by Bangladesh in March-April, as the champions and nearly became the first team to defend the title. They began with a close defeat to India followed by a crushing win over the hosts. Then came a tense win over Australia, with victory sweetened by pre-match comments from James Faulkner about how he wasn’t a fan of West Indies. With another dominating win over Pakistan in their final league game, Darren Sammy’s team went on to lose in the semi-finals to eventual winners Sri Lanka by the D/L method.
Following a long drawn-out payment dispute between the cricketers, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA), Bravo’s team ended their India tour abruptly after the conclusion of the fourth ODI in Dharamsala. Murmurs of a boycott had already started even before the tour began after news merged that the players were unhappy over what they termed as being hoodwinked by WIPA in accepting a new bargaining agreement. With no progress towards an amicable resolution, they abandoned the tour midway and as a result the BCCI suspended its bilateral ties with the WICB and slapped them with a $42 million damage claims.
There was no stand-out performer for them in 2014. In Tests, Kraigg Brathwaite was the leading run-getter with 595 runs (avg. 74.37) and Sulieman Benn the leading wicket taker with 30 scalps, but Kemar Roach (28 wickets) had a far better bowling average and strike-rate. In ODIs, Denesh Ramdin scored 516 runs (avg. 57.33) and Dwayne Bravo made 415 runs to go with 20 wickets in 13 ODIs.
Chris Gayle had the audacity to sit out of the South Africa series citing injury but at the same time, confirmed his availability for a T20 tournament in the same country that coincided with the tour. Gale has constantly been hampered by injuries which have adversely affected his availability or international games. This year, against New Zealand in the first Test at Kingston, he became the ninth West Indian cricketer to play 100 Tests. He scored three fifties in eight innings including a blazing 80 that led West Indies to their first Test win in over a year. Apart from that, his bat remained silent except on rare occasions, one of which was during the World T20 match victory against Australia when he scored a 35-ball 53.
Watch out for
Brathwaite has been the most consistent batsman for West Indies in Test cricket. The 22-year-old scored his maiden century (vs New Zealand) and double-ton (vs Bangladesh) apart from two fifties in 10 innings during the year. The youngster, who follows an old school batting style in the age of T20 cricket, has been earmarked as a future star. When batsman today are fast changing their game to suit the different formats, Braithwaite refuses to buckle, citing a simple argument – Test cricket is the ultimates test that separates men from boys.