If it were possible for the eminent Dr Richard Allsopp to update his seminal Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage from beyond the grave, one could not be surprised if one turned to Page 216 and saw inscribed as an explanation to the word “embarrassing” – the current West Indies cricket team.
2017 for the West Indies might have started with great expectations. But this was no feel-good Dickensian prose. Shai Hope and Roston Chase might have momentarily conjured up images of Pip, but as December closed West Indies cricket was still deeply immersed in the reality of hard times. It became almost painful to listen to captain Jason Holder search for positives in defeat after defeat and repeat the same rhetoric that is synonymous with sporting failure.
The West Indies started their international campaign with a 0-3 One-Day International series loss to England in March in the Caribbean. They followed this up with losses to Pakistan in Tests (1-2), ODIs (1-2) and T20Is (1-3) between March and May in the Caribbean. They managed to defeat improving minnows Afghanistan 3-0 in a T20I series in June but the gap between the two sides was more accurately assessed when they drew the ODI series 1-1. In June the team – and the rest of the Caribbean – suffered the ignominy of participating in the Champions Trophy in England in front of their televisions after failing to qualify. By year-end, a similar cloud hung over the team’s participation in the 2019 ICC World Cup in England.
India visited the Caribbean for an ODI series in June and found, as other visitors have, that home advantage for the West Indies team had long become an aberration. The Indians duly won 3-1 with West Indies having the scant consolation of victory in a one-off T20I.
The months of August and September provided flickering hope for West Indies during their tour of England. With Chase performing outstandingly against Pakistan at home, Kraigg Brathwaite being Kraigg Brathwaite, and Shai Hope showing glimpses of quality against Pakistan, long-suffering fans hoped for the best on the England tour. Unfortunately, Chase was a non-factor, opener Kieran Powell was highly disappointing with some suggesting his return to baseball while new recruit Kyle Hope looked as out of place in international cricket as Austin ‘Jack’ Warner would accepting a FIFA integrity award. The result of the three-Test series was a 1-2 margin in favour of the hosts. Shai Hope’s twin tons at Headingley provided West Indies with a magnificent victory and their Xanadu moment for 2017. The 4-0 hammering which England inflicted on the West Indies in the ODI series, though, quickly erased many of the smiles gained from Leeds.
The October 1-0 triumph over Zimbabwe on the African continent will go into the history books as a series victory but the hosts’ two-day defeat in a four-day Test against South Africa this week, put that Zimbabwean stopover in the context of secondary school fourth-formers combating against primary school fourth-formers. The 1-0 series win was nothing to gloat about or to relate hence to one’s grandchildren around the fireplace.
The West Indies closed off the year with more disappointment which is expected to stretch into the New Year. They travelled to New Zealand in November to face the Kiwis, who though having a few quality players, have not caused good teams to lose any sleep in decades. But the West Indies appeared to be in a collective coma during the Test series which they lost 0-2 and the ODI series in which they were thrashed 3-0. They lost the first of the T20Is and with the second to be played on January 1 seemed destined to begin 2018 as they had 2017.
The year is also ending with the selectors and Cricket West Indies, in general, having some critical questions to answer.
The quality of pitches in the region has so declined that for a team traditionally strong against fast bowling, West Indies batsmen now look like deer startled by headlights when facing even brisk medium pacers. They looked pathetic during the Test series against the short bowling of left-arm seamer Neil Wagner who reaches 140 kph only when driving a vehicle. The tracks in the Caribbean are no longer conducive to fast bowling and for a region that has produced Roy Gilchrist, Wes Hall, Patrick Patterson, Charlie Griffith, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and a plethora of other pace demons, the dwindling skills of our batsmen against fast bowling provided cause for despair.
The commitment of players to regional cricket is something also needed to be addressed. CWI has to make a decision on the likes of Sunil Narine, in particular, Kieron Pollard, and others. Their persistent unavailability for the West Indies team for “personal reasons” has now become routine. Admittedly, they are not under retainer contracts but CWI needs to either continue to be satisfied with this ‘cherry-picking’ of tours by certain players or just simply bid them all adieu permanently.
The captaincy of Jason Holder must be under scrutiny. He is presenting the same dilemma which Darren Sammy did with team selection in both the Test and ODI squads. Holder is a more gifted bowler and batsman than Sammy, and as captain, his position in the team is guaranteed. But is he a good enough batsman, bowler or all-rounder to be afforded that luxury? Is he consistent enough in those categories to be a sure pick rather than a quick pick? If the trend of the past two years is followed, there is likely to be more questions than answers by the end of 2018.
And surprise, surprise! Despite the general letdown of the senior West Indies team, the irony of ironies was that the year concluded with news that the salaries of the players were in for a hike. That about summed up West Indies’ state of affairs.