There continues to be reason for optimism with the present West Indies cricket team under the leadership of Jason Holder. The conclusion of the tied series against Sri Lanka marked an improvement in fortunes for the regional side against teams with higher ICC world ratings than their own ninth position. Sri Lanka is rated sixth in the world. Of course, having started the series with a win in Trinidad and Tobago, Holder and his men would have relished a series victory. But two teams were playing and the opponents on the field were equally desirous of a victory.
The initiation into the leadership position of the team has not been an easy one for Mr Holder. But he has shown himself to be capable of standing up to criticism and pressure on and off the field and from this distance appears to have the respect and loyalty of those under his charge. Of greater significance, though, is that his personal game continues to evolve and progress with both bat and ball and he commands a place in the team not solely based on being the captain but on being an individual who produces more often than not.
Mr Holder has sometimes been criticized for being too conservative in his captaincy. However, conservatism can be bred when one is youthful, when one is leading a young team, and when that team loses more than it wins. But Mr Holder has shown a capacity to listen and learn and his captaincy has demonstrated evidence of development and maturity. We anticipate that as the team similarly matures and toughens, greater aggression on and off the field with respect to decision-making will be showcased.
However, there are some aspects of the just concluded series against Sri Lanka that were disappointing. Crowd support for the team in Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and Barbados was a major let-down. The series did not lack for excitement and though there was much to be desired in the batting performances on both sides, the West Indies competed in every game and the Asian visitors showed significant pluck throughout. Yet the crowds remained home. The Test at Kensington Oval was particularly poorly attended even if there might have been more spectators there than at some other venues. And we suggest this for one specific fact. Taking the field at the Oval were Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Kemar Roach, Miguel Cummins and the captain – seven Barbadians in a team of eleven. One would have thought that factor would have been a major drawing card for thousands to flock to Fontabelle. But this was not the case. Perhaps, the apathy for Test cricket, or more specifically, West Indies Test cricket, runs deeper than is acknowledged.
Those responsible for the preparation of the Test pitches at the three venues must be complimented for producing tracks that assisted fast bowling throughout. For too long regional curators have been presenting dust bowls and graveyards in a region renown for fast bowling and that has produced the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, et al. It was a distinct pleasure that the leading bowlers were the likes of Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder and Kemar Roach, as well as Sri Lankan tearaway Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha. The discomfiture which Kumara and Gabriel caused to opposing batsmen was not only a testimony to their speed but also a reflection on curators getting their history right with respect to pitch preparation. Perhaps with such pitches becoming the rule and not the exception, regional fans will not have to contend with the ignominy of Caribbean batsmen being bounced out by military medium-pacers such as Kiwi Neil Wagner, as witnessed in our side’s last tour to New Zealand.
Cricket West Indies must continue to find ways to make Tests in this region more attractive and the on-field play more appealing. The production of the wickets in the just concluded series was a step in the right direction. With Twenty20’s fast food fare proving more and more popular, even if it leaves a lot to be desired aesthetically, those in charge of cricket and who desire to see Test cricket prosper must find innovative ways to breath life into this longest format. At the end of the day, there is nothing more compelling than a hard-fought, gritty, dramatic, exciting five-day battle that ends in a result.
West Indies go directly into another Test series against eighth-ranked Bangladesh and hopefully the same level of exciting cricket as the just concluded one obtains. Those responsible for team selection must look at some of the weaknesses manifested against Sri Lanka and correct them. Many observers believed the team was a batsman short against the Sri Lankans. Others suggest that the inclusion of the opener Devon Smith made the team two batsmen short. The selection of a spinner on a green surface at Kensington Oval also appeared one made out of loyalty more so than common sense. Sadly, on wickets conducive to fast bowling throughout the series, Mr Cummins could muster three in one innings and none further in five more.
Whatever changes are made against Bangladesh, the greatest change required at this stage is for regional supporters to embrace Mr Holder’s team with their presence at the games.