Amid the global gloom occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption of normal life in the islands of the Caribbean, regional sports fans had reason to smile this past week. The Test series victory of the West Indies cricket team in Bangladesh was a welcome, if temporary distraction, from the health, political and social issues we face. It was a timely reminder that adversity can be overcome with discipline, confidence and maximum effort.
The team under the astute leadership of Kraigg Brathwaite left the region last month bereft of some of its regular players who decided that the possible danger posed by the pandemic was too great for them to travel to Bangladesh. Since the retirement of the last outstanding West Indian batsman in Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the regional side has had no star players or world beaters in its lineup. Captain Jason Holder perhaps comes closest to being viewed in any form of elevated light. By and large, most of those, if not all who remained in the Caribbean, were simply among our more promising but still unfulfilled talents.
The players that boarded the plane for Asia were described in various quarters as “second string”, a designation to which Brathwaite strenuously objected. With the majority of the rookies engaged in the limited overs series, the West Indies were duly beaten by a Bangladesh squad that is a formidable unit on home soil. And so, it was on to the Test series, forever the measure of real cricket as the legendary Michael Holding often calls the five-day contest. It was here that West Indies showed true grit and determination with a mix of a few senior players and a majority of very junior cricketers and some still seeking to establish themselves.
With excellent performances from the likes of debutants Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner, at 28 and 32 years old respectively, no toddlers by any stretch of the imagination, and wicketkeeper batsman Joshua Da Silva, 22, the youngest of the recruits, West Indies won the series 2-0. For those who might question the credentials of the hosts, it should be recalled that Bangladesh defeated Australia and England at home in series that both ended 1-1 in recent times.
Praise has been heaped on Brathwaite for his leadership, on Bonner for his consistency, Mayers for his wondrous match-winning double century in the first Test, Da Silva for being the “glue” in the middle order and Cornwall for his series-clinching performance in the second Test. It is anticipated that these players will feature prominently during the rest of 2021 as the regional side embarks on a packed domestic programme that starts with the Sri Lankan visitors next month. Speculation has already started as to what selectors will do when all the players, including those that skipped the Asian trip, make themselves available. But the decision-making should be an easy one since the selectors are not deliberating and making choices from a pool of players who have been performing outstandingly or who have been consistently winning games for the West Indies over the past five or more years. With batsmen who remained at home averaging in the 30s and the 20s, continued omissions should be an easy walk in the park.
As it stands selectors might find themselves needing a solitary middle-order batsman from among those who remained in the Caribbean. Of those who toured Asia, opener John Campbell might find it difficult to retain his place. He has now gone 13 Tests and has very little to show for the faith constantly placed in him. After just two match failures Shayne Moseley could consider himself unlucky if he is swiftly discarded and not given as extended a trial as Campbell. If selectors need to be inspired, they ought to remember that former Sri Lankan opening batsman and captain Marvan Atapattu ended his career averaging around 40 after starting it with scores of 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0. South African great Jacques Kallis’ first seven Test innings brought him a mere 57 runs. By the time he quit he had added 13 232 more to that. Interestingly, despite Moseley’s low output coach Phil Simmons spoke very highly of him after the tour.
The decision by almost a dozen players to skip the tour to Bangladesh has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It not only gave others opportunities which they willingly grabbed but it now places an onus on those on the outside to perform at a high level if they desire to be reinstated and it also impresses on those on the inside that they need to produce consistently if their status quo is to remain. We are in for some exciting times even in the midst of COVID-19’s disruption of our lives – sporting and otherwise.