Moments of joy provided by the West Indies cricket team have not been a prominent commodity over the past two decades. Indeed, most of the satisfaction provided by our regional side has come in the shortest format of the game – Twenty20 cricket.
But West Indian cricketing purists brought up on the achievements of George Headley, Sir Garfield Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Sir Vivian Richards and several other greats, will remain adamant that the true measure of excellence is Test cricket. We have been whipping boys in this format since the late 1990s with the very occasional Test victory drawing some into the conclusion that perhaps the team is turning the corner, only to discover that corner leading into a cul-de-sac. The cause of West Indies cricket has not been helped by disputes between the board and the players and, whether one wants to accept it or not, the advent of Twenty20 cricket.
Poor performances have been met by derision from past internationals, with some West Indian greats not averse to joining the metaphoric chorus of boos. Some Caribbean voices have attempted to offer words of advice and encouragement but many have taken the easier route of harsh criticisms, often bordering on the insular. Callers for the return of so-called senior players have conveniently ignored that with the singular exception of Christopher Henry Gayle, not one current “senior player” outside the team has a Test record above mediocre.
This is not to say that within the context of overall Test performances over the past two decades, that criticism of the West Indies team has not been merited. However, the current crop of West Indies Test cricketers is relatively new to the international game and must be given time to develop; or not develop. Ironically, several of the older “senior players” mooted by would-be experts have been part of the mediocrity that developed in the regional side in the post-1995 period.
It is within this context that the astounding victory at Headingley yesterday by the youthful West Indies side must be applauded. It offers a ray of hope for the future. Considering the three-day debacle that transpired a week before at Edgbaston, Tuesday’s magnificence could serve as a watershed moment. One must appreciate that this is a side where Barbadians Kraigg Brathwaite at 24 and captain Jason Holder at 25, are senior players in the team.
Much has been made of the large number of Barbadians in the side and chairman of selectors Courtney Browne and his panel must be complimented for selecting players on merit, whether they be eight Barbadians or eight Guyanese. Former West Indies player Bryan Davis recently berated the selectors for their Barbadian selections, with his main bone of contention seemingly only the place of their birth. Ironically, he has never taken umbrage with the heavy number of Trinidadians in the regional Twenty20 side. But there is no reason for him to as his countrymen have proven to be the best at the shorter format and their dominance in the regional Twenty20 side is merited. But we digress.
West Indies’ victory yesterday came at an opportune time as it certainly reminded the players – if they needed to be – that they belong among world cricket’s elite and should not be talked of as a second tier Test grouping. It is ironic, that in the heyday of West Indies cricket in the 1980s that those who fell before the might of Clive Lloyd and Sir Vivian Richards’ invincibles were never ‘threatened’ with demotion to second tier Test status.
As outsiders looking in, we can only assume from the images, comments and observations, that Australian coach Stuart Law has gelled well with the young West Indies players. He has a solid reputation of working well with young players, if his tenure with the Bangladesh side is to be used as a gauge. He seems fiercely loyal to the players and his dressing down of former insider Curtly Ambrose for his strident criticisms of the team showed a willingness to trade punches for his charges.
Some past greats initially baulked publicly at the appointment of a non-West Indian to the position of regional coach. Theirs was a silly case made. We live in a globalized era that has seen our own Ottis Gibson serve the English team in a coaching capacity and is now on his way to be head coach of the South African team. There has been no Caribbean dissenter to these opportunities seized by one of our own.
And to the man of the hour. Shai Hope, 23, whose promise has been evident from his teenage days, finally made good on that promise. It is merely a start but as his coach has insisted, the young Barbadian just needed that defining innings to kick-start what he anticipates will be a fabulous career. We hope Mr Law is right.
The runs from Mr Hope’s bat complemented the words from his mouth following his Headingley coming-of-age. “I’m a professional cricketer for a reason. I always believe in myself on and off the field. As a professional you want to perform to your best . . .I just tried to bat as long as possible and stick it out. The key word for us was fight. We are not coming here to let people run over us.”
Let’s hope that this youthful fight and positivity steer clear of all culs-de-sac.