Doubtful West Indies search for belief and consistency

The team may not have sparkling match-winners as among Australians, but it needs a team effort of small but consistent performances to conjure a resistance.

A general view during a West Indies training session at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, Australia.   -  Getty Images

West Indies are a weak team as compared to their upcoming opponents Australia, but more than the player pool, it is the capriciousness of the cricket board that has impeded them in international cricket.

Despite a weaker team in terms of experience and proven calibre, West Indies put forth a collective performance to level a three-Test series against England in the Caribbean earlier this year. The captain was Denesh Ramdin, who had lost two Test series out of three as captain (the other was against Bangladesh), and the coach, Phil Simmons, was overseeing his first international assignment. Jason Holder shone in the first Test with a match-saving century, and there were potent performers in fast bowler Jerome Taylor, and middle-order batsman Jermaine Blackwood.

The odds were against them, but there were obvious gains. An eminent writer wrote about the spirit shown by the team as ‘a step in the right direction’. The intent was there to see: the highlight was when West Indies’ bowling attack pressed fearlessly in England’s second innings in the final Test in Barbados to bowl the opposition out for 123, a performance that would give them a series-levelling win.

But six months later, the team is undergoing a more familiar narrative. The captain had been replaced, and though the coach is the same, he is returning from a suspension for a controversial comment. A review committee has dismissed the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) as running via an ‘obsolete’ system, and recommended the board be dissolved and an ad-hoc body run cricket in the interim.

The team itself put up mediocre performances in their last tour, now a regular feature yet painful to watch. Out of seven fixtures across different formats in Sri Lanka in September, West Indies lost all but one match — the final match of the tour, a T20I.

In the lead-up to their three Tests against Australia in December, West Indies have lost a tour game by 10 wickets in Australia against a team that featured six players making their first-class debuts. A half-century from captain Jason Holder saved his team the ignominy of an innings defeat.

The side’s chances in the upcoming contests may be dismissed as poor, but it is important to understand why West Indies have been so cold. Before a process and equilibrium can take shape for something substantial to blossom, controversies and selectorial decisions negate it.

Four years ago, the team started a path under Darren Sammy, an all-rounder of limited endowments but a smart and resourceful captain. Although the team inevitably suffered against top oppositions under his reign, there was a distinctive ethic of discipline and fight that seemed to sow seeds for the future. A number of players flourished under him, and a world title, the World Twenty20, was won. Wins in Tests are not a yardstick the team should be assessed by, as owing to a decade of rotting, it is expected to struggle. But even so, Sammy led his team to six consecutive Test wins.

But an overhaul had them starting from scratch. Sammy was replaced as ODI captain by Dwayne Bravo, and two mediocre Test tours later, he was removed as Test captain as well. Sammy announced his Test retirement. Coach Ottis Gibson removed himself from the team soon after, and the slate was clean again.

There was more upheaval: players under Bravo revolted over a player-payment issue and abandoned their tour of India in late 2014. In an attempt to move on, and provide a base for the future, chief of selectors Clive Lloyd appointed Jason Holder as the captain of the ODI team, ahead of the World Cup, and later the Test team. Nothing, as usual, has gone on smoothly since.

The latest episode of ineptitude and controversy surrounding WICB involves Simmons’ assertion that he was not allowed to select the best players available in ODIs owing to ‘outside influence’. He was punished duly by the board: he was temporarily suspended as coach, until he duly apologised.

In such circumstances of uncertainty, it is reasonable to expect players to retain doubts in their mind. A good leadership and mentoring from the board and the team captain is needed to help a unit flourish, but such a basic setting is not put in place.

The lure of Twenty20s and a lack of overall quality of the best pool of players may be problems needing a lengthy period of healing, but extracting the best out of the best available players is a task needing basic ethics of good board leadership, show of faith, and removal of egos.

It is true that West Indies have plummeted in the last decade, depicted in their stat of one win and 37 losses in overseas Tests since 2000. But to shun them on the basis of this would make them even poorer, and shrink the size of the already small world of cricket.

The team may not have sparkling match-winners as among Australians, but it needs a team effort of small but consistent performances to conjure a resistance. The team showed it could do just that at home against England. It is with this mindset, of ‘belief’ as captain Holder has put it, that gives West Indies the opportunity to challenge the might of Australia at home, regardless of what is being written about their cricket, and what has gone on before.