Windies must dig deep to reinvent its aura

The Caribbean cricketers of the mid-70s and 80s were winners and entertainers, playing with flair and freedom, cutting across barriers, feared by opponents and loved by fans. The absence of fight in the current side is appalling.

Rishabh Pant and Ajinkya Rahane look on as teammate Prithvi Shaw (R) takes a catch to dismiss Keiran Powell.   -  AFP

The all-conquering West Indies side of the mid-70s and 80s has been going through a turbulent phase. They swept everything before them. At the heart of their conquests was pride. Fearless strokemakers demolished attacks with skill and power. And the marauding fast bowlers left line-ups with broken limbs and bruised egos.

The West Indian team from the mid-70s to the mid-80s under Clive Lloyd was a ruthless demolition force. Yet it dished out a brand of cricket that left behind a legion of admirers.

The Caribbean cricketers then were winners and entertainers, playing with flair and freedom, cutting across barriers, feared by opponents and loved by fans.

Demoralising effect

The swagger and the nonchalance of Vivian Richards as he dismissed attacks much like swatting a fly, Gordon Greenidge’s brutal off-side play, the left-handed Alvin Kallicharran’s delightful footwork and the sheer presence of Lloyd left the bowlers demoralised.

And the fast bowlers sliced through batting line-ups. Malcolm Marshall’s fast and skiddy deliveries of considerable venom, Andy Roberts’ pace, cut and bounce, the regal Michael Holding’s air-speed and swing, Joel Garner’s steep lift, and Colin Croft’s mean angle from wide off the crease, severely tested a batsman’s skill and courage.

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Those explosive cricketers hated losing. They played for their region with fierce passion.

Where has that pride gone? When the West Indies was pulverised by an innings and 272 runs in first Test at Rajkot, the side had sunk to a new low.

The absence of fight was appalling. Gone was the will to overcome the odds and survive. But then, cricket in the Caribbean, plagued by player unrest and misplaced priorities, has been going through a turbulent phase.

The capitulation of the West Indies in the first Test reflects a larger malaise. The talent in the Caribbean is drawn to the shortest format, the Test team does not get the best available cricketers. And when a side is already short of depth, missing key players through injuries or other personal reasons can be a severe blow.

The absence of skipper Jason Holder and Kemar Roach at Rajkot hurt the West Indies. Holder’s nagging seam bowling, valuable lower middle-order batting and Roach’s nip off the track have created opportunities for the West Indies.

When Roach and Holder combine with Shannon Gabriel — he can be quick and hostile — the West Indian pace attack can dent line-ups.

The runs have to be put on board first though and this West Indian batting is struggling against spin. The second Test here, beginning on Friday, presents another daunting challenge.

Reading the spin

Crucially, the West Indian batsmen have to read the spin from the hand and not off the pitch. And they have to pick the length early to make adjustments.

Then, the footwork comes in. It has to be decisive.

This West Indies team did surprise itself and shock the cricketing world, when, after an innings and 209-run defeat in the first Test at Edgbaston, it stunned England by five wickets in the second Test at Leeds last year.

Opener Kraigg Brathwaite’s 134 and 95, the talented Shai Hope’s 147 and 118 not out against James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and some telling bowling by Gabriel and Roach caused one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

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Yet, such performances, offering a ray of hope, have been few and far between. Brathwaite, Hope, Kieran Powell and Rolton Chase are batsmen with some ability but what the West Indies needs is greater consistency and application.

The West Indies may never regain lost glory but can, it at least, fight in these conditions. The Caribbeans have to dig deep to find that resolve.