There was a time when the West Indies ruled world cricket. But then the thing about this sport is whatever goes up surely does come down, be it a red-coloured ball or the umpire’s finger, be it invincible sides from Australia or the Caribbean. Many expect the Cricket World Cup 2011 to be the last straw for Ricky Ponting and the era of dominance he belonged to. And if it does transpire so, all of it would be akin to the 1987 tournament, also held in the sub-continent, when the Windies first began to lose their way.
Two time champions in 1975 and 1979, and a third straight final in 1983, meant there was no stopping Clive Lloyd and his men. But the brakes were deployed by India at Lord’s that summer and they only took four years to come into full effect. Four years later, West Indies were not the team expected to emulate their feats from the decade gone past and they fittingly did not make the semi-finals. It had taken other teams four attempts to thwart their way and it was a disappointment cricket in the Caribbean has not been able to recover from.
It wasn’t based on something shocking or untoward, just that it heralded the end of an era. The signs were true and recognised four years hence as well. In 1992, they finished sixth and only above India, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Some of it came back in 1996 with the likes of Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson and Courtney Walsh to guide them through to the semis, yet no one expected the glory of years gone past. In 1999, the gloom returned and it carried over to 2003 in South Africa, as they couldn’t go past the group stages on both occasions. At home in 2007, they were perhaps the first host team in the history of the tournament to be not considered rank favourites. That they made the Super Eight stage was perhaps even down to an uncommon group format.
This brings us to the current scenario. Let’s take a look at the fifteen names chosen to represent this erstwhile powerhouse: Darren Sammy (captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh, Suleiman Benn, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle, Nikita Miller, Kieron Pollard, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Devon Smith.
The first thought that comes to your mind is that this squad is full of names that bear more an individual ring to them than a collective one. In fact that is how they have progressed over the past few seasons, especially since the T20 leagues came into prominence. The biggest name amongst them Chris Gayle has on a number of occasions underlined where his priorities lay and that was a time when he was leading the side, nay setting an example or was supposed to. Other names have grown from this seed, most prominent being that of Kieron Pollard who is a star T20 player today. Other formats of the game don’t really concern him much.
For a second you shudder to think what these two can collectively do, if they get going on the sub-continental pitches. But this is when the realisation hits you that born and bred on a staple diet of T20 cricket, Pollard doesn’t really possess wares that could make him a consistent and fearful ODI batsman. The word to be noted here is not fearful but the other one and it also reminds you of the time when Gayle would be indulgent in West Indian cricket. He would blast the bowlers with a consistency that is beyond any other destructive batsmen today, barring only Virender Sehwag.
But somewhere down the line, the ability to win matches gets affected by continuous efforts to hit the ball out of the park. Fifty overs are long enough to keep trying again and again, but rest assured you will be caught out sometime. This is where two names bring the most hope – Chanderpaul and Sarwan. There was a time, like much else with Windies’ cricket, that they were young men who were full of energy and enthusiasm. They gave hope of building a future which although not as shining as the earlier times but strong enough to hold their own. Today they stand only as experienced stalwarts with expectations mellowed down. If at all they can stand out with their performances this one last time, perhaps some good will come out of it for West Indian cricket yet.
The story is pretty much repeated when it comes to the bowling. Kemar Roach and Suleiman Benn have their own reputations preceding them; the former being credited to be the man who set the sun on Ricky Ponting’s form as a batsman and luck as a captain, while the latter is one of the best spinning talents to come out and play for his country. Yet they fail to excite for the lack of the same word, consistency, in their performances be it for injury reasons or fall-outs with their captain. Dwayne Bravo is the only one who has some iota of standing in international circles, but it will take more than just three bowlers to win nine matches.
Perhaps then, no other captain’s role is as important as that of Darren Sammy here. In the short span of time he has been leading the side, besides his skill with the bat and ball, he has given enough hints of forging together a unit that can build a collective identity and fight for a common cause. So the question being, is he up to the task? The ODI World Cup is the biggest of challenges, yes, but it is also the biggest stage to perform.
© Cricket World 2011