Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Hope for West Indies cricket?

Published:Friday | February 12, 2016 | 2:00 AM

The young West Indies team is now in the final of the ICC Under-19 tournament, and maybe for the first time in about a decade I'm optimistic that Caribbean cricket's future lies in good hands.

I have been watching this tournament keenly. It's not merely the fact that we have got into the final for the first time since Denesh Ramdin's team lost to Pakistan way back in 2004. This team has talent, but talent isn't the only thing I'm excited about.

I have long been telling everybody who is prepared to listen that West Indies cricket will not come back close to what it was until our youngsters are showing some passion again. In this bunch, there is an abundance of that.

From the moment Keemo Paul 'Mankaded' the last Zimbabwe scalp to get us into the quarter-finals, I sensed that this team wasn't there for pleasantries. They're there to fight. In that one act, I saw a team that wanted desperately to win and was prepared to be ruthless about it.

It's quite ironic that the incident for which the team has been most criticised is the one that demonstrated the attitude that West Indies senior teams have lacked for a long time. I have hope in these youngsters because they are playing with an intensity and self-belief that have escaped West Indies sides for a while.

The captain, Shimron Hetmyer, has set the tone. He displayed some tactical naivety in the nail-biting semi-final clash against Bangladesh. Bowling the spinners too long and bringing back his top pacer to snatch a wicket without the benefit of a slip are things that experience will teach.

 

BUSY CAPTAIN

 

I like his captaincy style, however. He is a demonstrative, busy captain who isn't afraid to read the riot act to players who are dropping the standards. He means business, and he wants the players to know that. His attitude has rubbed off on the players, and it was interesting to see opening batsman Gidron Pope at one stage in the semi-final giving his own captain an earful for misfielding. It wasn't done out of disrespect; it was done out of competitiveness.

Alzarri Joseph, the opening pacer, seems to be a throwback to the heady days when we ruled the world. He is lightning quick and gets good bounce from a good height. He has that mean streak that all pacers need, and his short-ball barrage at the start of the Bangladesh innings was exciting to watch.

There is a lot to be excited about in the batting department. Hetmyer, Kacey Carty, Tevin Imlach and Shamar Springer have all demonstrated that they have the skills to make them successful Test cricketers. They all have sound technique, but just as important, they have an unruffled temperament when they are at the crease. Batting is to a large extent keeping a clear mind and I was so impressed with what I have been seeing.

 

MISTAKES MADE

 

Sure, they made mistakes. A few bad shots were played, but I could understand the thinking every time. I also like the left-handed opener Gidron Pope. He does not possess the kind of attractive technical acumen, as the names above, but he is an explosive ball-beater who backs himself. He also bowls decent off spin and looks like a future Chris Gayle to me.

One of the things that have impressed me about this team is the energy they show while they are fielding, but can stay focused and calm when batting. To score 220-plus in a chase to beat both Pakistan and Bangladesh in tense situations speak marvels to the self-belief that runs through this team. Being able to perform under pressure has been one of the senior team's biggest drawbacks, but this West Indies Under-19 team has demonstrated that it won't fall to pieces when the game gets tense.

Even unheralded members of this squad like the off-spinning all-rounder Michael Frew displayed the kind of composure, when called upon, that is absent from the senior squad. He made 12 in the semi-finals in a crucial partnership with the impressive Springer, which may well be the most important 12 he will ever make.

I have hope for these players. They were walloped 3-0 by Bangladesh in the practice games and could have folded in the semis to the same opponents. There is talent here, but there is also panache and pride and a will to win. Maybe, just maybe, our cricket will rise again.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.