Orville Higgins | A foolish cricket optimist
The Olympic Games are right upon us, but pardon me if I chose to write on something else today. The next few articles I write will be based on the happenings in Rio, so I am using this opportunity to squeeze in this piece before we are all consumed with Olympic fever.
With West Indies hanging on to draw the second Test, I find myself feeling reasonably good about West Indies cricket again. Sure, I am a fool. I must be.
I have gone this route before. I spend months and months being completely gutted about West Indies cricket, vowing never to be unduly affected by anything the team does, and then the minute they turn in a quality performance, I again become the eternal optimist.
So in this new state of euphoria, I am telling myself that there are hopeful signs for the future. Why am I feeling euphoric when we didn't even win the game? Maybe because this was a game we were supposed to lose, and sometimes avoiding certain defeat creates more emotion than pulling off an inevitable win.
The losing cricket captains always say there are positives we can take from the game. It's usually a very corny statement. The captains would naturally prefer not to have to take the positives from a game they lose and instead celebrate a win, thinking about the areas they could improve after the beers and the champagne.
COMING AT YOU
Now, though, I am prepared to be corny myself. I am seeing some positives. Jermaine Blackwood's counterattacking half-centuries were almost nostalgic. They brought me back to the days when West Indies batsmen played Test cricket apparently without fear. Their entire body language seemed to suggest that "I am coming at you". Blackwood's two half-centuries created that same vibe. He seemed to be saying, "Sure, you may get me out, you may even win the game, but I am not going to be intimidated."
Blackwood's near-shot-a-ball approach won't always work, but I feel this is how he should play. Taking his attacking approach from him is like telling Lionel Messi that he must be a safe-passing central midfielder.
In Roston Chase, I was impressed with not only his hundred, but his temperament. No other sport yet invented places a greater premium on concentrating for long periods under pressure more than cricket, especially when batting. Most batsmen get out, not because they face unplayable balls, but because the concentration wanes, even temporarily, and they do something they shouldn't do. To a large extent then, batsmen get out as much because of their own failings as the skill of the bowler.
To concentrate on not making errors while accumulating big scores is probably the hardest and most mentally stressing act in sport. In every other sport, there is another chance to correct mistakes. In batting, one nick, and that's it!
Chase demonstrated the kind of will and nerve that are unusual for a man playing only his second Test. His style isn't pretty. There is no flair, but he stops the good balls and has the technique to hit what he feels are the bad ones. He does all that with that nonchalant air as if he has done this all before, and there ought to be no fuss, while clearly maintaining razor sharp focus.
To be able to relax and concentrate hard on the job at hand is sports' most difficult challenge. It is that single factor that determines the greats from the non-greats. Chase, in that one innings, has demonstrated that he has the aptitude for greatness.
In my own optimism, I see him one day sipping nectar with the very best we have produced and they are acknowledging that he belongs. If only he can keep his head.
The wicketkeeper, Shane Dowrich, was a gamble. I would still have picked Ramdin, but Dowrich may just make the selectors look good. Again, he seems unflappable under pressure, which is 50 per cent of what good sportsmen are about. The captain, Jason Holder, again showed that he may not be a world-class pacer, but as a battling number six or seven, who is a fourth or fifth bowler, he may prove very useful down the road.
So yes, there is hope for me. I'm holding on to it for as long as it lasts, because I know that by the next Test, I may well be dejected again.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.