Tony Becca: Rally ‘round the West Indies
It is written, somewhere in the Good Book, in huge, bold, bright letters, that "a little child shall lead them", and that is gospel. It has been proven right.
One week ago, in faraway Bangladesh, West Indies cricket came alive again, and it came alive, not through performances of the West Indies team, but through the surprising, dazzling deeds of the young West Indies team in the Under-19 World Cup tournament.
The young West Indians denied overwhelming favourites India a fourth hold on the title, used the opportunity to surprise everyone and win their first title, covered themselves in glory, and all with refreshingly attractive cricket built around wonderful awareness of the game, good captaincy, sensible batting, consistent bowling, generally brilliant fielding, and magnificent self-confidence.
It was more remarkable the way they came back to snatch and dominate the action.
Starting the tournament as rank outsiders, the West Indians suffered early embarrassment when they lost three practise matches to Bangladesh before losing their first match of the tournament to England by a comfortable margin of 61 runs.
From there on, however, they reeled off victory after victory until victory, sweet, expected, and emotional victory, became theirs as if by divine right.
First, Fiji were beaten by 262 runs, but that was hardly unexpected. Then came victory by two runs over Zimbabwe, and then, after squeezing past Zimbabwe into the second round by the skin of their teeth, the West Indies, getting better and better, and stronger and stronger with every match, knocked off Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India one by one, one after the other, to shock the world and lift the crown.
In the end, the young West Indies, considered by many, except those closely connected to the team, to be more a prime consideration for the Wooden Spoon, fluttered around Pakistan and Bangladesh, displaying their new-found skill in batting, bowling, and fielding while fully enjoying themselves, and except on occasion, at 70 for five in the final, while preening themselves and playing as if they were untouchable and unbeatable.
The young West Indians ended up winning the low-scoring final, 146 for five to 145, in the last over, to end cock of the walk and the champions, the undisputed champions of all they surveyed.
And they ended in style. After falling to 70 for five against India, the young West Indians settled themselves, lost not another wicket, and batted on confidently and without much trouble, or so it appeared.
Man for man, they were not the best, however.
The batsmen did not compare with Jack Burnhan and David Lawrence of England; Sarfaraz Khan and Rishalb Pant of India; Hashan Moshin and Unair Masood of Pakistan; neither did all-rounder Mehidiz Hasan Miraz of Bangladesh; neither did the pacers, left-armer Fritz Coetze of Namibia; Avesh Khan of India; Saqib Muhammad the Prophet of England; Muhammad the Prophet Jalfuddin of Bangladesh; and neither spin bowlers like left-arm spinner Mayank Dagar of India; and right-arm spinner Sandeep Lamichlanke of Nepal.
In a team in which all the boys were apparently brim full of confidence and played like one, always with a smile and with a purpose, the standouts were captain and batsman Shimron Hetmyer, batsman Shamar Springer, batsman Gidron Pope, batsman Keemo Paul, batsman Keacy Carty, paceman Chemar Holder, and fast bowler Alzaar Joseph with Joseph as the one most likely to push ahead.
The West Indies won the title, and every one of the players, every one of the party, deserved every credit for their wonderful achievement and their surprising gift.
The ones which, to me, made the big difference, however, were the captain Hetmyer and his leadership; Paul, with his presence of mind for his controversial but correct run-out of Zimbabwe's last batsman, Richard Nagarava; Pope's innings, all but one of them, which set the team on the way; Springer's innings against Bangladesh, wicketkeeper Tevin Imlach's unusual stumping of Pant (from the unusual distance of some 20 yards back) in the first over of the final match; and the consistently good fast bowling by Joseph.
The victory should serve as an inspiration to young cricketers in the region. It shows beyond a doubt that there are still good cricketers around these shores, and that providing that they are groomed properly, there are enough good cricketers to make the future promising and fulfilling.
These young West Indians could, with a little luck, make the people remember the happiness of days gone by, days like in the 1960s when the West Indies had six players on the Rest of the World team Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers, Lance Gibbs, Wes Hall, and Charlie Griffith.
Hopefully, however, as some do not remember, the players will also remember that they are only young cricketers; that they are still learning the game; that as good as they are or promise to be, they are not yet members of the West Indies team, or great members; that they are still only 17, 18, or 19 years old; that there are players only a few months older than they are who were not eligible for the team; that some of them - most of them - will never make it; and that others around their age will make the West Indies team instead.
These young champions, however, deserve high praise for what they have done. They are the first West Indians to win this title, but they have just started. The development must go on and on. It cannot stop here. It must not appear to stop here. The West Indies need more cricketers, much more good cricketers.
The West Indies won for the first time, but this is a development tournament.
It should be noted also that Namibia defeated South Africa, that Nepal defeated New Zealand, that Afghanistan defeated Zimbabwe, that Zimbabwe defeated South Africa, and that Afghanistan defeated New Zealand.
It should be noted also that Namibia, Nepal, and Afghanistan finished at numbers seven, eight and nine, and above Zimbabwe, South Africa, and New Zealand at numbers 10, 11, and 12.
With Australia absent, it was also good to see not only Burnham of England scoring three centuries, but also that the improvement of smaller nations and the fact that the most successful players were from the less fancied teams.
They included the most successful fast bowler, left-hander Fritz Coetzee of Namibia, the most successful bowler in a match, Cakacava Tikolsuva of Namibia, who took six wickets against the West Indies, the third most successful bowler, Lamichlanke of Nepal, and that Karim Tanat of Afghanistan scored the second highest total of 156, admittedly against Fiji.