It’s time to deliver
One of the delights of cricket is to witness the unexpected, to see the coming of a champion, or a champion team, and at the same time to bask in the surprise, the big upset if you are on the side of the upsetters.
And apart of those delights is if the practitioners are young men who stun the world by performances out of the ordinary, not so much of promises of things to come, but of actual delivery of the goods, the performances that make one stand up and cheer almost incessantly.
The history of cricket is filled with young men taking the field of play by storm, of newcomers, barely shaven, turning the frightening Test arena into their own playground, or their own friendly backyard, stunning the supposedly more skilful opposition, and beating them into submission.
And some of those performances have come from West Indians who rode their success to become greats of the game who have been serenaded years and years after their deeds had lit up the world.
And they were all young men, some even younger than the often talked about “young boys” of today, some of them were very young, and some of them, like many of those of today, are on their first or maybe on their second tour to England.
Who can forget Clyde Walcott, 24, scoring 168 not out in the historic first Test victory of 1950, or Everton Weekes, 25, scoring 129, or Frank Worrell, 26, scoring 261, also in 1950?
Who can forget the two 20-year-olds, “those two little pals of mine”, Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine, picking up 26 and 33 wickets in the four Test matches of that year, and who can forget the 24-year-old Collie Smith hitting 161 and 168 on the 1957 tour, much more the 24-year-old Viv Richards smashing 232, 135, and 291 during the 1976 tour?.
Who can forget Brian Lara, although he had established himself as a great by then, scoring 145, 152, and 179 in 1995, and who can forget Michael Holding, 22, five for 17, eight for 92, and six for 57 in 1976, Andy Roberts, 25, five for 60, five for 63, and six for 37 in 1976, and Malcolm Marshall, 22, picking up six for 85, seven for 53, and five for 35 in the summer of 1984?
And even if we forget those, who can forget one like George Headley – four centuries in his first series before his 20th birthday, Weekes - five centuries in a row before his 25th birthday, Rohan Kanhai – 256 before his 25th birthday, Garry Sobers – 365 not before his 22nd birthday, Lawrence Rowe – 214 and 100 in his first Test and 307 before his 25 birthday, and Lara – 277 and 375 not before his 25 birthday.
England 1950 is remembered as the day when West Indies cricket came alive, 1963 and 1966, with Sobers, Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, and Lance Gibbs, as the years it flexed its muscles, and 1976 and 1984 as the years when West Indies cricket, with the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Andy Roberts, and Michael Holding, and as a world contender and then champions, started really punching hard, very hard.
Tomorrow, the West Indies open their 21st Test series in England, and according to the experts, and according to the punters, it is expected to be a one-horse race with the home team and its proven warriors, Alistair Cook, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Moeen Ali, and its bevy of young stars, picked to ride rough-shod over the West Indies.
To them, it could like 1928, 1939, 1957, and 2000 all over again.
It does not have to be like any of those contests, however.
If the West Indies can summon up the pride and the never-say-die attitude, and turn their backs on the prima donna and “star” behaviour that has dogged their trail in recent years and play as one West Indies team fighting for recognition, they can triumph, or at least make a good fight of it.
The team is not blessed with greatness, at least not yet, and it is a pity that two like Darren Bravo and Sunil Ambris are not in the squad.
Apart from Bravo and Ambris, and possibly Brandon King, however, the squad represents the best of the West Indies, or the best available, and if young Shimron Hetmeyer can correct his footwork in time and selects his shots better, if Roston Chase, Shai Hope, Jermaine Blackwood, Jason Holder, and Alzaari Joseph get going, if Kemar Roach is really back to and better than his old self, if Devendra Bishoo is handled properly, and if Kraigg Brathwaite bats for a long time and proves a worthwhile sheet-anchor, it can be a West Indian summer in England.
Without a doubt, the West Indies have the basic talent to do so.
It could be, and it can be 1950 all over again, or very close to it. England were then more than surprised. They were shocked, and the confident West Indies were cock-a-hoop.
It’s been a long time since West Indians smiled while playing England, especially in England, and now seems the time to surprise and even to beat them. Although the West Indians are relatively inexperienced, they boast a few promising players, and in their hands lie the future of West Indies cricket.
For a start, the England batting is suspect to pace, and the West Indies have pace bowlers, five of them in Holder, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins, Joseph, and Roach.
The hope is that they will start well, that apart from batting well, they bowl well, and that while they should not play “calypso” cricket to the extent that it will hurt them, they will not be too defensive and play into England’s hands.