Orville Higgins | Windies showing positive signs
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is now behind us and we can now focus on other relevant sports stories. Almost gone unnoticed is the fact that West Indies have won three of their last five home tests over the last few weeks. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are not the toughest international opponents going around, but they were both ranked ahead of the Windies prior to the start of the two home series.
Maybe I am the perennial optimist where Windies cricket is concerned, but there were enough signs in those two series to suggest that things are definitely on the up.
That first test match against Sri Lanka that the West Indies won by an innings and 226 runs is interesting. The Caribbean team declared in both innings. That is huge. That is something that we wouldn't have seen in this generation at all. Rain, and the Sri Lankans' bizarre decision to not take the field for a session helped us to draw the second test and a fourth innings batting meltdown in the third test, meant that the visitors drew the series 1-1. That was creditable. Sri Lanka is ranked fifth, we were ninth.
Individually there were some great performances. Shane Dowrich averaged 57.6 against Sri lanka. Jason Holder is the most improved all-rounder in world cricket. He averaged a healthy 39.6 in the Sri Lanka series. For those games against Sri Lanka the West Indies went in with five bowlers, a strategy that we have not used for years. Holder is proving that he could be a genuine number six.
While Holder and Dowrich flourished, the Barbadian middle order pair of Shai Hope and Roston Chase disappointed badly, averaging 19 and 20.5 respectively. They got starts but kept losing concentration just when they appeared set for a big one.
Devon Smith is a selector's nightmare. I was among those who argued that he deserved another shot to prove his mettle at the highest level. Again he was a let down, averaging 15 and again showing that he is like Michael Jackson in regional cricket, while at test level, he is like the rest of the Jackson five!
Kieran Powell at three was unconvincing. If only somebody could talk some sense into Daren Bravo, he at three would give this team a better look.
Shannon Gabriel was a real handful for the Sri Lankans. He has always been a handful when he is fit and raring to go. This home series saw him a lot stronger. If he gets fitter he will be one of the most feared fast bowlers around. He took 20 wickets against Sri Lanka at 14.95 apiece. Holder and Kemar Roach were able support and these three are now forming a triumvirate that is holding its own, especially in home conditions. Devendra Bishoo and Miguel Cummins were disappointing. They took only four and three wickets respectively. The selectors should still be looking for a spinner, preferably one who can bat. Rahkeem Cornwall anyone?
Against Bangladesh, the West Indies were a lot more clinical. They took a mere 59 overs to blast out Bangladesh twice in the first test. The fewest overs to bowl out a team twice in over 60 years.
There were still areas of concern. Devon Smith and Powell were mediocre, averaging 25 and 31. These two spots at number two and three are still up for grabs. Sunil Ambris should be given one of those spots for sure. Maybe he should be slotted in at three. Surely Devon Smith has run out of lives at the top of the order.
Maybe Jamaican left hander John Campbell should be seen as his replacement. Keemo Paul came in and looked the part. He should have been picked ahead of Miguel Cummings in the first place.
Keemo took over 40 wickets in first class cricket last year at less than 20 apiece. He also scored a hundred to boot. There can be no cricket reason why Cummins should be playing while Paul isn't.
All in all though the signs are good. This team has won six tests in there last 13 games, that cannot be discounted.
India later this year will be the acid test. We won't win the series, but we have to show that we can compete and push them to the limit. We will not get to be the marauding force we were 30 years ago anytime soon, but this West Indies team, while still inconsistent, is now showing that they can win games and compete at a higher level than what we were seeing a few years ago. We may not be turning the corner but I would want to think we are at least approaching the turn.