WI looking up - from the bottom

Published: Sunday | December 29, 2013 Comments 0
Shivnarine Chanderpaul kissing the pitch on reaching his 29th Test century against New Zealand on the second day of the third Test. - File
Shivnarine Chanderpaul kissing the pitch on reaching his 29th Test century against New Zealand on the second day of the third Test. - File
Darren Bravo ... 218 in first Test against New Zealand. - File
Darren Bravo ... 218 in first Test against New Zealand. - File
Spinner Shane Shillingford - File
Spinner Shane Shillingford - File

Tony Becca, Contributor

Once the kings of the world looking down on all below them, the West Indies are now at the bottom, at the foot of the ladder, looking up, longingly and enviously. Yes, up to 18 years or so ago, the West Indies were the best, and undoubtedly so. Today, however, the West Indies are not the worst, but thank God for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who are still below them, only just about.

Up to 18 years ago, for 19 years, England, Australia, India, Pakistan, and New Zealand were easy pickings for the Windies. Today, however, all of them, plus South Africa, the Prodigal Son, have turned the tables, including New Zealand.

As things now stand, the West Indies, the once mighty world champions, appear to be spiralling downwards into oblivion, rocked by the two-nil loss to New Zealand just a few days ago.

For most of the time since 1995, the West Indies have been doing nothing but talk followed by more talk. They have talked about turning the corner, they have talked about a plan which will see them back near the top in five years, and with each passing year, the corner seems unending, and the years also get longer.

The West Indies also talk about how they have won many matches in a row without losing any recently, but guess what - those matches were against teams like New Zealand in the West Indies and Bangladesh.

Right now, the truth is that the end of the drought is not even in sight.

Last month, the West Indies were invited to India for the benefit of the chest-beating Indian fans to Sachin Tendulkar's farewell party. They were like lambs to the slaughter as India really roasted them, winning the two Test matches by an innings in a total of under six days play as the batsmen made gifts of their wickets.

That beating, despite what the West Indies said before they left home, was taken in their stride: at least India were the number two team in the world, and they boasted some exciting young batsmen, some new young bowlers, and some fine fielders.

Right after that, however, the West Indies went to New Zealand, it was the number six ranked team taking on the number eight ranked, the West Indies, despite a couple of injuries, again hoped for and predicted a win in the three-Test series.

Once again, however, they were beaten, and embarrassingly so. It was even worse than in India.

In India, the home team batted once in each of the two Test matches scoring 453 and 495 and the West Indies batted four times, scoring 234 in 78 overs and 168 54.1 overs, and 182 in 54.2 overs and 183 in 47 overs, and losing the matches by an innings 52 runs at the Eden Gardens and by an innings and 126 runs at the Wankhede.Stadium.

Saved by rain

At the Eden Gardens, the West Indies lost their last seven wickets in the second innings for 48 runs, and at the Wankhede, it was seven for 39 in their first innings.

In New Zealand, the visitors followed-on twice in their first two Test matches. Once, after New Zealand were sent to bat and scored 609 for nine declared, after they had scored 213 in 62.1 overs and 507, and after rain had saved them, and second, when New Zealand, sent to bat again, scored 441 and then dismissed the West Indies for 193 in 49.5 overs and 175 in 54.5 overs, the match ending in three days.

The third Test was unbelievably poor.

The West Indies, after a great recovery, after squeezing out a slender lead, were dismissed in their second innings for 103 in 31.5 overs in under one session.

And again, like it was in India, the wickets fell in bunches.

In the second Test in Wellington, the West Indies dropped from 103 for two, and from 182 for six in the first innings, and from 75 for one in the second innings, and in the third Test from 77 for one to 86 for five before a brilliant, almost unbelievable stand of 200 runs between Shivnarine Chanderpaul (122 not out) and Denesh Ramdin (107) saved their blushes.

As disappointing as the two series were, however, there were a few flashes of brilliance.

The batting of Darren Bravo (218), Narsingh Deonarine (52), and Darren Sammy (80) in the second innings of the first Test against New Zealand after following-on behind by 396 runs and sitting nervously on 185 for five was magnificent, so, too, was the partnership between Chanderpaul and Ramdin after New Zealand struck on the opening day of the third Test match. and the bowling of Shane Shillingford and Sunil Narine.

Looking back on the tour, however, those four performances, especially when the West Indies recovered and batted for 681 minutes and 162.1 overs, Bravo for 572 minutes and 416 deliveries, Deonarine for 185 minutes and 129 deliveries, and Sammy for 190 minutes and 141 deliveries, and when the West Indies recovered and batted for 504 minutes and 116.2 overs, were simply magnificent.

On each occasion they batted with guts, and they batted like true West Indians, ready to die for the cause.

Each time, however, it was like a mirage. The pity of it was that they were too few and far between.

Confidence in their ability

The West Indies were soundly beaten on both tours, and they were beaten in every aspect of the game. They were like men playing with boys, even, at times, against New Zealand.

In India, and in New Zealand, the West Indies were beaten by spin bowlers who spun the ball and who bowled a consistent line and length. In India and New Zealand, the West Indies were beaten by new and young fast bowlers who swung the ball and bowled a good line and length; and in both countries, in India especially, the West Indies were beaten by a set of batsmen who could bat, who could use their feet, who selected their strokes beautifully, and who had confidence in their ability.

More than that, whoever selected the teams did a better job than the West Indies.

How could the West Indies, especially with the bowling already weak, select a team with three and a half bowlers, with one spinner in India on spin-friendly pitches, and then with one fast bowler, one medium-fast bowler, and two spin bowlers in New Zealand on green top pitches.

How could the selectors select the left-handed Sheldon Cottrell for the two tours, then call up Shannon Gabriel for the Indian tour, then play Cottrell for the first match, and then drop him.

How could they then select both Cottrell and Gabriel for New Zealand, and then failed to play Cottrell while playing Gabriel for all but the last match when they played one fast bowler, one medium-pacer, and two spinners plus Deonarine.

Cottrell, in my opinion, was not ready and was selected too early, but the fact was that he was selected when Gabriel was not. He was selected by the same selectors, and, as a newcomer, he deserved more than one chance, especially after playing his first at the batsmen-friendly Eden Gardens, and especially as Gabriel has bowled badly throughout his many attempts.

One wondered also, what did captain Sammy mean when he said, after the first Test in New Zealand, that "it wouldn't be fair to change the combination" for the second Test.

After winning the toss, after seeing the pitch, after sending New Zealand to bat, after the West Indies bowled like novices on the pitch, after New Zealand had posted 609 for nine declared in the first innings of the match, after Gabriel taken none for 148 and none for 16 off a total of 32 overs after taking only one wicket in India Sammy, certainly, could not have been talking about the West Indies bowling.

If he was, it shows the sort of thinking that goes on in West Indies cricket, and it suggests that it will be a long time before the West Indies look down on anyone.

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