Oral Tracey | T20 no longer our saving grace
It was the quintessential lifeline for West Indies Cricket, thrown down by the natural and rapid evolution of the game of traditional cricket. The once kingpins of the conventional game had long lost their crown and were well on the way to losing their relevance in the longer versions of the game. Caribbean cricket fans, for the better part of two decades, had been batter-bruised and embarrassed by the meek and heartless surrenders that had come to characterise the countless defeats the Windies routinely suffered at the hands of teams to which we once ministered from the pulpit of cricket supremacy.
The odd, good result such as the brilliant victory over England at Headingly in 2017 managed to keep the hopes of the purists alive, but the rare exceptions aside, it has been basically two- and three-day defeats in Tests, and routine one-sided beatdowns in One-Day Internationals (ODI), invariably leaving West Indian fans scraping the floor of our consciences for every fleeting modicum of positive to be taken from each disheartening defeat.
Then, almost like spontaneous combustion came the explosion of the shortest format of the game and its subsequent spread like the proverbial wildfire, even amidst strident condemnations and disdainful dismissals from the purists who identified and targeted the Twenty20 (T20) format as a scourge that came to finalise the total destruction of Test cricket, and especially West Indies cricket. The suggested alternative has been to cling to the elusive Windies recovery that would have the team rise again like the phoenix to finally turn that never-ending corner and regain its rightful place at the top of world cricket. The arrival of T20 cricket posed a dangerous threat to the realisation of that perpetual dream.
Those constant and merciless defeats in Tests and ODI cricket had some of us thinking differently. These are some of us who saw the emergence of the shortest version of the game as a light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel for the region as a cricket force. It was a natural fit - the fast-paced action-packed spectacle in compact and explosive cricket games with an underlying party theme and the natural athleticism, pace, power and appetite for immediate gratification. The very concept must have been surreptitiously ripped from the DNA of the Caribbean people. It was no surprise when the region, in short order, produced a group of pioneering superstars in the game's newest format. Players such as Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Lendl Simmons, and Darren Sammy were soon hot property in the thriving and lucrative T20 franchise market.
It was even less of a surprise when from that pool of the West Indian T20 stars emerged an international team that duly delivered the World T20 Title in 2012, and after missing out two years later, they were back at the pinnacle in the next tournament in 2016. Order was restored. The Windies were legitimate and double champions of the world again.
With the T20 game blossoming into a multibillion-dollar international industry and West Indian players now the hottest property in this now most lucrative format of the game, there was no reason to think that the region would not become a major production line for increasing demand of players with the T20 skill sets, and commensurately that the Windies would not continue to rule the roost in international T20cricket as it did in the traditional formats some three decades ago.
The advent of the just-concluded tour of India has awaken us to the harsh reality that the region is no longer as great at T20 as we all hoped. Despite being the defending world champions, the Windies are ranked at number seven in the world in this format. With the now phased departure of the golden generation, it was also expected that the new generation of stars such as Rovman Powell, Nicolas Pooran, Evin Lewis, etc, would step up, and the transition would be seamless. The performances and results of this tour of India should open our eyes. We are losing our niche and losing our respect and relevance again. There is no apparent way back for West Indian Test cricket. The forecast is even more glum for ODI cricket, and now, not even our dear T20 is our saving grace.