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West Indies cricket can still regain footing

On 12 January 1997 at Perth, Brian Lara’s classy innings of 90 runs propelled the West Indies cricket team to a four-wicket win over Australia in the 1996/97 Carlton & United Tri-Nation Series and meant the then dominant Australia failed to qualify for the tri-series finals, which was eventually won by Pakistan.

In a glorious 11 year period during which the boys from “down under” participated in four consecutive World Cup finals (1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007), there was only one other occasion—a tri-nation series in 2001/02 that included New Zealand and South Africa—that Australia suffered such an embarrassment at home in a one-day international tournament.

Fast forward 16 years and five tours and the singular Twenty20 victory at the Gabba last week is the only win the Windies has managed on Australian soil during that period in any format of the game.

It is a galling international record under any circumstances.

Maybe that T20 victory should have been expected though. The regional side is the World champion in that version the game while Australia is ranked seventh in the world and was without several key players who were either rested or had left for India.

Photo: The West Indies cricket team had little to celebrate in Australia this year.
Photo: The West Indies cricket team had little to celebrate in Australia this year.
(Courtesy WICB Media)

Plus, if you believe in good omens, the last time the Windies came remotely close to a triumph in Australian was also at Brisbane in 2005.

Maybe they were destined to win at the famous Queensland venue.

Legendary West Indies fast bowler and respected commentator Michael Holding has repeatedly articulated his dislike for twenty20 cricket.

Many may disagree with Holding’s intransigent stance, which resulted in him giving no credence to the West Indies’ ICC World Twenty20 triumph last September. However, when assessing this tour, the reality is that the West Indies, singular T20 victory is irrelevant when weighed against the one-day series whitewash.

West Indies cricket has suffered almost continuous turmoil, on and off the field, since 1995. But the improvements showed in 2012, which included a 2-2 draw with the Aussies in the Caribbean, had offered renewed hope.

Make no question about it, the hosts were vulnerable.

Australia drew 2-2 with Sri Lanka in the preceding one-day series and was bundled out for 74 in one game, which was its third lowest total in 50 overs cricket. The “Aussies” also lost both T20 internationals.

A recent rotation policy was also heavily criticised by the Australiann media and former cricket greats while, for various reasons, key players such as David Warner, Shane Watson and David Hussey were absent from the initial stages of the tour.

This was a great chance for the West Indies to win a one-day series in Australia and a victory would have further built on the aforementioned 2012 exploits. Instead the results of the last fortnight offered a bitter pill to swallow.

Photo: Brothers Dwayne (right) and Darren Bravo are key members of the West Indies team. (Courtesy WICB Media)
Photo: Brothers Dwayne (right) and Darren Bravo are key members of the West Indies team.
(Courtesy WICB Media)

On paper, the West Indies team that toured India did not remotely resemble a side in danger of a whitewash. But then this disaster further illustrates why that cliché about “glorious uncertainties” has endured.

However, this series seemed to confirm the notion that the West Indies team still needs to master the art of playing complete cricket game in the longer formats of the game.

The fact that the Windies did not bat 50 overs in any of the five one-day internationals is a troubling statistic. In T20s, the batting unit is often dependent on fours and sixes but an inability to rotate the strike in ODIs brings scoreboard pressure, which then leads to imprudent shots.

Added to this, new International Cricket Council (ICC) rules gives bowlers more influence by granting them two new white balls.

It is easy for regional fans and analyst to be despondent about the tour but the eternal optimist in me believes there are still positives.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago batsman Kieron Pollard has been a bright spot for the West Indies. (Courtesy WICB Media)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago batsman Kieron Pollard has been a bright spot for the West Indies.
(Courtesy WICB Media)

The Trinidad and Tobago trio of Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine certainly solidified their reputations, even if they did not necessarily enhance them.

Narine, after his breakout year in 2012, is safely becoming a bowler who gives the West Indies two bites of the cherry. He is a wicket taker and an option to dry up the runs.

Pollard’s batting, although initially loose in the tour, certain won over a lot of admirers including veteran sport writer Tony Cozier, who recently advocated that he should get a shot at Test cricket during the upcoming Zimbabwe home series.

Bravo did not replicate the stunning exploits of his famous cousin Brian Lara on his first Australian tour. But there was enough in his cameo innings to keep everyone excited about his future.

Photo: Darren Bravo is the most elegant Trinidad and Tobago batsman since West Indies legend Brian Lara. (Courtesy WICB Media)
Photo: Darren Bravo is the most elegant Trinidad and Tobago batsman since West Indies legend Brian Lara.
(Courtesy WICB Media)

There were similar hints of potential from young opener Johnson Charles while Tino Best also furthered his case to become a regular in all forms of the game with some impressive new-ball spells in which his pace was around the 150 mph mark.

Once the West Indies learns its lessons from in-game tactical aberrations and individual errors, the regional team should be fine as it continues to build for the England 2013 Champions Trophy and the Australia/New Zealand 2015 World Cup.

About Colin Benjamin

Colin Benjamin is a former freelance writer for the Trinidad Newsday newspaper and Guyana Stabroek News.

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