Tuesday morning in the Caribbean. South Africa are on the verge of victory in the second of the West Indies five Super 12 games in the 2021 World Cup.
England’s Mark Nicholas is saluting the pair at the wicket, whose 83-run partnership will soon steer the Proteas to their crushing 8-wkt win.
Rassie van der Dussen, he notes, has not made his runs at a rate of knots; they have come at less than a-run-a-ball. But he has, Nicholas points out, ‘been able to hit it when they’re needed (…) He’s got an excellent cricket brain.’
Rewind to 2016. The West Indians have qualified for the knockout round. Notwithstanding that, Nicholas declares that they are not in contention for the title.
Why? ‘They have no brains.’
He apologised, of course. But don’t be fooled. That apology was not for the racist diss but for saying the quiet part out loud.
I have not the slightest doubt that Nicholas believes—at the very least, believed!—that Daren Sammy’s 2016 West Indians ‘have no brains’.
After Saturday’s embarrassingly feckless showing against England, the temptation to agree was strong indeed. And now, after the 8-wkt cutarse Temba Bavuma’s de Kock-less side put on us yesterday, it’s hard for you not to ask yourself this question, which, of course, unwittingly concedes Nicholas’ point: are Pollard’s 2021 Caribbean Cavaliers any better?
However framed, it is a question that begs to be asked.
As soon as bidding starts, Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Evin Lewis are snapped up by T20 franchises all over the world. So how did a batting line-up comprising four of the world’s premier T20 performers plus a player with 14,000-plus T20 runs to his credit and two, in Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer, of the format’s super-exciting if not yet quite accomplished middle-order batsmen contrive to capitulate so ignominiously for T20I’s third-lowest score of 55?
On Saturday, not one of those six could better Gayle’s 13-ball top score of 13! (The irony! The man who top-scored was the man who many people, including, unforgettably, Sir Curtly Ambrose, said should not be in the XI!)
And on Tuesday, when Gayle scored one less, only two of the six got more than he did.
Lendl Simmons also got 16. (The irony! Wasn’t the complaint that the WI batsmen don’t take singles? Simmons got 16 of them and now everyone is complaining! In Calypso History Month, cue Sparrow’s ‘The Old Man and the Donkey’.) The truth is that the TKR opener required 34 balls for his 16, leading one commenter to note that it was not very smart of Kagiso Rabada to get him out.
“I think the West Indians might be happy,” Shane Watson, on commentary, remarked wryly, “that Lendl Simmons is out.”
So the $64,000 question that WI cannot avoid is this: what ails Pollard’s troops?
I don’t know if Pollard knows the answer. Certainly, when Nicholas put the question to him in the post-match interview, he responded without answering.
I don’t pretend to know the answer either. But I think I know where help can come from.
The ex-cricketers in the commentary box provide, I submit, more than a hint. In the pre-match presentation, Ian Bishop, who is cricket’s Pope, volunteered that the West Indies are ‘traditionally a six-hitting team’. However, his urbi et orbi sermon offered neither compliment nor criticism of the attribute.
Daren Sammy, who led the West Indies to the 2012 and 2016 titles, said that today, he expected ‘to see a different West Indies mentality’. But with four overs left and the score still a less-than-challenging 118 for 3, Sammy insisted that ‘we (not WI, we!) are a boundary-hitting, a six-hitting team’.
He expected, he said, the batsmen to get at least four more sixes before the end of the innings; that would leave 20 balls to get whatever else was needed to take the score up to—and hopefully beyond—par.
That, he noted, is what they would have been saying in the dressing-room. He never quite said so but I was left with the impression that he meant in 2012, in 2016 and in 2021!
Pommie Mbangwa interjected—I almost said ‘objected’—with a pertinent question.
“Is that not,” he asked, “putting all your eggs in one basket?”.
“No,” came Sammy’s instant response, “it’s not.”
Test cricket and T20 cricket, I need no reminder, are worlds apart. Pollard, the incredibly successful short format player who now leads the two West Indies white ball teams, has never even been in a Test squad, let alone on a starting XI.
But I think it might be useful to share two attitudes to six hitting from two people who, like today’s teams, live in completely different worlds, the West Indies and South Africa of the 1950s.
The first is the late Sir Everton DeCourcy Weekes, whose 4,455 Test runs contained two sixes, one of them benefiting from an overthrow. To the end of his days, he preached that, if you keep the ball on the ground, you eliminate one of the five most common methods of dismissal, caught.
The second is Lewis D’Oliveira, perhaps better known as the father of Basil but no mean cricketer himself.
In Basil D’Oliveira Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story, Peter Oborne writes this:
One of Lewis D’Oliveira’s points of contention with his son concerned the sixes Basil liked to hit. He viewed them as vulgar shots, acts of mere animal abandon. He believed balls should be stroked along the ground. Hitting the ball in the air, he held, gave the bowler a chance.
Basil never took the slightest notice of his father’s injunction, and continued to hit the ball for six at every opportunity. Eventually, in despair, the old man offered his son a new cricket bat as a reward if he could score a century which did not include the profanity of a six. The bat remained unclaimed. (my emphasis)
If I had my way, all 19 members of the West Indian travelling party whom WI expect to defend the title so hard-won in 2016 would be required to read that paragraph aloud to the other 18 at least once before they take the field against Bangladesh on Friday.
And, in Calypso History Month, to listen to what Stalin told us in Nothing Come Easy’ way back in the last century:
‘So when a black man have something/He got to start thinking:/To get it ent easy./He got to practise economy./From getting licks from the slavemaster/To become the landowner/Is a terrible journey/Packed with plenty brutality.
Yuh got to make yuh mind that yuh able/To get up early and jam with the Devil/Because ah done tell yuh arready/Black man doh get nutten easy.
Ask Quinton de Kock…