Eight of the 12 people I asked to share the first thought that came into their heads when they heard the name Denesh Ramdin said, “Yeah Viv, Talk Nah;” only three of the eight remembered without prompting that the “Talk Nah” incident had followed a century made by the West Indian wicketkeeper against England.
For me, that means that the newly appointed West Indies senior team captain has as much work to do on burnishing his tarnished image as he has to do on restoring West Indies cricket to anything resembling its glory days.
My guess is that, qualified though he indisputably is, the task will prove beyond him.
Of the remaining four fans I polled, one recalled “the time when he try to tief out somebody in the World Cup.” And for the other three, the memory that endured was that the West Indies team he led in the Costcutter World Cup had come close to winning the title.
Not one of the twelve recalled one of the four centuries or the 11 half-centuries he has made for the West Indies or any other innings he has played in his 9-year-old 56-match Test career. Yet, like former West Indies captains Deryck Murray and Darren Ganga, like current short-format favourite Lendl Simmons and like a slew of Trinidadian fans making their views known online and in the media, not one of the 12 doubted that “Shotter” is the man for the job.
My guess is that, much more than his own cricketing achievements, Ramdin has his predecessor to thank for that; after all, Sammy’s isn’t exactly a hard act to follow, especially if you have the advantage of having earned and secured your place on the team as, in Murray’s words, “the undisputed wicketkeeper in the region.”
However, Ramdin inherits a team that has little going for it—and much working against it.
Push Factor Number One is the massive popularity and, by extension, massive marketability of the game’s T20 format. West Indians having long been the game’s instinctive “entertainers,” Caribbean players remain in great demand in the national T20 leagues that have mushroomed all over the cricket-playing world. This often has a negative impact on their availability for the much less lucrative Test series that still vie from time to time for the attention of a dwindling number of spectators.
And, despite a string of six consecutive Test wins in 2012/13, it is a spell of five defeats in the last six matches that defines Sammy’s tenure and has handed Ramdin his chance to attempt to deliver the long awaited turnaround.
I guess there are some who still think it is around the corner.
Push Factor Number Two is precisely the lack of meaningful success that the Caribbean cavaliers have enjoyed over the last two decades.
Since the retirement of Vivian Richards in 1991, the regional team has won only 49 of the 204 Tests it has played, languishing in the bottom half of the ICC rankings for almost all of the last decade. Discounting the effects such results have on the numbers of the team’s supporters, how can the sport hope to attract talented players in large numbers?
And when it does, how can it hope, given the presence of Push Factor One, to hold them in the relatively unrewarding five-day format?
I guess the new CPL-funded retainer contracts will prove more than a drop in that particular bucket.
Factor Number Three is the real agenda of the West Indies Cricket Board.
It seems to me fair to ask, in light of recent events, whether the decisions taken by the current WICB administration are made in the best interests of the West Indies players and the West Indian game or otherwise. Were our best interests served by the decision to support the “apartheid” recently proposed and adopted by the ICC which puts effective control of cricket in the hands of three countries?
Are our best interests really served by insisting on three different captains for the three different formats? Which right-thinking fan would not like to hear the Board’s answer to this Murray question: “If, with his position as wicketkeeper, he is present in all the squads, why not have him lead all the teams and give us more consistency?”
And are our best interests served by retaining as coach a man whose experience as Test player does not exceed two matches and whose apparent insistence on having his own way has not really delivered any victories of note?
An online commentator celebrating the appointment of Ramdin says, “The problem with West Indies cricket is the coach who demotivates the players (e.g. killed Sarwan’s cricket). If Gibson had allowed Sarwan to flourish, we would have had a really good and experienced captain.”
“Instead, we are stuck with mediocrity,” he adds. “Ramdin does not even have respect for our national heroes (Viv Richards), yet such is the state of our cricket, he is the best choice for captain.”
Another commentator adds that “Sarwan is still languishing from the coach’s action. WI cricket have (sic) not recovered from the dismantling of the team.” Adding that Sammy did not have a free rein, he expresses the hope that “Ramdin will break that shackle and be his own (man).”
I guess it’s okay to hope for better so long as you don’t expect it.
Ramdin, it is true, has been, in Darren Ganga’s words, groomed as a future West Indies leader. He has now led the regional side in three T20s and one ODI and was already the vice-captain of the regional team when, in 2011, he took over the T&T leadership from long-standing captain Ganga. In that position, he has amassed a pretty proud record, chalking up 21 victories in the 37 matches in which he led T&T, including the wins that put them into the semi-finals of the regional four-day competition this season.
Knowing all that, Sammy was careful to warn his successor about what lies ahead as he “tries to lead West Indies Test cricket forward into a new era.” He sought to alert him to the fact that being the regional captain was different from skippering your country. Leading the West Indies involves leading guys who come from different cultural backgrounds and getting the best out of them, he told him publicly, which “is a difficult job.”
I guess it is. But history does not inspire optimism.
Of the 34 captains who have led the regional team (as many as 11 in just one or two matches and an additional four in less than five), ten have been Trinidadians, the most successful of whom was the long-serving Brian Lara.
In his 47 matches, however, spread over three different stints, he managed only 10 victories, knowing only, in his own words, “moderate success and devastating failures” in his time at the helm. In the 34 additional matches in which a Trinidadian skippered the regional team, only six more wins have come… from just two of the remaining eight Trinidadian captains, Jackie Grant (three in 12 Tests) and Jeffrey Stollmeyer (three in 13).
So let us not forget that Ramdin, whose current batting average in Tests is a mere 27.25, promised much when he first broke into the top flight back in 2005. In his first match, the now 29-year-old gloveman, the 10th Trinidadian to be appointed West Indies captain, made an impressive 56 for Darren Ganga’s side against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
After that, he added no fewer than 24 single-digit scores and four half-centuries in 54 innings before finally getting his maiden Test century against England in Barbados in 2009. Those meagre returns with the bat were certainly not commensurate with the talent the experts thought they had seen in him.
Whence, I guess, Viv Richards’ comment and Ramdin’s “Talk Nah” counter-comment in 2012.
But perhaps the Sunday Express’ headline on Tony Cozier’s commentary piece last week summed it up nicely.
“Ramdin’s turn at poisoned chalice,” it announced. The piece made clear that recent Ramdin performance comes closer to what the cricketing world has been led to expect of him.
“Since Ramdin’s return to Tests in 2012,” Cozier notes, “his forthright approach has earned him an average of 44.29 in 14 matches, with three hundreds and five 50s.”
What Cozier failed, however, to do is remind us of how Ramdin’s own actions have helped to unsweeten the cup that has now been passed to him.
And I guess he deliberately omitted to explore the links between that ever-present poisoned chalice of the captaincy and the ultra-elusive Holy Grail of the turnaround.
Ramdin’s training squad for the NZ Tests: Denesh Ramdin (Captain), Sulieman Benn, Jermaine Blackwood, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Shane Dowrich, Kirk Edwards, Shannon Gabriel, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Sunil Narine, Ashley Nurse, Kenroy Peters, Keiran Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford and Jerome Taylor.