On the evidence we have from the just completed three-Test series, new West Indies skipper Denesh Ramdin is going to need a miracle to deliver the turnaround we’re all now looking to him for.
So, as a true-true, maroon-blooded WI supporter, I am hoping that, after beating Ramdin’s side 2-1 in the Tests, the Kiwis also whip Darren Sammy’s Windies short-format side in this weekend’s two-T20I square-off.
Let me explain at some length exactly what I mean. I might pretty much sum it up as the reverse of what Bob Marley is lamenting with his “One step forward, two step backward.”
And it’s really very simple: If Sammy’s team is victorious where Ramdin’s has been defeated, well, in a region where (ask David Rudder) every chink in the armour is enough to lose a friend, the ubiquitous dissident elements may well attempt to convert that little negative into a stumbling block in Ramdin’s path. In so doing, they are almost certain to set further back the long awaited and already much delayed recovery process.
Here I digress to plant a seed.
As I wrote my first few sentences, a question leapt, no, crept unbidden into my mind. It was born, I think, of my perplexing experience as a black-skinned francophile while watching the France vs Nigeria Round of 16 World Cup 2014 match earlier this week.
I have never quite understood what drives a Trinidadian football fan, born and raised right here between Icacos and Toco, to go into a blue funk or chest-thumping elation when Liverpool, say, gets the better of Manchester United or vice-versa in a Premier League tie or when Bayern Munich beats or is beaten by Barcelona in the Champions League. But the necessary exploration of the complex nature of this thing we call loyalty, “support” in sport, that came starkly home to me on that fateful afternoon will have to be left for another day.
And perhaps in that discussion I shall find the answer to the question myself asked me: Had Darren Sammy been born in St Lucien Road instead of St Lucia and Denesh Ramdin in Castries instead of Central Trinidad, would you have unabashedly given expression to the apparent prejudice that informs and influences your opening paragraph?
So full disclosure: I have not actively supported the West Indies since Sammy was unjustifiably handed the captaincy in October 2010.
Thereafter, I could muster interest, curiosity, sympathy even; firm, unstinting, active support remained beyond me. And my sense of injustice hadn’t let me support the team actively either after Brian Lara prematurely took over the mantle from that long-serving, selfless servant of regional cricket, Courtney Walsh, in 1998.
But Lara’s batsmanship can break down barriers. And in spite of myself, I thumped my chest and shouted my “Westindianness” from the rooftops many times between 1998 and the final undeservedly ignominious exit in 2007.
Frank Worrell’s cavaliers in Australia in 1960/61 had ignited in me an ardent passion which had become an all-consuming conflagration that razed all before it in the halcyon years when we whipped all comers under the leadership of Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards.
Still fire-bright under Richie Richardson and Walsh, it was luke-warm at best under Lara and, having occasionally emitted light but no heat in the Gayle/Ganga/Sarwan/Chanderpaul interregnum, went from barely glowing embers to stone-cold like dog nose as soon as Ottis Gibson and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) elevated Sammy to top dog.
It must be understood that, for me, the first criterion to be considered in selecting a captain is his ability to earn and hold, for cricketing reasons, a place on the XI. Cricketing reasons include, mind you, superior captaincy; one name that comes immediately to mind is Mike Brearley, who led England between 1977 and 1981 and whose cricinfo profile says that, “His batting record for England was inadequate. But he was well worth his place without a stack of runs.”
Put another way, I like to see selectors pick the best XI – or the 11 best; despite the red herring the WICB tried to feed us some time ago, there’s no real difference if selection is guided by clear, fair, consistent criteria – and then decide on who will lead them.
But leadership and captaincy are not really synonyms as the late Gerry Alexander and everyone familiar with the Frank-Worrell-for-West Indies-captain story know only too well.
And as Richardson reminded us all sharply in late 1992, when he told IVA Richards to stay home as he flew out to lead the WI Down Under for the first time.
Which brings us right back to new skipper Ramdin, whom no less authoritative a commentator than Tony Cozier has dubbed “an astute tactician.”
Before the New Zealand series started, the wicketkeeper was indisputably the best in the region although his performance with the gloves in the series might well have since raised questions about that in some minds. But his place on the starting XI was secure and his captaincy credentials sound, “YVTN”, (Yeah Viv Talk Nah), Ramdin’s equivalent of the INRI that adorned the top of Christ’s cross, notwithstanding.
Hear, for example, Phillip Spooner in the WI vs Them guide, produced for the five-match series by the WICB:
“Ramdin brings to the job a wealth of experience- having played international cricket for just under a decade and having led the West Indies at several levels. He first came to prominence during the Costcutter Under-15 Tournament in England, winning the final at Lord’s, and was captain of the West Indies team which reached the final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.
“He went on to lead the West Indies ‘A’ team with success and has guided Trinidad and Tobago’s impressive campaigns in regional cricket as well as the Champions League T20 Tournament in India.”
“Since his return to the team in 2012,” Spooner says further on, “he has been prolific with the bat, with 728 runs at an average of 42.8 and three centuries. Overall he has made four Test centuries, the highest of which was his maiden Test ton – 166 against England at Kensington Oval, (…) the highest Test score by a West Indian wicketkeeper.”
Unsurprisingly, although he declines to recall Ramdin’s declaration during the semi-final of the Headley-Weekes Trophy match T&T and the Windward Islands which TTCB President Azim Bassarath hailed as a “stroke of genius,” Spooner’s pre-series story is all optimism and positives. Not so the post-match stories that summed up each match and, eventually, the Test series.
Taken together, in my view, they present an unflattering picture of the newly appointed skipper.
Consider, for instance, the one carried in the Express earlier this week under the headline, “Ramdin reflects on Test series.”
It seems to expose a skipper apparently reluctant to take responsibility for his own errors and shortcomings. Ramdin, who in the three Tests had a string of modest scores (39, 34, 32, 45, 29), had had this to say after the Second Test win in Port-of-Spain: “Hopefully we can do some work in our slip cordon so that we can take those catches when they come on. It is frustrating to drop catches off those type of batters. They put on partnerships. Hopefully we will get it right come next game.”
But subsequent to the Kensington Third Test defeat, in which he himself grassed several chances, he never mentioned the catching, opting instead to focus on “the top three, four batters who didn’t get starts and how we lost by 50-odd runs.
“If the top four batters had given us a nice little partnership, you never know how it might have made a difference in the match.”
Cozier’s match report on the penultimate day’s play mentions “puzzling strategy” and tactics which were “strange, indeed.” He also expresses the view that Test debutant Jason Holder, the third quickie, was “grossly under-used in a specifically enlarged bowling staff.”
But one day later, Ramdin offers no comment, complaining instead about “not having the resources like (Sunil) Narine, (so) we had to use (Shane) Shillingford and (Sulieman) Benn (and) guys like Jerome Taylor who came back from a long spell (and) Kemar Roach from injury.”
The skipper made no mention either of the fact that Taylor had claimed 10 Kiwi scalps for 172 runs in the first two Tests while Roach had got eight at Kensington. Holder had figures of 10-4-24-0 in the first innings but bowled eight overs less than Shillingford, the Dominican off-spinner, whose wicket-taking ball, the doosra, had been outlawed long before his selection for the game.
After his first innings figures of 13-0-53-0, Ramdin still asked the doosra-less, non-mystery spinner to deliver as many as 18 overs in the second innings to see him finish with a match analysis of 31-2-134-0.
We hear none of that explicitly from the “astute tactician.”
So if it is true, as one renowned scribe noted almost half a century ago, that a cricket match “is played in the minds of the opposing captains,” discerning commentators may well conclude that there was not very much “play” in Kensington, a statement having nothing to do with the interruptions for rain!
Still, if you are a Ramdin- as distinct from a West Indian – supporter, despair not; there is good news. The skipper won’t have to do anything special to pull this rabbit out of the maroon hat.
Sammy, up against a confident New Zealand side securely ranked above the WI and cock-a-hoop after their Test series win, has neither Chris Gayle nor Dwayne Bravo in the XI.
On the evidence of his three-and-a-half years and 30 matches at the helm, he has only to be his usual uninspired and uninspiring self and Ramdin will get the result his immediate future as captain very likely requires.