A little birdie told me that nothing could be more certain than that Jason Holder’s West Indians will “get their arse properly wash up in England—whitewash in the three Tests! If deh lucky, deh might get a bligh in the T20 but deh cut-tail book in the other games.”
“Big Bird” disagrees. “That’s not true!”he says. “At least, that’s not yet true!” Or words to that effect.
Joel “Big Bird” Garner was a member of the Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards WI sides that beat the rest of the world consistently for a decade and a half; he certainly needs no reminder that winning is a habit.
And as the current West Indies manager, he is likely to be acutely aware that so is losing; or, I remain convinced, he is likely to become acutely aware of it in short order. And, like the rest of the cricketing world, he suspects that his charges will not be able to cope with the challenge of an England team that is as confident of its superiority as Garner’s team was in the late 1970s and 80s.
But he is duty-bound to put a brave face on it; if you read between the lines, the clear message is that these “fellahs have got talent” but they are well out of their depth.
Here is what he actually said: “I wouldn’t completely write them off.” But would that not have been so much more convincing were the adverb removed?
And then he added this: “I think people are writing the West Indies off too early, and it could be at their own peril.”
So what is the message there? Hold your horses, I submit, and write them off only after there is confirmation that they have got their tails properly cut.
The records do not encourage the optimism, even feigned, that Garner would like us to think he thinks is warranted.
Darren Sammy’s WI beat Bangladesh in the Caribbean three years ago and the regional have only won three of 23 Tests since then. Unsurprisingly, they are ranked number eight in Tests by the ICC.
The last time the West Indies won a Test in England was more than 17 years ago in June 2000 when Courtney Walsh claimed 8 for 58 and skipper Jimmy Adams made 98 at Birmingham to give the tourists an innings and 93-run victory. And their last series win on English soil was almost three decades ago in 1988 when Viv Richards’ side, not including Garner, drew the first Test and then swept the remaining four.
The Garner/Holder squad team is under the leadership of a youthful captain and will have to do without the experience of both Bravos, Dwayne and Darren, as well as of discarded stalwarts Chris Gayle, Denesh Ramdin and Marlon Samuels.
But Garner, fully focused on the full half of the glass, pointed out that they have nevertheless done extraordinarily well in the three three-day warm-up games which, extraordinarily, the TCCB scheduled for them,
Most importantly perhaps, despite the presence of “players with ability, (…) with style and flair,” as Garner puts it, the team has very limited Test experience and even less experience of English conditions.
It is a youthful squad, with only the 31-year-old Devendra Bishoo over the age of 30. The three players who have played more than 25 Tests—opener and vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite (37) and pace bowlers Kemar Roach (37) and Shannon Gabriel (26)—have exactly 100 between. Another four total 93 Tests between them and the remaining eight players boast a grand total of 44.
It’s a recipe for disaster, most pundits seem to think.
But “WI to spring surprise,” says a headline in Wednesday’s Express. Indeed! They might just take one of the games into Day Four because England captain Joe Root, young, hungry for success, inexperienced in the captaincy business but already with 57 Tests and over 5,000 Tests runs to his credit, wins the toss and opts to bat first.
Garner has snatched at the day/night, pink ball novelty straw to suggest that the outcome may turn on “who makes the fastest (sic) adjustment.” He makes no mention of the inconvenient fact that the visitors will also have to make the adjustment to non-tropical temperatures and unfamiliar climes. One distinctly remembers Carl Hooper years ago explaining his dropping what looked like a regulation catch by saying that he “did not know where my hands were.”
So what can we realistically expect of Holder’s men? In a word, not too much. “A Test match, a wise man once said, is played in the minds of the opposing captains.” England’s 26-year-old Root has only played two Tests more than the 25-year-old WI skipper and has been in the saddle for a mere four Tests. Already, however, he has one more notch on his belt than the Barbadian’s two.
New coach Stuart Law seems unperturbed about Holder’s win/loss record and remains upbeat about his skipper, whom he describes as “intelligent and high quality” and “mature.”
“It is a lot of responsibility,” he almost gushes, “but he does it with fantastic integrity.”
However, he stops short of saying that Holder’s team will “spring a surprise.”
“He’s done it at this level,” is as far as he would go, “and I’m looking forward to how he performs.”
With the ball, Holder, I think, is going to get the kind of whiplash-inducing whipping from the England lower middle order that he once got from AB De Villiers. But I think Roach as main strike bowler will give a good account of himself provided that he can remain fit and healthy.
And I hope that Alzarri Joseph will continue his rapid ascent of the learning curve.
To me, it would be a major surprise if any of the batsmen except Roston Chase turns out to have the technical wherewithal to cope in the existing conditions with Stuart Broad and James Anderson and the moving ball.
Unlike Garner, I shall expect the worst but, like him, I shall hope for the best. And pray for abundant rain to spare us all deep blushes. I’m afraid I’ve been in town too long to be able to do otherwise.
With 259 Test and 146 ODI wickets to his credit in his 156 matches for the West Indies and arguably the game’s most devastating yorker up his sleeve, “Big Bird” almost certainly needs it less than most.
But should he be proven right and I—and the rest of the cricketing world—wrong, it would be a major feather in his cap.
PHOTO: Joel Garner
Full 15-member West Indies squad:
Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite (v/captain), Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shemron Hetmyer, Kyle Hope, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kieran Powell, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach.
1st Test: 17-21 August, Edgbaston
2nd Test: 25-29 August, Leeds
3rd Test: 7-11 September, Lord’s
Only T20: 16 September, Chester-le-Street
1st ODI: 19 September
2nd ODI: 21 September
3rd ODI: 24 September
4th ODI: 27 September
5th ODI: 29 September