How To Lose A Test Match, West Indies Style

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Darren Sammy: Wearing boots too big for him?

Darren Sammy: Wearing boots too big for him?

First, their ego problems kept the in-form Chris Gayle out of the team. Then, they tried to beat the No. 1 Test team with three-and-a-half bowler — the half being captain Darren Sammy himself. Had situations in Caribbean cricket not been so contrived, Sammy would struggle to break into the team, forget leading it. Having to keep out express pacer Kemar Roach for his captain will haunt coach Ottis Gibson till he finds the cure to quieten the frustrated voices of Caribbean fans.

"Our history has been built on fast bowling but we do not have the kind of fast bowlers that we had in the past. Therefore we have to find the right combination," Gibson clarified when asked if the West Indies skipper deserved a place in the team. It's unfair on Sammy. He wants to win. But he doesn't know how to. He's earnest, gives it his all, and takes questions about his inadequacies head-on. "My family sends up prayers and the blessings come down," he says. "The almighty looks out."

So did West Indies get their combination right? Probably not. Here's why.

West Indies couldn't play two spinners with Sammy in the squad. At Sabina Park where the ball turned square on Day 1. India read the conditions right and played Amit Mishra with Harbhajan Singh.

With Sammy also occupying the all-rounder's spot, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell will have to wait — till better sense prevails in West Indian cricket.

In 44 previous Tests at Sabina Park, pace bowlers claimed 900 wickets compared to 350 by spinners. Recently, the slowing wicket has favoured spinners. Even then, India's discomfort is against pace, not spin. Devendra Bishoo picked up seven wickets, but except for his penetrative first spell, he did not look threatening. Hence West Indies needed a strong fourth bowling option.

The slowing down of wickets around the Caribbean has also played its part in their cricketing decline. And even where wickets are bowler-friendly — as it was at Sabina Park — the opposition tends to exploit it better, just as India did with a little help from Rahul Dravid.

Venues such as Jamaica and Barbados were once Caribbean fortresses and the terror of visiting teams. My colleague AR Hemant revisited the infamous 1976 Test at Kingston where six Indian players needed medical attention, partly due to Michael Holding and Company's dangerous fast bowling on a fresh wicket. It forced captain Bishan Singh Bedi to 'surrender' the match.

So where are those pitches and importantly those bowlers?

"Sadly enough from the mid-90s onwards wickets in the Caribbean got really slow," laments Curtly Ambrose, the last of the demon quicks of the Caribbean. "It is very frustrating for a fast bowler. The wickets have got worse over the years. Until we start seeing some good wickets which assist fast bowlers, I am not sure if we see great fast bowlers in future."

The wickets at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua and the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad used for the ODIs were as lifeless and under-prepared as the West Indies batting line-up. However, when the Sabina Park offered a sporting wicket, West Indies still messed up their combinations due to non-cricketing reasons.

As Tony Greig pointed out in the post-match talk, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, the engines of Caribbean cricket, have had it with this internal squabbling and might consider disbanding West Indies to field their own national teams. Would that be a sad end or a happy beginning? Time will tell.