There was a time when the West Indies ruled world cricket with the charisma and flair of Julius Caesar. You pick a place in the island and throw an arrow, and 99 out of 100 times would it hit a cricketer. The Windies had them everywhere. Talented, flamboyant, aggressive, intimidating, gifted and dashing cricketers were all over the place.
Then came the 2000s and more kids switched to other sports, leaving the Windies in a hole. The evolution of T20 cricket coincided with West Indies' downfall in the longer formats and the players grabbed on to it like it was the last ray of hope. And they thrived.
T20 cricket was made for the Windies. It was a celebration of their culture and life. They embraced it and lived by it. Test and ODI cricket weren’t spared as the big T20 leagues attracted the West Indian players. And the leagues loved them. The franchises stocked their teams with the flair-filled West Indian players who could just walk in and tonk the ball a long way.
A pathetic cricket board made matters worse. Conflicts became commonplace, contracts became a joke and payments were well, rarely made. Several big players walked out on their nation, mainly due to the stringent policies of the Board, and the talent drain reached its peak a long time ago.
West Indies now need some gutsy, passionate youngsters to take the game forward in the country. They might be down and out now, but there are ardent fans who believe that they still have some fight left in them. Here are a few players who can pioneer a resurrection in the Caribbean Islands.
#5 Jason Holder
The youngest ever West Indian skipper, Jason Omar Holder, is every bit in sync with the rich fast bowling tradition in the country. However, despite his lanky structure and intimidating height, Holder bowls at a friendly pace and has often been criticized for his performances. That said, the skipper is a talented bowler and a pretty handy batsman. He has shown maturity and character to hold cricket in the West Indies together at such a young age.
The criticisms leveled at him for his performances were totally warranted a few years ago. However, Holder has been pretty good in the past two years, ‘holding’ one end up while his trusted ally, Shannon Gabriel, has picked up the wickets. Since 2016, Holder has made 835 runs across formats in 38 games at an average of 26.93 and taken 50 wickets during the same time frame.
While Holder the cricketer may not turn into an Ambrose or a Walsh, Holder the leader is someone the young kids in West Indies should try to emulate.
#4 Rovman Powell
Much in line with modern day West Indian cricketers, Rovman Powell is a dynamic all-rounder who bowls right arm medium pace and bats like an Andre Russell. Powell stormed into List A cricket for Combined Campuses with a Man of the Match performance in 2015. However, it was with Jamaica in the 2016-17 Regional Super50 that he truly gained attention.
That he was instrumental in Jamaica's march to the finals would be an understatement. He single-handedly won them the semi-finals with a 45-ball 95 followed by a 5/36 with the ball. The scintillating performance catapulted him into the Caribbean Premier League and then into the West Indian ODI and T20 teams.
Boasting immense potential, Powell can be what Andre Russell should have been for the West Indies, provided they persist with him.
#3 Nicholas Pooran
Another exciting find, the Trinidad and Tobago wicket-keeper batsman, Nicholas Pooran, shot into the limelight in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup where he made 303 runs in six games aside from doubling up as the team's vice-captain and primary wicket-keeper.
His Caribbean Premier League debut was a fairy tale story as he smashed a 24 ball 54.
Although Pooran made his T20 debut shortly after that in September, 2016, he remains on the fringes even now. He was bought by the Mumbai Indians franchise in IPL 2017, but did not get a game. Composure and temperament are two of Pooran's biggest qualities that would serve West Indies cricket well in these dire times.
#2 Shannon Gabriel
Broad chested and muscular, Shannon Gabriel is the fast bowler West Indies have dreamt of since the 90s. A skiddy bowler, Gabriel has shone for the Windies across formats in the past one year. He has formed a potent opening bowling partnership with Holder. Add in Alzarri Joseph and Miguel Cummins and the West Indian fast bowling resources do not seem so dry.
He was a vital factor in West Indies' series-levelling win against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi recently, taking a five-wicket haul that triggered a collapse. Gabriel has also been influential in ODIs, making a profound mark during the Tri-Series involving South Africa, Australia and West Indies in the Caribbean.
He troubled Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, and Steven Smith among others in a splendid display of fast bowling. The kids in the Caribbean now have a fast bowler to model themselves on.
#1 Roston Chase
Roston Chase is the firefighter in the West Indian Test team and has shown serious maturity and temperament in crunch games for the nation. A classic all-rounder in the mold of Carl Hooper, Chase puts a price on his wicket and has a reputation for making runs when it matters.
Amidst the see-and-hit batsmen in the West Indian line-up, Chase is a rare diamond and one worth preserving. He has bailed the Windies out of trouble on several occasions in the last two years and is the mainstay of their Test line-up. His composed style of batting should blend in well with the swashbuckling batters in the ODI side too. The right-hand batsman is also a handy off-spinner and has a five-wicket haul against India in Tests.