A time to build

West Indies have a golden chance to create a forceful presence — in the shorter formats at least.

That moment.

For a long time the Frank Worrell Trophy represented the pinnacle of competition in world cricket. This, after all, was the contest that in 1994-95 catapulted Australia to greatness, as Steve Waugh and Curtly Ambrose engaged menacingly, and unforgettably, mid-pitch at Trinidad. That series also marked the beginning of the decline of the West Indies, who have since been in freefall, a scenario worsened by the ongoing rift between the country’s stars and its cricket board. But things just might be looking up in the Caribbean.

Nothing could have described the first Test, that Australia made its own by three wickets, better than the winning run. Ben Hilfenhaus tapped and scampered, barely making his ground as the throw clattered into the stumps. Australia too had made it by a whisker — after allowing the home team to a huge first innings score — preying on the West Indies’ obvious inability to close out things.

The result both gladdened and saddened me. My entire bankroll – meaning all my betting money — was on Australia. Their victory was for me a highly profitable outcome, and I found myself unable to sleep even when Ed Cowan sedated us with his ‘Edcowaness’. But my heart was a-bleeding, for the West Indies, as they allowed Australia’s tail to wag beyond an acceptable period, late into the small hours of the Indian night.

Really, how thrilling it is to watch cricket in the dead of the night, from under a blanket, sometimes with just one eye out, and letting the disparity between time-zones  – the darkness and the light – bathe oneself in possibilities. Even better when India is not involved. No Ravi Shastri. No infinite ad breaks. Australia versus England on a lively Perth track... I  digress, a tendency the reader had better get used to, as used to as the West Indies are to treating close Test matches as moral victories, or even as used to as Chris Gayle is to pimping himself instead of sucking it and appearing for national service.

Which is why it’s depressing the way the West Indies lost their grip on the first Test in a couple of listless sessions, allowed the visitors not only to get up, but to trample all over them.  Expected of a team missing an experienced presence in the middle to support Shivnarine Chanderpaul, of a side that suffered no end because Devendra Bishoo’s logical spinning partner is missing in IPL action? Bishoo, recently announced the West Indies’ International Cricketer of the Year, had a forgettable Test match, taking just one wicket in 53 overs.

If only the conflicts that seize and stall the engines of West Indies cricket are resolved, the current crop of cricketers has within it the nidus of a team, which could begin to arrest and scale back — at least in the shorter formats — the plummet of the past 20 years. All indicators point that way. The Windies were equals of Australia – themselves in semi-transition — in the T20 and ODI series. Their rightful players are humongously-paid superstars in the IPL, though the participation of some is curtailed by internal wrangles, if not by their own preference for big bucks over pride.

Kieron Pollard and Chris Gayle can wreak havoc upon the opposition in 20 balls. Sunil Narine is fast turning out to be the next ‘with it’ spinner. Darren Bravo’s class is obvious and his half-brother Dwayne is a genuine, albeit unfulfilling, all-rounder. The fact remains — the West Indies, freed of internal conflict, have enough fire-power to build a more than capable team, at least in ODIs and T20s.

Which makes me wonder just how much the back on them winning the Twenty20 World Cup is. Sri Lankan tracks. Bishoo and Narine. Kemar Roach and Andre Russell. Gayle and Pollard. Darn! The odds aren’t up yet, but I already know which way my hard-accumulated dough is going. Unless I’ve managed to demolish my whole bankroll by then.


More Columns:

Khurram Ahmed, The Gayle-shaped Void, April 15

Where purpose, resolve and belief flag, one must resort to rely on talent and class. Within hours of West Indies conceding the Test to Australia, Kieron Pollard took Player of the Match honors representing the Mumbai Indians in the ongoing IPL bludgeoning 64 from 33 deliveries. The next day, Chris Gayle donned the colors of the Bangalore Royal Challengers and launched 68 from 35 deliveries, clearing the rope six times.

Prem Panicker, Live Lived Pinsize, the story of the rise and fall of Sadanand Vishwanath:

BACK in 1985, Sadanand Vishwanath was 23, with limitless talent, ditto potential. And then it all disappeared, down a bottle and up his nose — he would only play 14 more one-dayers and three Tests after that magical day.

Now on the cusp of 50, Sada came visiting on the day earlier this week when Indonesia shook and India trembled; oblivious to it all, he looked back on his life with a certain calm resignation. “Fame is heady,” he said. “It is so sudden, it catches you unprepared. It is intoxicating, it gets to your head and messes with it.”