The wins may not come as often as the players, administrators or fans would like; but the fact that the current West Indies team led by Darren Sammy and coached by Ottis Gibson have been giving a good account of themselves over the last year is cause to be optimistic about the future of cricket in the Caribbean. Sammy's team may have lost the recent Test series 0-2 to Australia, but the scoreline doesn't quite do justice to the fighting spirit shown by the hosts against tough opposition.
There were indications early on in the Caribbean - the drawn one-day and Twenty20 International series - being the prime examples that Australia wouldn't have it easy against West Indies on the slow and low pitches. And, that's just the way things eventually played out as Australia had to rely on their experience and overall superiority to win the defining moments that eventually helped them come out trumps in the three-match Test series.
West Indies did have their moments in the Test series, but it was their failure to seize the initiative that proved to be their undoing; especially in the first match at Barbados where after declaring their first innings at 449 for 9, they had Australia reeling at 285-8 only for Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon's brilliant unbroken partnership for the 10th wicket helped Michael Clarke make a brave declaration despite his team trailing by 43 runs. Windies were bundled out for 148 in their second innings to leave Australia needing a relatively modest 192 to win; but Sammy and his bowlers put on a heroic display as they kept pegging away at the tourists' batting line-up; however, despite their best efforts and in fading light, the hosts would lose by three wickets.
The second Test at Port of Spain ended in a draw thanks to bad weather, but here too a brave declaration by Clarke had set up an exciting finish with West Indies needing 215 to win from 61 overs; and Sammy himself had taken up the challenge before torrential rains had the last word. Sammy's team again failed to seize their opportunities at Dominica as they lost by 75 runs despite some late order resistance.
Despite the 0-2 scoreline, West Indies had a lot of positives to take from the Test series - Shivnarine Chanderpaul's vintage performances; Sammy's heroics with the bat; the resistance put up by the tailenders and the brilliant performances of Kemar Roach and Shane Shillingford with the ball.
The highlight of the series from West Indies' perspective should be the never-say-die attitude displayed on occasions by the relatively inexperienced team, Darren Bravo continuing to show glimpses of his talent, Shillingford's terrific comeback to Test cricket, and last but certainly not the least, Sammy's positive and lead by example captaincy.
There are, however, plenty of areas of concern for West Indies, none more so than their top order. A highest first wicket partnership of 38 in the series paints a sorry tale as does the fact that neither of the opening batsmen - Kraigg Brathwaite and Adrian Barath failed to cross the 75-run mark for the series; Kieran Powell batting at No. 3 in the last two Tests did marginally better scoring 87 runs, but these aren't
figures that would make any opposition captain or bowling attack put on their thinking caps. Brathwaite, Barath and Powell have the talent, but need to do a fair amount if work to translate that into success at the international level.
Bravo looked to have got his eyes at least three-four times in the series, but failed to play any innings of significance; and the late middle-order didn't exactly cover themselves with glory either.
The rest of West Indies' batsmen would do well to take a leaf out of the veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul's book when it comes to putting a premium on their wicket and making the most of limited talent. Chanderpaul is certainly not the most attractive batsman to watch and his technique and stance won't be found in any cricket coaching manual. But, what Chanderpaul has been doing exceptionally well for most of his career is to make his starts count and be prepared to work hard in the middle; there haven't been any shortcuts for him in his career and it was just reward when he became only the 10th batsman to cross the 10,000-run mark in Tests. Chanderpaul was the only batsman across the two teams to adjust to the conditions on offer as he stayed true to his work ethic and was rightly named Man of the Series for his 346 runs (one century and three half-centuries) scored at an average of 86.50.
Sammy isn't the most talented cricketer in the world, and to his credit he is the first to admit that; but like Chanderpaul, the West Indies captain has earned the respect of his players by working hard and making the most of his abilities as batsman, bowler and leader. The inability of Fidel Edwards and Devendra Bishoo to contribute significantly with the ball in the matches they played was a disappointment; but the tremendous success of Roach and Shillingford was a joy to watch and just reward for the pair who have successfully come out triumphant after testing times in their respective careers.
West Indies' next series is an away tour in England, and that will not be an easy tour by any stretch of imagination for Sammy and his young team, who are sure to be tested aplenty in the swinging conditions there. Windies were certainly not disgraced in the Test series loss to Australia, and though they still have a long way to go, there are indications that they won't be easily rolled over any more and will provide stiff fight even to the strongest teams as they continue to learn and evolve.
Cricket will certainly be better off if West Indies emerge stronger from holding their own against tough opposition, while also focussing on becoming more consistent in all departments.
India's selectors and their selective myopia, by Jharna Kukreja Chauhan
A lot was expected from the selection of the India ‘A’ squad to the Caribbean. The last year has been a nightmarish one for Indian cricket, with eight consecutive humiliating away Test drubbings, and this was the selectors’ opportunity to present their vision for the future. Unfortunately, the side picked to travel to the Windies has more hits than misses.
The hat that doesn't fit, by Kunal Diwan
The question remains: how and when will Sachin contribute in his new role? Will his depleting frequency of active match days translate into more fruitful sessions in the house?
Will he do what Govinda did (not) at the Lok Sabha and make sporadic appearances as and when he feels like? Will he reinvent himself into a role that most feel he has limited credentials of filling? Or, will he demonstrate the perfect on drive to eminent fans with walking sticks and creaking joints?
Hogg-ing the spotlight, by AR Hemant
One of the elements of Hogg’s incredible comeback is, no doubt, his chinaman. Batsmen have struggled to read it, prompting even the great Muttiah Muralitharan to testify this.
Sunil Gavaskar said in jest that the key to reading Hogg is checking his tongue that’s perennially hanging out. If it points left, it may be the chinaman, Gavaskar said.
Death to all bowlers, by Prem Panicker
No one is suggesting that a T20 thrash-about on even the most competitive wicket prepares you for the challenges of a five day game — however, the IPL could at the very least expose the youngster to the kind of pressures, magnified times 10, that they will face on the international circuit. And there is the added advantage that once they take their turn in the middle, they can get back to the dressing room, and seek quality inputs from high quality players who have been there, done it all.