Woeful Windies, last of the true believers

By ERROL TOWNSHEND

It’s grim when teams keep losing and don’t know why. Torontonians sure can relate to that. But it’s barely better when you’re no wiser why you won the odd one. The woeful Windies, wrestling Bangladesh for the bottom rung of the Test ladder, exemplify this double jeopardy.

The last time the West Indies won a major onedayer was the 2004 Champions Trophy final when Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw staged a desperate 71-run eighth wicket stand to beat England in fading light. The champagne bottles had barely popped before the WICB dumped the winning coach, Gus Logie. The win was instead credited to the team’s empathy with the suffering that hurricanes had just visited on several islands.

Five years later, not a soul in the West Indies cricket community knows – or would care – what was unique about that team. It is the only time in 80 years of W.I. cricket where 10 of the 11 batters had a first class century to his name. The “one rabbit” at No. 11 was Corey Collymore whose batting talents were, mercifully, not required.

Important? Sir Gary Sobers, the greatest cricketer of all time, defines the game thus: “Cricket is runs and runs is cricket”. Put simply, Duckworth-Lewis aside, if Team A makes more runs than Team B, the best B can hope for is a draw, not a win. Even non-cricketers understand that. But not even Logie claims that the 10 centurions was a deliberate strategy. It just happened. “Bare buckup”, as they say.

Fast forward to the three-day thrashing the West Indies just received in Brisbane. Star batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan is injured; your preparation is undercooked; you’re up against the world’s best on their home turf; two batsmen, Adrian Barath (on debut) and Travis Dowlin (two Tests) are neophytes. You’d think the West Indies would select every batter in sight who could manage even an edge. No such luck. Four-pronged pace attack, plus a spinner (Suleiman Benn) so the boss, super cool Chris Gayle, doesn’t have to earn his pay by bowling his quota. Allrounder Narsingh Deornarine is benched so medium pacer Ravi Rampaul (1-110) could serve up pelau and mauby to the Aussies on debut.

And how come Gayle is skipper? Daren Ganga has just defied the oddmakers by leading his unheralded Trinis to the final of the World Champions League T20. He had earlier helped make them millionaires via the Stanford T20. Is it because he’s a Trini why he’s not captain? Not likely. Trini Dinesh Ramdin is vice captain. Even if it was, his problem would be fixable. He could always migrate to another island.

But it’s not fixable. He’s overlooked simply because he’s a “UWI boy”. The vast majority of cricketers in the region don’t exactly form a pool of budding PhDs. So they’re “cool” with the ear-ringed, dreadlocked, syntax-challenged Gayle not with straight, clean cut, smooth-talking, university educated Ganga. Same fate previously befell Bajans Roland Holder and Ian Bradshaw, also “UWI boys”. It’s also payback for the bad old days when you had to be either White or a university grad, preferably both, to lead. How lucky was Frank Worrell, the first fulltime Black captain (who didn’t get the job until after he’d got his degree from Manchester University). Had the ex-UWI warden been alive today his application would have been deep-sixed to File 13.

Never mind that Gayle can’t even set a field. There’s a story, told mostly by Guyanese, about an ex-West Indies captain’s succinct contribution to field-placing. On taking the field he announced to his players: “I’m fielding at slip, the rest of you scatter.”

Your humble scribbler had thought this a cruel, apocryphal yarn. No more. Thanks to modern stump mikes the whole world has now heard Gayle’s contribution. Bowling to Marcus North with four close catchers, he decided to dispense with them. Arms flaying, he yelled:” Let him free, let him free…Field wherever you want.”

That’s what West Indies captaincy has come to. Yet he was the selectors’ unanimous choice, endorsed by WICB.

So it matters not how they arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. First they said cricket is now big business. So they tried corporate giants Pat Rousseau (Jamaica) and Ken Gordon (T&T) as presidents. But they chafed under the discipline of corporate governance. (They almost had a bookie-president in Guyana’s Chetram Singh). They also tried another ex-Test cricketer. Heaven sent them Rev. Wes Hall (Barbados) but his sermons fell on deaf ears and seeds fell on rocky ground. So businessmen, bookies and ex-Test cricketers being out of favour, they tried businessmen/ex-first class cricketers Teddy Griffith (Barbados/Jamaica) and the current boss Julian Hunte (St. Lucia/Windward Islands). They’ve changed CEOs, captains, coaches, managers and players like underwear. Same story. As it always will be, as when you try to open a combination lock with the wrong numbers.

Clinging to a discredited seven batters/four pronged pace attack when your opponents are moving to a  “one rabbit” policy, bias against tertiary-educated captains, demanding of presidents accountability without authority and neglect of local clubs, have all helped to drag the West Indies to the bottom. Don’t look for change anytime soon. This West Indies cricket community – administrators, players, fans and media – has few comparisons anywhere in the world for its intransigence and blind faith in failed dogma.  China has embraced capitalism; the Vatican has dropped Latin. Only Our Dear Leader of North Korea has kept the faith as long as the woeful Windies. They are the last of the true believers.

Email: ewat@rogers.com

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