Windies just can’t shake pace addiction


The entire West Indies cricket community – overpaid, underachieving players, an ineffective coach, inept captain, dysfunctional WICB, misguided selectors, disillusioned fans, insular media – are as addicted to pace bowling as chain smokers to nicotine. Withdrawal has been long and painful during 15 years of decline, down from the four-pronged pace attack of the Clive Lloyd glory years to three-prong now. From four packs a day down to three. Big deal.

Nor has there been any improvement in history class. It was the Spanish writer George Santayana who noted that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. He must have had in mind the Windies, most of whom have a fair grasp of history starting with the Lloyd era.

But if their knowledge went back much beyond Lloyd there would be an answer to this question: What did Windies do with the new ball before they had a basket of quality fast bowlers?

The answer is important after the first Test against South Africa, lost in four days by 163 runs. Three frontline quicks – Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach – were injured. So was one-down batman Ramnaresh Sarwan. The batting, over-dependent on Chris Gayle and Shiv Chanderpaul, has been brittle. So what did the selectors do? They ‘strengthened’ it by picking four tailenders and an out-of-form wicketkeeper in Dinesh Ramdin. Predictably, with the batting ending at number six, they were bowled out for 102 and 293. This has happened over and over recently. It will happen again to these addicts.

What would selectors of a bygone era have done in the absence of Taylor, Edwards and Roach? Bearing in mind Sir Garfield Sobers definition of cricket (“Cricket is runs and runs is cricket”), they certainly wouldn’t have yanked unripe Nelon Pascal out of the A team touring England and embraced the consistently inconsistent Ravi Rampaul. Their match figures were, respectively, 17-2-59-0 and 25-5-77-0. Their bats contributed 30 measly runs. Between 1948 when cricket resumed after World War II and the end of 1957, Windies played 44 Tests (10 Test series). In 31 of those Tests they picked only one specialist quickie; in six they picked none at all; in the other seven Tests they picked only two. Why? Simple. They didn’t have too many good ones to choose from. Like now. During those years only Jamaicans Hines Johnson, Roy Gilchrist and Bajan Frank King were fast enough to get anyone’s heart racing. Johnson debuted at age 37, his match figures of 10-96 helping Windies to a 10-wicket win over England. He would rank with any of the Lloyd era, but played only twice more. King was an under-achiever while Gilchrist, as much a threat to life and limb as to the stumps, was sent home from India for bowling beamers.

Mostly, Windies used medium pace seamer/batsmen Frank Worrell, Gerry Gomez and Denis Atkinson to open the bowling. All three have a seven wickets haul to their names. This enabled Windies to bat deep. Double centurion Atkinson, since 1955 a shareholder in the world record sixth wicket partnership of 347 with Clairmonte DePeiza, made 45 on Test debut, batting at number 10! Windies total? 631 vs India. Only once in those 44 Tests – vs New Zealand at Wellington in 1956 – did Windies pick four tailenders. At a time where Windies cricketers played only in weekend amateur leagues at home and in England, they won six series, lost three, drew one. Not quite the match of Lloyd’s world champions but way better than we’re doing now.

Using medium pacers Darren Sammy (a useful batsman with a seven wickets haul on Test debut) and Dwayne Bravo to open the bowling and allowing Darren Bravo (“Little Lara”) to debut before his adoring T&T crowd would have deepened the batting. Bouquets to the selectors for breaking tradition by correctly picking two spinners, Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford, who took 12 of the 14 South African wickets to fall and batted superbly in the second innings. But brickbats to them for being so addicted to pace bowling that they also had to pick two fourth rate pace bowlers in Pascal and Rampaul who did nothing in four days beyond taking the shine off the ball and ‘stoning’ South African bats.

Email: ewat@rogers. com

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