By Errol Townshend
A selection committee of well-known West Indians has sparked much debate in picking an All Time West Indies X1 for Cricinfo. It excludes all three Ws – Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. They did, however, manage to sneak in Gary Sobers. No word yet as to whether any of the selectors will be allowed back in Barbados. The X1: Greenidge, Hunte, Headley, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Hendriks, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose and Gibbs.
If all the selection of this team for a Test in The Great Beyond did was to enliven a beer session, it probably would merit only a few chuckles. Every fan has his own best X1 and one man’s meat is another’s poison. But the choices of eminent personalities such as journalists Tony Becca and Reds Pereira, academics Frank Birbalsingh and Hilary Beckles so reflect the dominant thinking of the West Indian cricket community that they merit dissection.
The first thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is that no captain is named. Whether this is a Cricinfo policy or an oversight, or whatever the reason, one would have thought that even for a hypothetical game in Heaven a captain would be the top priority. A cricket team without a captain is only half a team. Cricket is unique in that in no other sport does a captain wield so much power and influence. While a wise captain will take advice, ultimately it is he who decides the batting order, the field placing and who fields where, the bowling changes etc. As many games are lost through bad captaincy as through bad batting, bowling or fielding. Such is the importance of captaincy it is my view, albeit a minority one, that the best captain should be picked first. Period. Then you pick 10 others around him.
That view is not widespread in Windies cricket, although Jamaica has recently done just that, dumping Windies skipper Chris Gayle for the man with the better captaincy record, Tamar Lambert. The prevailing Windies theory is to identify the best 11 players and find a captain from among them. But what if there’s no worthwhile captaincy material among the best 11 players? Well, you wind up losing match after match, that’s what. Just as Windies have been doing for years.
So my choice here is simple: Worrell or Clive Lloyd. Both were outstanding leaders and an important part of their team’s success. Lloyd has a longer and better captaincy record and there’s not much to choose between them as players. Worrell (av. 49.48) was the slightly better batsman than Lloyd (av.46.67) and much better bowler, Lloyd the much better fielder. It’s a close call but I’d give Worrell the slight edge on tactical acumen. Who would he replace? There can’t be a Bajan who wouldn’t cringe at the sight of Conrad Hunte (av. 45.06), for all his dash, at the crease, while the three Ws sit in the stands. Worrell could bat at any position, from No.11 on debut for Barbados in 1942, to 191 not out opening and carrying his bat in 1957 against England. On my team he opens with Greenidge, instead of Hunte.
The other notable flaw is that the batting stops short at No. 6, only a bit shorter than many Windies teams of recent times. Any team – even with Headley, Lara, Richards and Sobers – with five tailenders is asking for trouble.
When talk turns to the glorious Lloyd era it’s often forgotten that batsman/wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon (av. 31.94, five centuries) at No. 7 was an important cog in the wheel. While Hendriks was certainly Windies’ best specialist ‘keeper, the days of a specialist keeper/tailender are long gone. Hendriks (av. 18.62) has only two Test 50s in 32 innings and no first class centuries. But even Dujon must take a back seat to Walcott (av. 56. 68) whose five centuries in the 1955 series v Australia, then the world’s most fearsome bowling attack, is a feat without parallel in Windies cricket. He was a highly competent ‘keeper to the spin of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine as well as to the swing bowlers of his time. He gets my No.7 batsman/keeper spot.
The rest of the team merits little debate. Bajans will defend down to their last flying fish the claims of their idol Weekes over Richards. Antiguans shouldn’t bother with them. True, Weekes (58.61) has the second highest Windies batting average, dwarfing Richards (50.23). But scrape beneath the surface. Weekes was a butcher of weaker Indian, New Zealand and Pakistan bowling (11 of his 15 centuries) but his performance against his toughest opponent, Australia, is well below par: 10 Tests, 20 innings, 714 runs (av. 39.66), one century. Sorry, skipper, not good enough. Richards bullied good, bad and indifferent bowling from everywhere.
Antiguans will quietly debate Ambrose over fellow islander, Andy Roberts. I agree with the selectors. While Roberts was a master at outthinking batsmen and more hostile more of the time, it’s hard to argue with Ambi’s deadly accuracy. His parsimonious average (405 wkts @ 20.99), second only to Marshall, gets him my vote over the more expensive Roberts (205 wkts @ 25.61). Besides, when provoked, he could be as menacing as almost all his contemporaries. His 7-25 at Perth, 8-45 at Bridgetown and 6-24 at Trinidad v England were as comprehensive a demolition of opponents as one is ever likely to see.