The recent Test Series and the state of West Indies Cricket
History This Week
By Winston McGowan
Stabroek News
May 12, 2005

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In recent times I have become increasingly reluctant to write about West Indies Cricket. This growing reluctance is the result of two considerations. Firstly, it is sad, even depressing, to write about current West Indies Cricket, especially Test cricket. Secondly, I have little or nothing new to say about the present state of regional cricket at the highest level.

The principal objective of West Indies cricket continues to be the regaining of world ascendancy which was lost ten years ago when Australia defeated Richie Richardson's team in the Caribbean after an unprecedented sequence of 29 Test series without a loss. In striking contrast, however, to the optimism of the West Indies cricket authorities, it has been my conviction for several years that this desirable objective will not be realised in this decade.

Nothing has happened during the recent Test series against South Africa to shake this conviction. West Indies Test cricket continues to mark time, making no visible progress. The regional team continues year after year to be ranked eight among the ten Test-playing sides, above only relative newcomers, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The recent encounter with South Africa has not altered the state or status of West Indies cricket. The West Indies lost the Test series 2-0 at home to opponents who are no longer the force they were in international cricket two years ago when they were eclipsed only by world champions, Australia. Yes, the West Indies capitulated at home to a team which recently lost Test series to England, India and Sri Lanka and is now ranked sixth among Test-playing sides.

It is important not to be deceived by, and become over-enthusiastic over, the West Indies' encouraging performance at Bourda and the Antigua Recreation Ground when Chanderpaul's team took full advantage of excellent conditions for batting. The truth is that it is difficult to identify a single new positive favour during the series that clearly augurs well for the future of West Indies cricket.

The series showed that the main problems besetting West Indies cricket in recent years still exist. The batting which is supposed to be the team's strongest department, continues to manifest its well-known shortcomings - namely, poor starts, inconsistency, excessive dependence on master batsman, Brian Lara, low productivity by the lower order, and a tendency to unexpected cataclysmic collapses.

Note the poor opening partnerships by Chanderpaul's team in the series - 24, 7 and 14; 2 and 17; and 14 - a total of 78 runs in 6 innings or an average opening stand of 13 runs an innings. Apart from their brilliant mammoth innings in Guyana and Antigua, Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle had sequences of 32 and 22, 1 and 11 and 0 (Hinds) and 6 and 1, 0 and 5 (Gayle). In striking contrast, the South African openers, Graeme Smith and Abraham de Villiers, often gave their team good starts with a sequence of stands of 15 and 46, 70 and 117, 191 and 245 and 14 in the four Tests.

In both Tests which the West Indies lost, the batting inexplicably failed, producing low innings totals of 296, 166 and 194. In both of these games there were also sudden collapses - from 78 for 1 to 92 for 5 and 180 for 5 to 194 all out in the second innings of the second Test and from 286 for 5 to 196 all out in the second Test innings for the third Test. Furthermore, in two innings star batsman, Brian Lara contributed more than half of his team's score - 176 out of 296 and 196 out of 347, with the next highest contribution, 53 and 35 by the skipper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

With the notable exception of the first Test, the West Indies bowling, now the team's weakest department, left a lot to be desired. As in recent years, it lacked penetration and consistent line and length. As a result the South Africans were able to compile large totals apart from their first innings at Bourda - 188 and 269 for 4; 398 and 146 for 2, 548 for 9 declared; and 588 for 6 declared and 127 for 1.

Amazingly, not a single West Indies bowler was able to capture as many as ten wickets in the entire series. The top wicket-taker, Darren Powell, took only nine wickets at a high cost of 54.11 runs each. The series again proved that it would be very difficult for the West Indies to dismiss the opposition twice and so win a Test.

Particularly disappointing from a West Indian standpoint was the fact that none of the three Test debutants during the series - Donovan Pagon, Narsingh Deonarine and Dwight Washington was successful. Equally or more disturbing was the fact that none of the young allegedly talented players - Daren Ganga, Devon Smith, Fidel Edwards and Tino Best - who returned to the team created a favourable impression. Rather the recent series suggests that if the future of West Indies cricket depends largely on these players, it is bleak indeed.