Three decades ago, West Indies cricket was the apple of the eye. They had tall, intimidating pace bowlers, flair and flamboyance combined with grit and determination in the batting line-up and a dream captain. They epitomised everything that the cricket world calls a ‘Champion Team’.
The Caribbeans were a dreaded group of players. Pitches, conditions, opposition, nothing mattered when these relentless, spine-chilling group of players took to the field. Their plan was quite simple. Bowl out teams and bat them out of the game. They had the bowlers and batsmen to do the job and an outstanding skipper to rally them together.
The “Caribbean flair” or essence rested in their solid game plans and a frightening slew of pace bowlers. Sadly, the same term is now associated with a string of T20 players, who slog across the line, hoick balls into the stands and celebrate life like there is no tomorrow. The flair and flamboyance is still there, so is the intimidation factor at least in the batting, but only in one format of the game.
That they failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy and produce lacklustre displays in Test cricket underline the kind of decline West Indies cricket has been in. But, before you say they are done and dusted, wait!
2017 is turning out to be a slight – let me tell you, very, very slight – anomaly. There seems to be a small light – a bulb at the very least – at the end of the tunnel. The small of a window of opening first came to the fore when they fought off the embarrassment and chagrin of a horrendous loss against England in a Test to churn out an unlikely win in the next Test. They might have lost the series decider, but West Indies had shown that they were still capable of putting in a complete performance.
The particular performance highlighted several of West Indies’ strengths amongst oodles of flaws. There was a belief, energy and oomph behind the show. Quite a few players stood up and showcased their intent, Test match temperament and maturity. For a country struggling to count fifteen available players before a series ’cause most of them are out there playing T20 leagues, that is some feat.
The batting quartet that inspires confidence
For the first time since Shivnarine Chanderpaul was deemed surplus to requirements by the clueless selectors, the Windies seem to have found a stable, dependable middle-order batsman. The 23-year old Shai Hope. A mixture of Caribbean flair and English temperament nurtured from Sussex, Hope set the stage alight with one performance after another.
From a fringe player, Hope became the anchor around whom the Windies batting line-up could bat within one series. He wasn’t alone in dishing out the fight. Kraigg Brathwaite and Roston Chase had already shown their big match temperament before. They accompanied Hope to bury England and announce their resuscitation from the ashes.
In Jermaine Blackwood, they had the proper West Indian modern day cricketer, drunk in T20 blood, but having enough sense to stitch together innings’ of substance. Together, the four form a kind of quartet that holds the West Indies batting together. They may be nowhere close to being ‘fearsome’ but at least they have shown the willingness to ‘go to war’ as David Warner would call it.
The formidable pace quartet and a leggie
Test matches aren’t won by batsmen. Even if you manage to score 600 odd runs, you still need the bowlers to take 20 wickets to win a Test match. West Indies are lucky that the renaissance of their batsmen has coincided with the emergence of quite a few respectable pace bowlers.
Shannon Gabriel was the assigned leader of this group until Kemar Roach, the veteran seamer who troubled Virat Kohli with bounce once, returned to the ranks and had England in all sorts of trouble. Together, Roach and Gabriel breathed fire. They were capable of running through oppositions and the calming presence of Jason Holder further added fury to the pace attack.
To cap the three off, they have the emerging seamer, Alzarri Joseph, raw, untouched by the coaching manuals and the most classical of the West Indian pacers. His progress from the under-19 ranks to the West Indian team – smacking AB de Villiers’ helmet with a throat climber on the way – is a strength for the ages. He may not regularly feature in the XI but when he does, West Indies wouldn’t want to worry too much about hiding him from the better batsmen. The kid is an absolute beauty.
Fast bowlers may win you matches but the modern trend is to scythe through batting line-up’s every now and then with a wrist spinner. West Indies have that base covered with Devendra Bishoo completing their bowling attack. Any spinner capable of decimating Pakistan in the UAE (he picked up an eight-for in UAE last year) is definitely capable of holding his own in any condition and so far Bishoo has fit the bill. For any assistance, he has the reliable off-spinning Roston Chase, whose five-wicket haul in Tests against the wristy Indians spices up his resume. The bowling attack is by no means complete, but at least there is a platform to work upon.
An inspiring captain
Jason Holder isn’t someone that would strike you as an elegant skipper. He is no Steve Waugh, Sourav Ganguly or even Mashrafe Mortaza. But what Holder does well and does consistently is putting in his best foot forward every single time. He might endure the wrath of the media every now and again for his place in the side or his bizarre decisions like a few ones in England. But, when West Indies need him, he comes out, bats, bowls or fields and makes a contribution. Leadership is always about leading from the front and so far Holder has done that quite well. He has had a mighty influence in games West Indies have won over the past two years although almost always there is someone else hogging the limelight.
The ongoing Zimbabwean series is a test for the Windies. Buoyed by the return of their Kolpak signings, Zimbabwe are riding a crest. But so are West Indies. The Windies will aim to show that this series isn’t a battle of the minnows, instead, it is them drubbing a fringe Test side. So far, Windies have done that. Although they collapsed against spin on Day 1 of the first Test, they showed remarkable character and fight to reach a comfortable winning position by the end of day 3. The West Indies of three years back would have succumbed. Not this one. They have found their mojo back.