By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published April 13, 2015
A few hours after West Indies have been ousted from the Cricket World Cup at the quarter-final stage, I took a therapeutic shower for the mental wounds I’ve suffered during this World Cup and over the last 20 years. Void of logic and sanity, I found myself singing the West Indian anthem: “Rally, Rally round the West Indies, now and forever”. This is the bipolar condition of all West Indian fans during this time of extreme famine: an agonising balance between hope and reality.
Unlike us fans, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has realized that doing the identical steps repeatedly while expecting different results is indeed lunacy. Therefore, since last August the changes have been numerous, subtly glaring and swift. On August 9th, the respected Clive Lloyd was appointed Chairman of Selectors. 10 days later, Ottis Gibson was stripped acrimoniously of his duties as Head Coach. Since then, the team has been on autopilot with Manager, Richie Richardson, Bowling Consultant, Curtly Ambrose, and Assistant Coach, Stuart Williams all acting as collective substitutes for a head coach. Even with these erudite former players at the helm, our fortunes against the top teams in the world didn’t register a pulse. South Africa thumped us 2-0 in the Tests with rain sparing us another whitewash.
In addition to changing the chairman of selectors, the selection panel and coach, player personnel changes have been the constant meal. The squad for the World Cup was one such example. Now the recently announced squad for the upcoming England Test series at home, starting April 13, is another example. Several famous names of recent years are missing: Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Darren Sammy, and others. Some individuals will say that these players have chosen other formats over Test cricket. Others will allude to their absence being temporary, or permanent, due to issues between themselves and factions of the WICB.
You may find all the reasons for their absences, but I’m glad that finally, we have a new head coach, in Phil Simmons. Phil is a former West Indian opening batsman or all-rounder, and the former head coach of minnow, Ireland. The same minnow that beat West Indies in their opening match at this World Cup. It might be fair to say that Phil exchanged one minnow for another, but you be the judge.
Since the turn of the millennium, West Indies have won only two (2) Test matches of 68 played overseas against the top-7 teams. That’s a span of 15 years and the ideal recipe to remain languished at the bottom of the Test Rankings. Whether laughable or pathetically sad, one of those two wins was their first overseas match in the new millennium. So, that’s 67 consecutive matches overseas with only a solitary (1) win against a top-7 team!
Fortunately, our home record has been marginally better. In 61 matches since January 1, 2000, we’ve won 13 matches against the top-7 teams. Still, pathetic but better if you root for the glass half-full.
This first Test series after the 2015 World Cup at home might be a respite, some will say. All West Indian fans are hoping for a thumping series win. It would be the consummate launch for Simmons tenure as the Head Coach, and a befitting conclusion of the eternal corner West Indies has been turning for 20 years. In addition, it would continue a dismal trend for England who was just ousted from the World Cup at the group stages.
Nevertheless, newly appointed England Cricket Board Chairman Colin Graves uttered confidently and satirically. “I’d certainly be disappointed if we don’t win the West Indies series because I am pretty sure the West Indies are going to have a mediocre team. A lot of their stars are going to be playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) anyway, not in the Tests, so we should win that series. If we don’t win, I can tell you now there will be some enquiries of why we haven’t”.
As proud West Indian fans, we must accept a few truths. West Indies is mediocre and the last time we’ve been this mediocre George Headley was playing. I’m referring to pre-World War II days. In addition, IPL and T20 cricket are more important to West Indian players today than Test cricket, simply because it pays more (or it pays the bills).
We also need to ask a few questions. When was the last time an enquiry was commissioned after the West Indies lost an overseas series against one of the top-7 teams? Or worse, when was the last time the ceremonial head of an opposing cricket nation made such a caustic remark, almost bordering on disrespectful, about West Indies cricket?
The last time I recall was 1976 when English captain Tony Greig voiced how he was planning to make West Indies “grovel”. However, it was the English and Greig who grovelled as they didn’t win a match in that series against the West Indies. Many say that was the initial spark that saw a bunch of entertainers turn into professional world beaters for almost 20 years.
Will Graves almost ‘grovelesque’ comment ignite another dominance for 20 plus years? As a delusional fan, I may be overreacting. However, I’m hopeful history is still a cycle, and these present West Indian cricket entertainers will make the English, Graves, and the world, gravely regret his choice of words. As a dianoetic cricket analyst and scientist, Phil Simmons, I bid you Godspeed. This eternal tunnel, not corner, seems to have no end or light in sight.
Like analysts, scientists have been wrong before; they once claimed the earth was flat. With this in mind and water running down my face, I’m reminded of a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”. As such, I will keep on singing in this shower, “Rally, Rally round the West Indies, now and forever”.
Until next time …
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” Column in the Western Mirror (Published Monday, April 13, 2015)