Forget the rain… the lack of Gayle-force Windies dampens series
09:35 GMT, 1 May 2012
A team purporting to represent the best
West Indies has to offer arrives in England on Wednesday for three
Tests, three one-dayers and a Twenty20 international. Had the Olympics
gone to Paris, they would probably have been given only two Tests. They
are, in truth, beneficiaries of a quirk in the schedule.
As recently as 2000, when the arrival of a side led by Jimmy Adams coincided with West Indies' 27th year in possession of the Wisden Trophy, their visit came complete with a frisson – which sounds like a shot only Brian Lara could have played.
They were awarded five Tests that summer (but never since), plus six one-dayers and numerous other matches. The tour averages tell us that opener Sherwin Campbell got through 20 first-class innings. Leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo was given only one Test, but still bowled 328.4 first-class overs.
Absent friend: Chris Gayle (left) shares a joke with Royal Challengers Bangalore team owner Vijay Mallya
Gayle force: The opener is plying his trade in the IPL rather than joining West Indies in England
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They were in the days when a tour had a
rhythm of its own – and a subplot outside the Tests that could be
engrossing in its own right. This time West Indies have a three-day
game at Hove and a four-day match against England Lions at Northampton
before the first Test begins at Lord's on May 17. Move along, seems to
be the message – nothing to see here…
Of course 12 years ago it helped that
they still had names to conjure with: Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose,
Lara, even Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. And but for a
collapse to 54 all out in the second innings of the second Test at
Lord's, they would have taken a 2-0 lead with three to play. The summer
that kickstarted Duncan Fletcher's reign as England coach could easily
have been as miserable as the previous one.
Forgive, please, the nostalgia – but that is what we are left with.
If West Indies go out and a nick a rain-affected series 1-0 in the weeks ahead, this column will be suitably contrite. But we are talking about a team that has won only two Tests out of 30 since seeing off a rabble of an England side in Jamaica three years ago. And one of those two victories was against Bangladesh.
Changing allegiance: Dwayne Bravo (right) is more a part of Chennai Super Kings these days than West Indies
But the decline and fall of West Indies
is about more than a chance to moan about the fact that things aren't
what they once were. It is one of cricket's modern morality tales.
Absent from the 15-man Test squad will be Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo. Gayle has not played international cricket since the World Cup a year ago after falling out with the West Indies Cricket Board, while Sarwan – who averages 40 in his 87 Tests – believes he has paid the price for being too close to the WICB's arch enemies, the West Indies Players' Association.
Narine, a 23-year-old Trinidadian unorthodox offie, recently took 11 wickets in five ODIs against Australia at an average of 14 and with an economy-rate of 3.32. But the lure of the IPL meant he played no part in the Tests, where Shane Shillingford promptly overtook him with a 10-wicket haul in Dominica.
As for Bravo, the more he plays for Chennai Super Kings, the less he feels a part of West Indies.
Those were the days: West Indies no longer boast cricketing superstars such as the legendary Brian Lara
As a quartet, these men provide their own reflection of the state of the game in the Caribbean: a world in which communication is poor, administrators are at each other's throats, and funds are so scarce that talented cricketers are forced to place faceless franchises ahead of regional prestige.
We are often told that West Indian cricket has been the victim of circumstances beyond its control, and no doubt there is some truth in this. Sporting dynasties cannot last for ever, the lure of American sports is undeniable, and the post-colonial rage that burned inside Viv Richards may have flickered its last.
But let's not patronise West Indian cricketers too much. Because they could, if they got their house in order, field the following XI at Lord's: Gayle, K Edwards, Sarwan, Darren Bravo, Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Ramdin, Sammy, Narine, F Edwards, Roach. No world-beaters, perhaps, but strong enough to give England at least a scare.
Instead, we will have to make do with a watered-down approximation of the real thing. And that is a source of regret – not just for the Caribbean, but for everyone who cares about cricket.
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
More from Lawrence Booth…
The Top Spin: Come what May tortured batsmen will weather cruel April's storm
Top Spin: Time for Twenty20 to pay some of Test cricket's bills… it's what families do
The Top Spin: Chastened, not disheartened – why England can afford a smile again
Top Spin at the Test: Spinner Swann on song for England
Top Spin at the Test: Mahela makes the mathematicians earn their keep
The Top Spin: Colombo is England's chance to nip the doomsday Test scenario in the bud
The Top Spin: Testing times ahead as five-day game could be reduced to Ashes
Top Spin: Two Indian greats… but only one Little Master: Why Tendulkar outshines Dravid
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
What a washout
So, not a single one of last week's eight county championship matches achieved a result. Two were abandoned without a ball being bowled, and only one reached the third innings. Four of the 20 rounds of games are now complete and the real winner has been the rain.
The ECB can't control the weather, but the BBC's Philip Eden, writing in this year's Wisden, pointed out: 'Sooner or later… a very wet April and May is bound to come along which, with the present scheduling regime, will mess up the Championship.'
Five more rounds are scheduled to take place or start this month, and the forecast isn't great. The authorities can't say they weren't warned.
Flower speaks sense
Was it a 'witch-hunt' or wasn't it Were the questions put to Andrew Strauss about his future during the tour of Sri Lanka legitimate lines of enquiry or just media muck-raking
Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen made it clear they took the second view, which probably said more for their loyalty to Strauss than any objective interpretation (incidentally, in Colombo, Swann admitted he DID read the press, which flies in the face of years of player protestation – but we digress…)
Anyway, last week Steve James asked Andy Flower what he thought. His reply should settle the matter. 'I think the description of it being a witch-hunt is inaccurate,' said Flower in the Sunday Telegraph. 'I don't think anyone is wanting to burn Strauss at the stake. But I think people are questioning him for not scoring heavy enough runs, and I can understand that.'
One to bear in mind next time the players mount a witch-hunt against the press…
Speaking sense: Andy Flower (left) admits that Andrew Strauss is not the victim of a media witch-hunt
I said what
It was back to my old stomping-ground of Magdalen College School, Oxford, last week to conduct a Q&A for the benefit of the parents' association with two of the newest members of staff: John Crawley and Phil DeFreitas.
Before the evening got going, however, the headmaster Tim Hands read out a couple of entries on the players' Cricinfo profiles. Hands noted that Crawley was described on the website as 'heavy-hipped', while DeFreitas's action 'wouldn't win any beauty contests'.
Which was all fine and dandy, except that those profiles had been penned by none other than yours truly – years ago, it's true, but a useful reminder that the internet makes the past impossible to escape…
You may have missed it, but…
Congratulations to Shivnarine Chanderpaul for reclaiming top spot in the Test batting list after a gap of three years. But a glance at the rankings page turned up an anomaly in another, unrelated, table.
India, begetters of the world's richest and most glamorous Twenty20 tournament, are currently seventh in the T20 rankings, one place ahead of Ireland.
Back to his best: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (right) is the top-ranked Test batsman once again
This is not a gratuitous dig at India, as some of you will choose to believe. It is a genuine question. How can the country that has become the home of Twenty20 cricket have slipped so far at international level from the peak of winning the World Cup in 2007 Or is it the case that the financial success of the IPL – even with dwindling TV audiences – is the primary concern
Answers in the comment section please.