Why the West Indies should not be ruled out
West Indies are playing the third and final Test match of their series against Pakistan at Sharjah. The tour has been nothing short of horrific for them as they have lost all 8 matches so far; 3 ODIs and T20Is each as well as two Tests. This last Test provides them an opportunity to avoid being whitewashed in all formats.
Such results might show that the team in question is firmly on the decline and there are perhaps no positives. Statistically, too, it isn’t incorrect to say that the West Indies have indeed been on the decline, and for quite some time now.
Let’s take a look at their record in Test cricket in the last 5 and 10 years; overall, and away from home:
Last 10 years - From 1 January 2006 to 25 October 2016:
Away from home:
Last 5 years - From 1 January 2011 to 25 October 2016:
Away from home:
The numbers clearly tell the sorry state of West Indies in Test cricket. While they are a powerhouse T20 team and their ODI numbers aren’t the worst either, it’s Test cricket in which they have really struggled to make a mark in the last decade. But are there any positive signs?
Yes, there are.
Reasons why the West Indies should not be ruled out
In the current Test series against Pakistan, the first Test was played under lights and in that game, the West Indies gave the cricketing world an account of what they are capable of doing if they put their mind on the job with commitment and passion.
After conceding a lead of over 220 in the first innings, they came back strongly to bowl Pakistan out for just 123 in their second innings and got a target of 346 to chase. They made a gallant attempt to chase it down and were in it for most parts of their second innings before a piece of brilliance by Yasir Shah combined with some hara-kiri by the lower order batsmen meant that they couldn’t pull off an unlikely win, or even a draw.
But what we all saw was the scare they gave the Pakistan team after being nowhere in the game for the first 3 days. Misbah and his men looked genuinely worried as they were staring at the prospect of an embarrassing defeat on day 5.
A performance like this, despite ending in defeat, showed that there is potential in the team which if nourished and reposed faith in, can surely produce results going forward.
The young talents
There are quite a few players in this current West Indies team who can go on to have a long career with them in Test cricket. Let’s have a look at them:
At the forefront here is the young opener Kraigg Brathwaite. He is one player who looks to have the right temperament to be a Test match opener, as he demonstrated in the ongoing third Test against Pakistan where he became only the fifth West Indies opener to carry his bat in a Test innings en route to his 142 in the first innings.
Captain Jason Holder said after this knock that Brathwaite can go on to play 100 Tests for the West Indies.
Darren Bravo, who shoulders the responsibility of guiding this young batting lineup from No.3 is the team’s best batsman. An average of above 40 after 48 Tests with 8 hundreds shows that he’s the pillar at the top of the order whom the team can rely on to lead their batting going forward.
In the middle order, Marlon Samuels is at the end of his career, but Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase have certainly shown promise. Chase’s unbeaten 137 on the final day of just his second Test against India a couple of months ago to save the Test showed the man’s technique and temperament, and that he belongs at the highest level beyond any doubt. Add to that, the fact he also took a five-wicket haul in the same Test with his tight off-spin shows his all-round ability.
Young wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich has begun his career on a bright note too. 3 half centuries so far in 7 Tests, scored with lots of composure and a sound technique clearly augurs well for the team’s future. His 74 in a stand of 144 with Roston Chase went a long way in saving the second Test of the series against India and a brilliant 47 in the ongoing third Test against Pakistan ensured the West Indies got a first innings lead for the first time in the series.
To complement the names mentioned above, what the West Indies really needs is a good opening batsman to partner Kraigg Brathwaite at the top of the order. They have Bravo, Blackwood, Chase and Dowrich in the middle order (if one doesn’t count Marlon Samuels considering he might not be around for much longer) and if they can just find someone to form a decent opening combination with Brathwaite, we might see West Indies with a settled batting lineup for the next few years.
They have tried Leon Johnson, Rajendra Chandrika and Shai Hope so far but with limited or no success. They can either persist with one of them, can go back to someone like Chris Gayle, or can pluck out a domestic talent even from the U-19 level, but this is one major gap in the lineup, which if filled, can make this team a force to be reckoned with.
Among the fast bowlers, West Indies have recently unearthed some talented bowlers like Alzarri Joseph and Miguel Cummins. Cummins took a six-for in just his second Test against India and Joseph too impressed on debut. His delivery to get Rohit Sharma nicking off to the keeper was a gem that showed the teenager’s talent.
To back them up, the West Indies have the fiery Shannon Gabriel who has played more than 20 Tests now and looks to be coming into his own. He bowls above 145 kmph consistently and troubles most batsmen with his pace. We saw how he took 2 wickets in his first over in the third Test against Pakistan that went a long way in ensuring they were bowled out for under 300.
Captain Jason Holder is another pacer who is finding his feet in the team as a bowler but he adds immense value as a lower order batsman and the skipper of the team and in him, West Indies have a level headed young man who handles pressure well and hasn’t flinched thus far despite been at the wrong end of results more often than not in his captaincy stint so far.
The likes of Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach are also around in the domestic circuit and if they can make their way back into the team with strong performances, it’ll only make the fast bowling lineup stronger.
There is lots to look forward to in the spin department too. Devendra Bishoo leads the scene here and is one of the most talented leg-spinners going around. His eight wicket haul in the first Test almost took West Indies to an improbable win. Other than him, there is the left arm spinner Warrican who has impressed in his short career so far, and the likes of Sunil Narine and Suleiman Benn, who are not in the Test squad right now but are proven performers at the international level, and can be called upon anytime to add more muscle to the attack.
Jason Holder, with his obvious talent with the bat, can surely bat at No.7 rather than 8, which will help the team play another genuine bowler. With that, West Indies will go in with 5 bowlers each game, backed up by Roston Chase’s tight off-spin as the sixth option and this will certainly give more teeth to the bowling attack in an attempt to pick up 20 wickets to win a Test.
The inclusion of the supremely talented Carlos “remember the name” Brathwaite can also be the shot in the arm that West Indies needs, as he is someone who can win a game for them with both bat and ball.
As we can see, the only obvious gaps for now in this West Indies team are that of a good opener and an extra bowler. There is no dearth of talent. There are good batsmen who are temperamentally strong as well as explosive when the need arises, good bowlers who can bowl with pace as well as keep things tight, and above all, it’s a young team that can only get better with time.
Maybe a win in the third Test against Pakistan is what they need to set the ball rolling for what could be a start of the revival of West Indian Test cricket. Fans would certainly hope so, and as for the other teams, they can only underestimate this team of talented youngsters at their own peril!