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Question of captaincy

Question of captaincy

By Tony Cozier | Sun, May 05, 2013 - 12:00 AM

There will, inevitably, be a hue and a cry over the replacement of Darren Sammy as captain with Dwayne Bravo for next month’s Champions Trophy in England, confirmed after a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) directors meeting in Roseau on Friday.

So it has been over the years with all such unexpected choices for captaincy. So it is bound to be now.

Emotions run high among supporters of one candidate or another, selectors are pilloried, favourites overlooked for the post are peeved.

In 1965, Garry Sobers was captain Frank Worrell’s choice rather than Conrad Hunte, his serving deputy. Hunte was initially indignant to be passed over, an attitude for which he later apologized.

Desmond Haynes, the vice-captain, wasn’t exactly pleased when Richie Richardson was chosen to succeed Viv Richards in 1992.

The furore was greatest in Jamaica when the incumbent Courtney Walsh was supplanted by Brian Lara in 1997. There was a mass shaking of heads 2001 when Carl Hooper was recalled after two years out of West Indies cricket to take over from Jimmy Adams in 2001.

In a messy handing over, Chris Gayle succeeded the injured Ramnaresh Sarwan in 2007. The board held out for Daren Ganga until the selectors threatened to quit if their recommendation for Gayle was overturned. Gayle immediately directed strong words at the board for the way it handled the matter.

Although Sammy has been typically gracious in congratulating Bravo and pledging his full support, the public reaction is likely be similar this time although this case is somewhat different to those above.

Sammy remains in the squad and Bravo’s appointment is for a particular tournament in one of the game’s three formats. According to chief selector Clyde Butts, Sammy remains at the helm for Tests and Twenty20s.

When Sammy took over from Gayle in October, 2010, not everyone felt he was a good enough player to merit his place. He had, after all, played just eight Tests in three years. It’s an opinion still widely held.

Yet Sammy has proved a worthy leader. He, along with coach Ottis Gibson, clearly created discipline and a sense of purpose within the team. It was evident on the field.

He is widely admired for what Bangladesh writer Utpal Shuvro described as his “relaxed leadership”. Shuvro reflected the general feeling that he is “an exception in modern cricket” with “no airs about him”.

He did not seem particularly fazed by the disruptive controversies that kept established players Gayle, his predecessor as captain, and Sarwan out of the team for long periods while fledglings took their places.

Powerful opponents such as India, Australia and England that regularly dispatched the West Indies in short order were made to fight to maintain their superiority. The lesser lights, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, were each beaten 2-0 in the last three series.

The crowning moment of Sammy’s captaincy has been the triumph in the World Twenty20 championship in Sri Lanka in October. His contribution, calling the shots and with bat and ball, was significant to victory over Sri Lanka in the final.

If his medium-pace bowling remains steady but unpenetrative, his swashbuckling batting has improved so that he chalked up his first Test hundred in England last year and, more than once, revived a tottering innings, such as his 69-ball 73 in the first Test against Zimbabwe in March that began at an insecure 151 for six.

So why would the selectors change at this time?

It is a question bound to elicit heated debate but Butts has immediately sought to explain the thinking of his panel.

As frequently as selectors of every era and every country make baffling decisions, we can safely assume that they are based on cricket sense, not on mere whims and fancies or even insularity, as is the favourite charge within these territories.

Apart from anything else, Butts would acknowledge that six successive Test victories and the World Twenty20 title argued a strong case for Sammy’s retention.

What tilted the balance is the recent record in the 50-overs-an-innings game – and, perhaps, the example of others (England, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan) in making separate captains for the different versions.

“Our results in Tests and T20s have been showing consistent improvement and Sammy deserves every kudos for the work he has done in leading and moulding the team in these formats,” Butts said in a WICB statement yesterday.

“We remain confident in his leadership in these formats and will recommend that he continues as the captain for Test and T20 cricket. However, our ODI results have not been as strong and we believe that it is best that we freshen the leadership of the team in this format.”

Under Sammy, the West Indies have prevailed in only one ODI series outside the Caribbean (2-1 over Bangladesh in 2011). They went under in their last four away – 4-1 in India in 2011, 2-0 in England and 3-2 in Bangladesh last year, 5-0 in Australia in February.

The long stated emphasis has been on building a team for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand (hence Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s omission since last season on the unsound grounds that he would be 40 by then and past it). In that regard, Butts and his colleagues were convinced that new direction was needed.

So they have turned to an enthusiastic, experienced cricketer to see if he can somehow achieve the results of the other two formats with Sammy at the helm.

In the coming three months, Bravo has the Champions Trophy (a minimum of three, maximum of five ODIs), the following tri-series at home with Sri Lanka and India (four matches, five if his team makes it to the final) and five more ODIs against Pakistan in July to conjure up some magic.

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While in Roseau considering the selectors’ recommendations for the captaincy, the WICB’s directors would have observed first hand one of the reasons, probably the most compelling, for the present, wretched state of West Indies’ batting – the condition of pitches.

In the semi-final of the four-day tournament at Windsor Park, supposedly the annual showpiece, the Windward Islands were dismissed by Barbados for 44 and 67. Together, they lasted 52 overs.

The match was over half-hour after lunch on the second day. It was a shocking advertisement for West Indies cricket that so desperately needs a boost to public interest.      

Ashley Nurse had figures of 10.1-4-10-7 and 14-7-30-7. He is an off-spinner of definite promise in his first season at this level; he is, as yet, no Lance Gibbs who never managed anything quite so spectacular in his celebrated career. Sulieman Benn gathered six wickets in support with his left-arm spin. Apart from two overs of pace from Kemar Roach they were the only two bowlers used.

The pitch, from all reputable reports and from the radio commentators, was abysmal, turning and bouncing from the start, even more so than in the Test in March when Dominica’s own Shane Shillingford’s 10 wickets for 93 routed Zimbabwe.

Such conditions have become standard at almost every ground over the past decade or so. The corresponding final at the Three Ws Oval two years ago was over in two days. CCC, beaten by eight wickets by Jamaica, were dismissed for 112 and 122. Nor are such primary school totals rare. 

Spinners of all types and quality prosper; they are flattered by figures such as Nurse’s. Batsmen become browbeaten and lack the confidence to utilize better conditions when they come across them.

It is a problem crying out for attention. In spite of statistics such as those in front of their eyes at Windsor Park, the WICB seems not to recognize it.

• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.

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