The Best of times
Sitting and watching the regional 50-over tournament recently, I found myself thinking about the past and the greatness which was once West Indies cricket.
I thought of great players such as Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin, and Alfred Valentine of my boyhood days. I remembered Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Wes Hall, and Charlie Griffith.
I recalled the deeds of Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Jeffrey Dujon, and, of course, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, and Curtly Ambrose.
In thinking of them, I also remembered the many matches they won, the records they broke and the impact they had on the world of cricket.
This may be sacrilege, but somehow, during my recollection, Tino Best came floating by and I thought of what might have been.
I saw Best, his bald head glistening in the afternoon’s sun, racing in to bowl at Guyana and at the Leeward Islands and I saw him bowl fast, really fast.
Against Guyana, Best had their batsmen reeling at six runs for four wickets. Four of those wickets belonged to him, and he finished with five for 24 off five overs.
Against the Leeward Islands, he picked up four for 28 off 6.5 overs as they slumped to 87 for five in reply to 139.
And he not only bowled fast; he bowled straight and with a good length. He seldom bowled short, except on two occasions, once when he dismissed Wilden Cornwall, caught and bowled — the ball kicking dangerously and the experienced batsman hastily fending it off, and also when he removed Jahmar Hamilton, caught at gully — the little batsmen jabbing at a rising delivery which scared the daylights out of him.
I remembered Best as a young man. He was fast and he was wild. This was not the same Best.
This was another best.
Is he a new Best? Maybe he is, and if he is, I would like to see him in the West Indies team again.
Maybe his stint with Yorkshire in the English County Championship has helped him, and maybe he has learnt his lesson. I don’t know the reason.
I do know, however, that I have always felt that had he played under Clive Lloyd, he would have developed into a better bowler long before now.
It would be nice if the selectors offer him another chance. At 29, he is not too old, even if his record shows just 28 wickets from 14 Test matches.
Ever since that fateful tour of South Africa in 1998-99, the West Indies have selected one rookie after another in search of a ‘star’, and despite selecting 60 players since then in contrast to the 226 between 1928 and 1998, some 30 playing one, two, three Test matches, very few have amounted to anything.
In fact, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul entering the scene in 1994 against England at Bourda, only Ramnaresh Sarwan and Christopher Gayle have really done us proud over the last decade, and only Corey Collymore, Pedro Collins, Daren Bravo, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor have come anywhere close.
The selectors, it appears, have been selecting players more on hope than anything, and it is time things change. Test cricket is for the best, it should be reserved for the best, and only the best should play.
Over the last three years, West Indies bowling attack is the weakest of all the Test-playing countries, including Bangladesh.
In the last 24 Tests, the West Indies have averaged 45 runs per wicket, with Sulieman Benn, their leading bowler since his arrival, going for an average of more than 40 runs per wicket.
Best may not be the answer, but in ignoring him at this time, we may be committing the cardinal sin of West Indies selectors in this generation.
The selectors may be ignoring the bowler, not when they think he is ready, not when they hope and pray he is ready, but when he is ready, when he is fully developed, and when he is raring to go — just as they have done to scores and scores of batsmen.
• Tony Becca is a former Senior Sports Editor at the Jamaica Gleaner and has covered West Indies cricket for more than three decades.