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Windies making progress

Andi Thornhill

Windies making progress

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We are still in the valley, but we aren’t too far from the Promised Land.
That’s my assessment of the West Indies team after the recent series against Australia. In fact, we may be a lot closer to becoming a competitive force again in world cricket than some of us realize.
This is the first time in a while that a West Indian batting line-up contains only one accomplished player in Shivnarine Chanderpaul. In any circumstance, that’s asking too much of a Test side to stay on par with a team of note.
While it is true the Aussies are also in transition, they are slightly ahead of us and I put it down to the fact that their domestic cricket is stronger than ours, so that even their fringe players come into Test cricket with better credentials than West Indians.
We must continue to work at developing the base, otherwise players who do well in the regional tournaments will come at the highest level and all of their weaknesses will be exposed in a flash.
A couple of weeks ago, Jamaica won the Regional Four-Day competition for a fifth consecutive year and this accolade was achieved because Barbados couldn’t bat for two sessions when all they had to do was draw the game to claim the championship. That performance epitomized how weak cricket is in the Caribbean.
Batting proved to be a decisive factor in the outcome of the Tests. Chanderpaul was our only consistent batsman and had he received more support, we may have been capable of winning at least one of the matches.
The flaws of the openers were evident, and the Australians capitalized while Darren Bravo only showed flashes of the brilliance he displayed on the tour of the sub-continent last year. With vice-captain Kirk Edwards injured and missing the last two Tests, the indomitable “Tiger”, Chanderpaul had to carry the batting on his shoulders at age 37.
Of course, there was no Chris Gayle to call on at the top of the order because of his duties in the Indian Premier League and for some reason the selectors aren’t sweet anymore on middle order batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan, who is contracted to English county, Leicestershire. Both players may have made a difference and their continued absence from the Test side leaves the batting even more fragile than usual.
The point has to be made that we have seen more potent Australian bowling attacks but this one was still too good for the West Indies to handle.
I want to state, though, that if any of the players who aren’t in the squad now for one reason or other can’t show any commitment to West Indies cricket, I won’t be picking them when they become available if I were a selector. I will stick with those who are prepared to show some loyalty to the constituency that gave them the opportunity to hone their skills in the first place.
Money within the system is very important but players cannot expect to have eat their cake and have it too.
The selectors would be wrong to suddenly discard players who are prepared to stand and fight our noble cause for those who have chosen to pursue greater riches. The latter shouldn’t be punished for their right to choose but at the same time loyalists shouldn’t be penalized either for their preference to represent the West Indies.
Not only that, we can only rebuild if there’s a great degree of continuity in the ranks because it won’t be achieved by chopping and changing every series to accommodate players. On this basis, I would not have selected Marlon Samuels for the tour of England.
Perhaps, the big gains for the West Indies against Australia were in the area of bowling where Kemar Roach and Shane Shillingford excelled. If Trinidadian mystery spinner Sunil Narine was available, Shillingford might not have the opportunity to stake a claim for a long run in the team and with some patience it is possible that some young batsmen will come to the fore.
In Bajan parlance, I hope the critics will take captain Darren Sammy out of their mouths because he is continuing to improve in all aspects of his game and his leadership is inspirational.
Having said that, I want to congratulate his Australian counterpart, Michael Clarke for his enterprising approach. It is a breath of fresh air as risk taking is not the norm in international cricket.
The doomsday messengers have already written off the West Indies even before a ball is bowled on the tour of England and notwithstanding that there will be difficulties, I think we will continue to see incremental improvement under the guidance of coach Ottis Gibson. If more comes with it, I will gleefully accept the bonus.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.