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Dismal Windies


Tony Cozier

Dismal Windies

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As sporting humiliations go, the West Indies latest, that ended yesterday with their second loss to India by an innings within three days, was up there with the all-out 54 at Lord’s and the two-day defeat at Headingley in 2000, the year that they should have celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first Test victory in England.
There have been several others in between; in none was the embarrassment so absolute as yesterday when the Sachin Tendulkar devotees, packed into the Wankedhe Stadium, condescendingly willed them to compile a second innings total sizeable enough so that they could watch their retiring god of cricket bat one last time.
There was no hope of that. Behind by 317 on first innings, West Indies started the day 48 for three; their three previous innings were 234, 168 and 182. Now they were all out for 182, beaten before high noon.
As two Tendulkar heirs, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, compiled hundreds and the total rattled along at over four and a half runs an over on the second day, their despair was exposed, even through the television screen, in the middle of the night, on the other side of the planet.
They could deliver only seven maidens in 108 overs; six were by the overworked off-spinner Shane Shillingford; in the first Test, the ratio was 15 out of 129.4, nine by Shillingford.
The Tests, not originally on the International Cricket Council (ICC) schedule, were hastily arranged specifically for Tendulkar to mark his 200th Test and take his lamented exit from the stage he had dominated for 24 years. It was an arrangement that defied the dictum that no one man is bigger than the game.
Obviously, they would be difficult contests. In their unique home conditions, in front of their fervent, expectant people, India are as powerful and confident as any contemporary team. Now there was the considerable incentive of ensuring a fitting farewell for their humble hero.
These were not simple benefit matches; they were significant, high-profile Tests, with unparalled global media coverage. It was an opportunity for the West Indies to validate their rise in the Test rankings following six successive victories.
Intense preparation was required for such a challenge; it was crucially denied by the shortness of time.
Confirmation of the tour had come just eight weeks before the West Indies left for Kolkata. For three of them, Trinidad and Tobago were engaged in the Twenty20 Champions League; for four, West Indies ‘A’ were in a series against India ‘A’. 
Both were in India, allowing those who had been before to again adjust to the environment; five (Kieran Powell, Veerasammy Permaul, Narsingh Deonarine. Denesh Ramdin and Darren Bravo) appeared in the subsequent Tendulkar Tests.
Apart from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with English county Derbyshire, no one else had played red ball cricket since the regional season ended in May. Otherwise it was either ODIs or Twenty20s.
The groundwork that is undertaken for all tours was initially planned for the later, more extensive New Zealand tour. For India, it was consequently rushed, making it inadequate and, as it turned out, entirely inappropriate.
It consisted of a week-long camp in Barbados concentrating on cricket followed by another week for what the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) dubbed the Elite Team tour.
It was located in Orlando and Miami in Florida, hardly a well-known bastion of the game, and involved “several team-building exercises”, mainly conducted by Dr Jason Scott Hamilton, the Jamaican sports psychologist, a training session with the Miami Heat pro basketball team and visits to some of Florida’s famous attractions. There was little actual cricket.
In the altered circumstances, it was the wrong time in the wrong place; quite apart from the lack of cricket, its effect would have been to shift the focus away from the Indian challenge on the eve of departure.
Unless the WICB had entered into some binding agreement with connections in Florida, it would have been best postponed in favour of the continuation of the Barbados exercise. 
Even so, the West Indies started out with optimism. Apart from their six-is-a-row record, they had become increasingly more competitive against stronger opponents, among them India on their previous trip two years earlier. Gone were the days of the thrashings witnessed this time.
The difference with 2011, when they led India on first innings twice in the three Tests and struck a tie-draw in the last, was their build-up immediately before in a hard-fought, successful series in neighbouring Bangladesh.
In the pace of six days Test cricket, their growing self-belief has now been dealt a devastating blow. It has left the head coach, the selectors and, indeed, the WICB with difficult problems to ponder.
Do they regard the hammering in the two Tendulkar Tests as an aberration, caused by the unusual circumstances, and proceed as normal or do they treat them as a signal for immediate changes?
It is all well and good to go for a revolutionary turnover, perhaps as soon as New Zealand. Certainly there is some room for new blood but the absence of genuine contenders backs the selectors into a corner.
The one area to most occupy their attention is the captaincy.
Darren Sammy, an average but wholehearted cricketer, was appointed to succeed Chris Gayle in October, 2011. He soon brought necessary discipline into the team; the players responded to his understated leadership. He was at the helm as the World Twenty20 championship was won as he was for the six straight victorious Tests. 
The downside was that his modest returns as lower-order batsman and steady medium-pace bowler always rendered his position tenuous. Any captain is in an impossible position if he cannot command a place in the eleven on cricketing merit; it diminishes his authority.
In India, two atrocious slogs with his team in crisis (the second off his second ball) and his reluctance to bowl during India’s two prolonged innings (12 overs out of 129.4 in the first, nine out of 108 in the second) undermined his position further.
It is difficult to see how he can be retained. Already there has been a hint that Dwayne Bravo is next in line; he replaced Sammy as ODI skipper in June.
Yet he hasn’t fulfilled the obvious all-round potential of his early days for the West Indies, hasn’t played a Test since December 2010 and appears more enamoured by the glitz of global Twenty20 leagues in which he features.
Wicker-keeper Denesh Ramdin, more than once appointed West Indies vice-captain and captain of Trinidad and Tobago for three years, remains in the frame.  
If there was a genuine younger candidate, he would be the obvious choice but none has been groomed for the post.
Powell, Kirk Edwards, Permaul and Dave Bernard have all been given a stab at it for the ‘A’ team over the past couple of years; the younger Bravo, Darren, at 23 surely a future possibility, awaits his chance.
The reality is that West Indies cricket is in such a state of uncertainty at present that the solution to problems of selection – of captain and players – is to place names in a hat and go with those first out.
Come to think of it, it’s probably been tried before.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.

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