FAZEER MOHAMMED: A test of patience and consistency
THIS FEELS like grappling with GCE A Levels all over again. If the orals don’t get you and you scrape through the multiple-choice, that unavoidable essay question has the potential to obliterate any prospect of an overall passing grade.
Phenomenal success for the Under-19s in Bangladesh and at the World Twenty20 in India has been followed by an encouraging effort in getting to the final of the tri-nation One-Day International series here at home. Now though, West Indies cricket is preparing for the examination that has consistently proved to be the most daunting and so often the most dispiriting over the past 20 years.
As much as the public has been attracted in droves to the compact excitement of the sport’s shortest format and are still more likely to turn up for a One-Day International (ODI), Test cricket is still held as the benchmark, the water line at which successive teams and successive players of abilities great and small have occasionally been splashing and thrashing around to stay afloat. Maybe that will change in time as T20 takes an ever-greater hold on the Caribbean consciousness, fuelled obviously by the success enjoyed and the spirited environment that surrounds it.
In stark contrast, Thursday’s scheduled first day’s play in the four-Test series against India at the Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua will probably be like any visit to a place of worship outside of the festive season when only the few diehards are to be found.
Yet even those disenchanted masses will occasionally pass by a television set or a radio tuned into the cricket and inquire as to the score. Yes indeed, Test cricket still matters to the audience out there, even if they don’t turn up in person. And if the majority of players are to be believed, it is still the format of the game at which they yearn to excel, to be compared favourably with the legends of their parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes.
Putting aside the many parochial and insular matters – an analytical piece by S. Rajesh at www.espncricinfo.com provides telling detail on both Denesh Ramdin and Shane Dowrich – the hosts are likely to struggle throughout much of the series against opponents who have shown far more effective adaptability across the different formats of the game and, most importantly, now reflect the confidence, the aggression and even the arrogance of a nation that has become comfortable with the role of being the dominant economic force in cricket.
There is frankly no need to occupy space extolling the virtues of the likes of captain Virat Kohli, spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, pacer Ishant Sharma and the other key players among the visitors simply because their credentials are so very well established on the international stage.
Of course, the same cannot be said of many of their West Indian counterparts, whose numbers range from the encouraging to the ordinary. Still, it is an opportunity once again to at least attempt to confound the critics, to show that the progress made earlier in the year can be transferred to Test level and that coach Phil Simmons has actually been able to build a squad around young captain Jason Holder – in the face of considerable adversity – that can actually hold its own.
On the face of it, though, that will be considerably easier said than done, especially with a bowling line-up lacking in experience, consistency and proven potency, not to mention the inevitable concerns about front-line members of the attack staying in active duty for the duration of the contest.
West Indies are likely to find themselves in a situation of having to rely on two men, Holder and Carlos Brathwaite, who are not yet front-line bowlers in their own right, yet are considered invaluable for their general cricketing acumen and for the runs they can contribute lower down the order in a batting line-up that remains a combination of the unproven and the inconsistent.
Miguel Cummins should have played his first Test between the showers in Sydney in January but is now likely to get the burgundy cap and a heavy workload, especially if Shannon Gabriel remains injury-prone and Devendra Bishoo’s worn spinning finger succumbs to the rigours of protracted spells.
Don’t be surprised if all five make the final 11 and opener Rajendra Chandrika and the uncapped Roston Chase are the ones who miss out from the squad, given the expectation that Holder and Brathwaite, at seven and eight, can be expected to make significant contributions.
Look, whichever way you approach it, this is going to be a tough examination. It is best then to buckle down for the long haul and show the sort of Kraigg Brathwaite-type concentration and determination that will allow the flash and flair of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels room for expression.
Like most exams, though, it’s easier said than done.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.