FAZEER MOHAMMED: Coping with success
YOU REALLY have to feel sorry for Roston Chase.
Not to only did he play a pivotal role in the rescuing what seemed a lost cause with a superb unbeaten hundred in just his second Test match, but made matters immeasurably worse by also becoming the first West Indian to achieve the “double” of five wickets in an innings and a hundred in the same match since his legendary fellow Bajan Sir Garfield Sobers 50 years ago.
If he has any appreciation of the fate of Caribbean cricketers who have made spectacular starts to their Test careers it might be better to retire now, ask his dad, Radcliffe, to help him get a job at this newspaper, and leave us all speculating over what could have been rather than what appears to be the inevitable of lamenting talent gone to waste.
To those recoiling in horror at the unrepentant pessimism of this perspective, it’s only because one of the very few consistent aspects of Caribbean Test cricketers over the past two decades is the chronic failure of even one or two to develop and mature into the world-class match-winners as seems to occur with all the other established Test-playing nations.
Think about it: can it really be argued that the West Indies have produced any other cricketer, batsman or bowler, who truly fulfilled his potential since Shivnarine Chanderpaul started his journey towards 11 867 runs and an average of 51.37 more than 22 years ago? Yes, there would have been a few outstanding performers in a match or a series, but has anyone else truly stood the test of time to the extent that they can even approach being considered in even a West Indies Second XI of all-time greats?
On the contrary the reality appears to be the exact opposite, especially among batsmen, where a flash of brilliance at the start of an international career turns out be just that, a flash, quickly fading into the background before being almost extinguished completely.
Dwayne Smith, Adrian Barath and Kirk Edwards all started their Test careers with hundreds on debut, the first West Indians to do so since Basil Williams in 1978 when he took the opportunity to carve his own piece of history at the old Bourda ground in Guyana as a hastily-assembled West Indies team, following the withdrawal of the first-choice World Series-contracted players, took on Bob Simpson’s similarly depleted Australians in the last three Tests of that five-match series.
After his blistering 105 not out on the last day of the drawn New Year’s Test in Cape Town against South Africa, Smith’s obvious technical flaws were swiftly exposed and he played just nine more matches with an overall average of 24.61. Bewilderingly retained for over 100 One-Day Internationals despite a batting average under 20, he remains in demand as a T20 franchise player for hire.
Barath drove, slashed and sliced his way to 104 with just five singles as the West Indies crashed to an innings defeat on the third day of the opening Test of the 2009 series against Australia in Brisbane. Despite also notching an ODI hundred, he failed to temper his impetuosity and drifted off the international scene after his 15th Test (average 23.46) to the extent that now he has abandoned the game almost completely.
Of the trio, Edwards looked the real deal, in substance if not style. A second innings hundred in the drawn final Test of the 2011 series against India in Dominica was followed by more runs in Bangladesh and India before the flow dried up completely against the moving ball in England in 2012. In the last of his 17 Tests (average 31.80) he could only manage scores of 16 and two against Bangladesh in St Lucia two years ago.
These are the most prominent examples of modern West Indian Test cricketers whose reversal of fortunes wasn’t so much a gradual decline as a sharp plummet from the summit. However a scroll down the list of those who have represented the region over the past 20 years will reveal many names whose stories are similar – batting and bowling – if not as drastic.
Why is this happening and with such frequency? Is it social, cultural, systemic, administrative . . . all of the aforementioned?
Whatever the answer, Chase has set his own very high standard from which he will be judged over time as a talent fulfilled or a flash in the pan. For his sake, for West Indies’ sake, you can only hope that he is not seduced by the fame, praise and greater attention following that match-saving knock at Sabina Park last Wednesday against India.
As coach Rohan Kanhai advised Brian Lara after his maiden hundred was converted into a monumental 277 in the 1993 New Year’s Test in Sydney against Australia, his next innings starts at zero.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.