FAZEER MOHAMMED: Windies trapped in transition
LIKE MANY OF the taps around Barbados, it often feels like the talent pool – certainly in Test cricket – has just about run dry in the West Indies.
Another series has been lost, another whitewash looms and the campaign against Pakistan in the desert of the United Arab Emirates will go down as one of the more disastrous in Caribbean history, especially in the context of a World Twenty20 champion team that played as if their minds were somewhere else, while the One-Day International squad was only marginally better in enduring a similar 3-0 sweep.
Only three times in the 88 years since gaining Test status have the West Indies lost every international match of any tour or home series: 3-0 in their first-ever Test series in England in 1928, 6-0 (three ODIs of a quadrangular series and three Tests) in Pakistan in 1997 and 7-0 (two Tests and five ODIs) in New Zealand in 1999/2000.
Defeat in the final Test beginning today in Sharjah would complete a 9-0 overall annihilation, triggering the usual cycle of recrimination that offers no realistic prospect of a resolution, certainly not one that the power-brokers of the West Indies Cricket Board will be inclined to accept.
Yet it is in returning to Sharjah, where the West Indies played two Tests against Pakistan in 2002 (losing both by comfortable margins), that we are reminded this prolonged drought in the traditional form of the game has partially been the result of wasted talent rather than a bare cupboard.
It was in that first Test there at the end of January 14 years ago that Ryan Hinds made his senior international debut, looking every bit the accomplished left-hander with 62 in his first innings and then left unbeaten on nine as the second innings collapsed around him with seven wickets crashing for 25 runs. That’s another familiar feature of the more than 20 years of struggle – the occasional implosion.
With no Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan or Marlon Samuels in the squad at the time, it was the opportunity for the then 21-year-old to claim a permanent place in the side with his batting complemented by useful left-arm spin that had already earned him a 15-wicket match haul against the Leeward Islands in the previous first-class season. It was not to be.
A battling topscore of 46 in the last innings of the short series was not enough to keep him in the team for the five Tests at home against India, although he did play in the return series on the sub-continent at the end of 2002, failing to make an impression in matches in Mumbai and Chennai.
Then followed the usual pattern of sporadic appearances, including what would prove to be a Test-best of 84 in the first innings of the series against England at Sabina Park in 2004.
By the time he played his last Test in the strife-torn home series against Bangladesh five years later, his overall numbers from 15 matches spread over seven years were 505 runs (average 21.04) and 13 wickets at 66.92. Mediocre returns to say the least. Was he a mediocre player, though? Not according to at least one presumably impartial assessment.
Offering a perspective on the player in 2008, six years after his Test debut, ESPNCricinfo’s Andrew Miller described Hinds as a “phenomenal prospect . . . already a proven match-winner with bat and ball.” He referenced outstanding former opening batsman Desmond Haynes’ fulsome praise of his fellow Barbadian’s technique as among the best in the Caribbean, and even if much of this seems saturated with exaggeration, Hinds’ early appearances at the top level did appear to suggest that the former West Indies Under-19 captain possessed the credentials to be something really special.
So what happened? What factors contributed to this “phenomenal prospect” fading off the international scene with little to remember him by except for that promising start, the 84 in Kingston and being the wicket that completed Matthew Hoggard’s hat-trick later in that same 2004 series at Kensington Oval?
There will be many answers, some no doubt related to the player’s ability and personality, others to selectorial shenanigans and the inefficient management and maximisation of available talent which have contributed significantly to the protracted predicament.
Jason Holder referred to the team being “in transition” on the final morning of the second Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last Tuesday, responding to a question about the toll the results may be having on him and whether or not it impacted on his enjoyment on the game. Unsurprisingly, he remained positive and optimistic.
West Indies’ current captain was only ten years old when Hinds walked out to play his maiden Test innings. Then, as now, the refrain was the same: be patient, the team is in transition.
We’re still waiting.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.