FAZEER MOHAMMED: Distracting from sweet success
IT’S LIKE even this rarest of rare victories can’t be savoured without the intervention of some sort of bacchanal.
Only the hierarchy of the West Indies Cricket Board will best be able to explain the decision to issue a release that was bound to generate debate on the eve of the team’s push for their first Test match victory over higher ranked opposition for almost nine years.
Thankfully, it proved to be no distraction to the men who mattered, as if anything could have shifted Kraigg Brathwaite’s focus in taking his team to a five-wicket victory alongside compatriot Shane Dowrich on the final morning of the third Test against Pakistan in Sharjah on Thursday.
His unbeaten 60 following a marathon 142 not out in the first innings, in which he became just the fifth West Indian to carry his bat in a completed Test innings, will be remembered for a long, long time, not so much for style but substance, and an unyielding determination to prevail when the general expectation would have been for Misbah-ul-Haq’s side to complete a 3-0 sweep of the series and leave the tourists with an abysmal record of nine losses from nine matches for their eight weeks in the United Arab Emirates.
Now many of the same players, plus a few limited-overs specialists, are en route to Zimbabwe for a tri-nation limited-overs series that also involves Sri Lanka, beginning in ten days’ time.
This should be the time to put that performance into proper context, to assess whether it had as much to do with Pakistani complacency with the series already won as with the improved effort of the Caribbean team, spearheaded by the second-in-command opening batsman and the skipper who, for the moment at least, quelled the debate over his worth as a bowler and leader with a maiden five-wicket innings haul that set the stage for the final run-chase.
It should be the opportunity, with five months to go before the next Test series – against the same opponents but this time on home soil – to build on that belated success and shape both a team and a mentality that gives West Indies as a Test cricket entity a better chance of moving forward, unlike the aftermath of the last such foreign triumph of note (victories in Bangladesh in the interim excluded) when a series-opening defeat of South Africa in Port Elizabeth proved to be a notable exception to a well-established rule.
Yet, even with the regional first-class season set to get under way on Friday, where challengers to underperforming incumbents in the West Indies team have the chance to stake their claims, that narrative is being interrupted by speculation over who is, and more particularly who isn’t, in the list of 12 senior men’s players who have accepted retainer contracts from the WICB for the next 12 months.
So let’s move this discussion along.
As for the notable trio who have not signed on the dotted line from the previous period, only Darren Bravo can be seen as a Test match certainty, unless chairman Courtney Browne and the other selectors want to surrender all credibility and retain Marlon Samuels for the next assignment notwithstanding a damning average of 17.14 over his last 22 innings dating back to the Sri Lanka tour a year ago.
Slap in the face
Carlos Brathwaite’s spectacular six-hitting climax to the World Twenty20 final last April elevated him to hot property status in the lucrative T20 franchise market, and given that his bowling lacks the punch to complement his effective lower-order batting, therefore limiting his Test prospects for the foreseeable future, no one can seriously begrudge the big man choosing to keep his options open with all the T20 tournaments floating around.
What complicates the Bravo situation, though, are reports from informed sources that the left-hander, the most consistent batsmen in West Indies Test colours for the past two years, was offered a retainer contract in the “C” category alongside the likes of emerging talent Roston Chase. If that is true, then it is a slap in the face of a player who pulled out of the World Twenty20 squad to focus on his Test career and is therefore deserving of some clarity from Browne.
We wait and hope, but don’t really expect.
A pity this has to be addressed because it is much more satisfying to reflect on Dowrich’s impressive batting and neat glovework, Devendra Bishoo’s increasing worth as a front-line spinner as reflected in an 18-wicket haul over the three Tests and the unsettling effect of Shannon Gabriel’s pace on opponents, all this after noting Kraigg Brathwaite’s heroics and Jason Holder’s exploitation of height and bounce, of course.
I suppose it wouldn’t be West Indies cricket if something didn’t get in the way of a good news story.
Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.