London: Given West Indies’ decline as a Test force has been 20 years in the making, it may be unwise to say that Saturday’s 2-1 series loss in England means they have “turned a corner”.
“I’ve heard it so many times and it’s always the same old story,” said fast bowling great Michael Holding, a key member of West Indies’ all-conquering teams of the mid 1970s and early 1980s.
“Have we turned the corner? We’ve turned about 40 corners since the year 2000,” added Holding, now a television commentator.
The lack of first-class infrastructure once disguised by a seemingly unending supply of world-class talent that saw the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner — and they were just from Barbados alone — bestride the world game, eventually hurt West Indies’ Test fortunes.
More recently, the rise of lucrative Twenty20 events including the Caribbean Premier League — this year’s edition clashed with the Tests in England — has meant players can earn huge sums of money without having to first play in the five-day game.
West Indies arrived in England without the likes of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels who, as a result of a thaw in a bitter dispute between Caribbean cricket chiefs and senior players, will be featuring in the upcoming one-day leg of the tour.
They duly lost the series opener, the inaugural day/night Test in Britain, by an innings and 209 runs inside three days at Edgbaston.
Yet within days they had bounced back to win the second Test at Headingley by five wickets — their first Test match victory in England since 2000.
Ray of Hope
Shai Hope led the way in Leeds by scoring two hundreds — his first Test centuries — only to suffer a nine-wicket defeat, again inside three days, at Lord’s.
Before the first Test, Hope averaged a modest 19.57 and had scored just 372 runs in 10 previous Tests.
By the end of the series, in which he was the highest scorer on either side with 375 runs, his average had shot up to 31.12.
It wasn’t just the weight of runs represented primarily by his 147 and 116 not out at Headingley that was impressive but the way Hope scored them too.
The 23-year-old showed plenty of composure against the swinging ball as well as stylish shot-making ability, qualities that were both in evidence during a second-innings 62 at Lord’s that was probably worth double given the tough batting conditions.
Kraigg Brathwaite, only a year older at 24 than Hope, came within five runs of twin Headingley hundreds and the pair’s partnerships in Leeds suggested they could be the cornerstones of the top order.
Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, for all the latter’s no-ball problems, formed a solid new-ball pairing although Jason Holder, for all his admirable qualities, may be more of a fourth seamer than a first change bowler.
Holder warned that only senior batsmen Darren Bravo and Gayle, among those currently out in the cold, wanted to return to the Test arena.
“But apart from Darren I don’t think there’s anybody else who’s interested in playing Test cricket that we can really call upon or the so-called big names people are looking for,” Holder said after Saturday’s loss at Lord’s.
“Chris has probably hinted that he would like to play if he’s fit enough.”
West Indies, still a lowly eighth in the world Test rankings, travel to fellow strugglers Zimbabwe next month with all-rounder Holder heartened by their displays in England.
“Hopefully, we can learn from this, we have New Zealand at the end of the year which could be similar conditions and similar type of bowlers, so it should be good chance to take what we’ve learnt here into that series,” he said.
“But first we’ve got Zimbabwe, in a few weeks’ time, so hopefully, we can really kick on from there,” he added.
“Obviously Shai was outstanding in this entire series and we must not forget Kraigg’s contribution as well, he really did a hell of a job, especially at Headingley.
“I think we’ve shown improvement. We’ve definitely shown that, especially in our bowling.”