The widening gulf between 2 West Indies teams


Without a doubt, the best asset a captain can have is a good team. New West Indies Twenty20 International (T20I) captain Carlos Brathwaite certainly has that. He inherited it from previous two-time ICC World Twenty20 winning captain Darren Sammy, who despite his recent uncertain form, led a scarily fearsome side. In all departments of the game, the Caribbean team is staffed by some of the best and most heavily sought after players in cricket’s briefest format.

Take Chris Gayle, he is T20 cricket’s most powerful drawing card. His reputation is not for nothing either because he wields, quite possibly, the most dominant blade in the game. Very few are the players who possess anything like his power and ability to strike a cricket ball. Nobody has scored as many runs in the T20 game. He has 18 hundreds in the format; next comes Brendon McCullum with seven. Gayle has also struck more fours and a lot more sixes than any other player.

And there is Andre Russell. Currently one of the game’s hottest properties, he has rapidly racked up an unbelievable winning streak. It can be no coincidence that the Jamaican won titles with virtually all of the numerous T20 teams he has represented in the recent past, notching up a winning streak that is unlikely to be equaled.

Other well-known and well-respected players on the side are Dwayne Bravo, the magical Sunil Narine, T20I’s top-ranked bowler Samuel Badree, Marlon Samuels, player of two World T20 finals match-winning innings, and the mighty Kieron Pollard.

A few days ago, West Indies coach Phil Simmons spoke on how pleased he was to have the senior players back for the two games against India in Florida. “It’s good to have all the senior guys back and they make things easy for me because it’s a case of them doing all the work and they know this format inside out. So it gives me a chance to just enjoy them freeing themselves out there,” he had said.

This team, then, ought to be relatively straightforward to lead. Get the team spirit going (much easier to do when you’re winning as opposed to when you’re losing), become a competent tactician, make sure to develop your own game so you can maintain your teammates respect, and all should be well. If this team regularly fulfills its potential then Brathwaite, an impressive and an intelligent young man, should have a long time at the helm.

Brathwaite began his tenure as captain in the just concluded series against India at the Central Broward Regional Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida. West Indies won 1-0, courtesy a thrilling one-run victory in the first game on August 27th, the second game being curtailed by rain.

Brathwaite led a fearless, exceedingly capable side that played with joy and verve. You only have to see them celebrate to realize they are truly a tightly knit unit that enjoys the format and enjoys giving grief to the opposition.

Coach Simmons is of the opinion that being World T20 champions elevated the team’s confidence, and went as far as to compare them to the great team of the 1980s. “In this context, I think it’s a case where we are world champions and it’s something we have made our own, similar to back in the ’80s when we made Test cricket our own. We always had the team to beat in T20 cricket so from that point of view we’ve got a lot better and all the guys are loving playing it.”

Now that is high praise for sure. Not many would go that far. But Brathwaite’s side is undeniably a seriously formidable one.

Now, compare the West Indies’ T20 team to the one it fields in cricket’s longest format.

Defeated 2-0 by India in the recent four-match series at home, it was apparent to everyone watching that the hosts was completely outclassed by the visitors. Whereas Brathwaite leads a team of highly skilled and experienced players, the ones lined up behind his Barbadian brethren Jason Holder are mostly neophytes just wetting their feet in international cricket, many of them with less than stellar first-class records.

Rajendra Chandrika, for example, who opened the batting in the first two Tests at Antigua and Jamaica, averages 24.86 in first-class cricket. Not terribly surprising then that in almost every one of his 10 Test innings, he appeared out of his depth.

Shane Dowrich has a first-class average of 36.55 – not bad in the circumstances, but it is almost five points more than that of Jermaine Blackwood who is only behind Samuels, Bravo and Brathwaite in experience.

Contributing to this far from desirable situation is the fact that the senior batsmen were unable to bear their large share of the batting burden. Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo were supposed to be the leaders in experience and class in this side, yet both batsmen never really got going.

Samuels is but a shadow of his former self. His footwork has grown more and more reticent, especially early in his innings, and he has been losing his wicket in ways unbecoming for a player of his pedigree. He will, no doubt, remain a very useful player in the shorter formats, but his Test match future is uncertain.

Bravo is West Indies’ best batsman. He looks like it too, whenever he plays elegantly through the offside. But then he sometimes plays recklessly through the offside as well, and often has a distinct dislike for the short ball. He has some work to do to correct his faults in order to become the consistently good Test batsman he says he wants to be.

Not surprising then that their team totals in the series read as 243, 231, 196, 388 for 6, 225, 108, and 62 for 2. And, mind you, this was in their own home conditions.

Only in Jamaica, on the last day of a game, did they put up any meaningful resistance. And even then, the contest might not have gone into the fifth day had it not been badly affected by rain. So, as impressive as the batting of Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder was, West Indies were fortunate to have avoided defeat.

But the batting is not the only department that needs improvement. The bowling is not up to the required standard either. Shannon Gabriel’s pace can be disconcerting and newcomers Alzarri Joseph and Miguel Cummins have shown some promise yet there is no bowler in the side that can be held up as a consistent wicket-taker. Roddy Estwick, the team’s bowling coach, has a gigantic task ahead.

Holder has a difficult task too. Captaining a badly-losing side must be a soul-sapping experience. It can’t be fulfilling being at the helm of a failing enterprise and being unable to stop the rot. It’s really not your fault that things are falling apart but you’re the one that’s going to be held responsible, mostly, for its demise.

West Indies’ next Test outing will be against the recently impressive Pakistan team in the United Arab Emirates later this year. It could be as challenging a task as any in Test cricket, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of improvements can be made in the interim.

The encounter will involve three T20Is, three One Day Internationals (ODIs), and as many Tests. It wouldn’t take much courage to wager that the T20I games will be much more competitive than the Tests.

The gulf between the West Indies’ T20I and Test sides is substantial. The Test team lacks the relative capacity of the T20I team. Consequently, it plays with nothing like the T20I side’s confidence and swagger. Holder would probably not mind switching jobs with his Barbadian teammate.

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