The West Indies are expected to be far more competitive in the five-match one-day international (ODI) series that follows the three-match Test series under way at SuperSport Park because all of their most dynamic players will not only be available for selection but will also be selected.
Every country experiences its own factional and regional bias in the selection of sporting teams, but nowhere compares with the West Indies cricket team because no other international team is chosen as regularly from such a wide a range of independent nations.
Cultural, religious and economic diversity should be reasons to come together as a region, which the Caribbean has succeeded in doing with trade and export agreements. But on the cricket field they have led to a pernicious mistrust, which manifests itself most between administrators and players, although the players, too, are guilty of lazy pigeon-holing.
Star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo is available for Test cricket but wasn’t selected for this tour. As captain of the ODI team and designated leader of the walkout from the tour of India, which resulted in a $42-million lawsuit brought by the Board of Control for Cricket in India against the West Indies Cricket Board, it’s not hard to see why he was left out.
Bravo was unavailable for “personal reasons” and Chris Gayle was fit to play T20 cricket for the Lions in this country but not fit enough for Test cricket. He will almost certainly be back for the ODIs in a bid to be selected for the World Cup. Pugnacious Darren Sammy, the former Test captain, will also be back. It will be a very different-looking team from the Test team.
Perhaps the West Indies selectors, headed by their most successful captain ever, Clive Lloyd, are more concerned about building a “team culture” with young men of character than they are with results. If that is the case, it is a sad indictment of their ability to manage men – even difficult men with large and fragile egos.
Disputes between West Indies players and their administrators have existed from the first year they were formed as a cricketing entity in 1928. It started with colonial captains and masters who were incapable of treating servants turned teammates with the respect they deserved, never mind on equal terms. Sadly, not much has changed, except there are no white men involved now.
Lloyd united the cricketers from the Caribbean like no man before or since but their period of world domination, which started in the 1970s under his leadership, did so against a backdrop of bitter disputes and Lloyd continually had to put his captaincy on the line as he battled to get his players fairly compensated for their skill and effort.
Player strikes and the threat of them were never far away. One of the most serious before the most recent debacle in India came before the first tour to South Africa in 1998 when the squad holed up in a London hotel and refused to board the plane to Jo’burg, placing the entire five-match tour in doubt. Only a letter from Nelson Mandela to captain Brian Lara rescued the situation. Emotional blackmail has its moments but it rarely brings the best out in its “victims”.
Fifteen years later and the current squad arrived in a similar, although not as extreme, state of mind. Contracts between the board and its players remain ad hoc and unclear. It is not conducive to cricketers finding their best form, especially against the best team in the world.
Five times in six minutes during his captain’s press conference, the tourists’ leader, Denesh Ramdin, referred to playing against “the number one team in the world”. He was being realistic, never once mentioning winning as a possibility. He spoke about “doing our best” and “taking one step at a time”. He wasn’t going to kid anyone, let alone himself.
It may sound patronising to say the global game needs the West Indies to be strong, but it is not. Cricket desperately needs them to be competitive in Test cricket, as it does New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would be a bonus.
India’s ruthless annexation of the game’s revenue in cahoots with Australia and England has left a triumvirate of the rich to get richer while the rest struggle to compete. The Caribbean is the gateway to the Americas and the possibility of meaningful expansion. The only way the “big three” will have their power questioned or challenged is by the form and subsequent market appeal of other teams.
AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla slayed the tourists with a batting exhibition on the first day of the Centurion Test and, by the time you read this, Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander may have done more of the same with the ball.
The irony for cricket-lovers is that a one-sided hammering of this year’s tourists will undoubtedly do more harm than good in the long term.