West Indies Cricket: Captain Darren Sammy Not to Blame for Windies' Woes
The current West Indian tourists have teased us with moments of brilliant potential to offer hope once again of a renaissance. Alas, signals of the Windies' second coming have had more sightings than those from religious cranks.
In the past 15 years, the West Indies' away record against teams other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh includes just two wins against 50 defeats from 65 Tests.
There are plentiful explanations for this pitiful run, though the latest and most unjust is the charge made against captain Darren Sammy that he doesn't merit a place in the side and thus is hindering progress.
The current team is an upgrade from the one which last toured England in 2009. It includes the obdurate Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the current world's number one rated batter, who seems to have found someone to keep him company and build on innings in Marlon Samuels.
Ravi Rampaul, 23-year-old Kemar Roach and 24-year-old debutant Shannon Gabriel show the fast-bowling stocks are not barren.
The problem for the current eleven, though, is that for whatever reason, it is not the West Indies' strongest squad. Far from it.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has deprived them of opener Chris Gayle, fast bowler Jerome Taylor, enigmatic spinner Sunil Narine and all-rounders Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard.
The volcanic Pollard has never played a Test, and focuses on the short form to such an extent that ex-fast-bowler Michael Holding has said (via The Telegraph): "Kieron Pollard, in my opinion, is not a cricketer." He represented the Mumbai Indians at last year's Champions League, but as he was also on the books of Somerset, South Australia and Trinidad and Tobago, so he could have played for any of those.
Similarly, Gayle has recently represented Barisal Burners of the Bangladesh Premier League, Sydney Thunder, Matabeleland Tuskers, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Western Warriors.
Academic Hilary Beckles recently bemoaned the IPL franchises for purchasing West Indian talent while having no interest in the West Indies cricket team as a regional construct.
His story, published by Trinidad Express Newspaper, said that those who develop the players from a young age are "expected to become a money making machine for foreign franchises by producing young talent and mature masters who are released at random with no regard for the goose that lays the golden egg."
Not that the Cricket Board can be removed from any analysis of contemporary woe.
The 27-year-old Jerome Taylor has been ostracised and has not played any senior cricket for a year. Similarly Ramnaresh Sarwan cites his treatment from coaching staff as the reason he is in England playing for Leicestershire rather than the West Indies.
As a collection of individual states, the West Indies Board is made up of representatives who each have local as well as regional interests. The maintenance of a regional entity has worked in cricket where it has failed politically and economically. Still, too often there are rumblings that hint at breakaways.
Government intervention has paralysed the Guyanese Board, whilst the Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, has become involved in a public squabble with the WICB about their handling of Chris Gayle. When Trinidad qualified for the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 back in 2009, there was serious discussion about secession.
An older generation seeks to revive the spirit of a bygone age when the West Indies brushed aside all opposition with ruthless fast-bowling and vehement batting. They invoke the positive message that the documentary Fire in Babylon aroused last summer.
Beckles, for example, points out that those playing in the IPL are already among the top world cricketers in terms of pay and remuneration. They are easily in the elite of Caribbean skilled workers. "It's not a choice", he notes, "between poverty and riches but between riches and more riches."
Many, though, will also recall how poorly some of these legends were treated by the WICB, and are right to be suspicious of being dealt with in the same way themselves.
These issues, therefore, are structural and a consequence not just of circumstances in the Caribbean, but of wider global attractions as well. For commentators to then focus on Darren Sammy's place on the side smacks of a flawed ranking of priorities.
As captain, Sammy has sought to invoke an emphasis on professionalism, fitness and enthusiasm. There is no denying a wealth of negative factors, but also no denying a genuine spirit and harmony within the team. How much of this is down to the captain is debatable, but he certainly provides a well-needed rock in a whirlpool of change.
Consider how, in 2004, captain Brian Lara chose not to travel on the team coach, but drove himself separately from venue to venue in company with a few chosen players. Or in 2009, when Chris Gayle, then skipper, got into London from his IPL engagements two days prior to the first Test.
Furthermore, who else lasts long enough to captain this side?
Chanderpaul is 37, and whilst he shows no obvious weakness, would not consider the captaincy in his twilight years.
Scyld Berry of The Telegraph argues that recent centurion Sammy is not good enough as a third-seamer, and because of this he is keeping a better bowler out. For Berry, this player is Andre Russell, who as noted above has chosen the IPL over the West Indies. A moot point, then, if he has made himself unavailable.
For me, it's the absent Dwayne Bravo who should be in the side, shoring up the batting at six and providing a worthy improvement to the bowling lineup.
The addition of Gayle to open and Sarwan in the middle order provides a team that could compete at a higher level. But they still need to be led, and Sammy deserves credit for whatever improvements the side has seen in recent years.
Any hope of revival is conditional on the pull of the IPL. While this competition pays top dollar and presents cricketers with the dilemma of mammon vs. country, it not only thwarts development, but penalises success.
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