“He (Sunil Narine) might not work against me, I could have smashed him,” crowed Delhi Daredevils' captain Virender Sehwag, seemingly ruing the fact that he did not have the chance to take on Kolkata Knight Riders' best bowler during the face-off between the Knight Riders and Daredevils in Delhi on May 8.
Well, if Sehwag does get picked for the Indian T20 team that will head to Sri Lanka later this year to take part in the world Twenty20 championship, he will get a chance to deliver on his boast. We’ll see how it all turns out for Sehwag and Narine then.
Narine is only one of the fine men who will make up the nucleus of a strong West Indies T20 side that bids fair to finish among the top four in the stakes to decide the best international team in the shortest version of the game. The others in this very talented group of players who will almost certainly represent the West Indies in Sri Lanka (so long as they don’t rub the rather authoritarian Otis Gibson and the other powers-that-be the wrong way) are Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, Andre Russell, Ravi Rampaul and, of course, the god-fearing skipper, who religiously tows the official line, Darren Sammy.
All said but not done, that’s seven players from the West Indies who can be counted on to give opposition teams something to think about during the T20 world cup. Throw Fidel Edwards (fitness permitting), Kemar Roach (fitness permitting), Marlon Samuels and Shane Shillingford into the mix and the men from the Caribbean look a pretty potent combination, at least on paper. Even without Christopher Henry Gayle, the West Indies might be considered serious contenders for an international trophy, which is not something the cricket world has had the good fortune of witnessing for a very long time. Does this mini-revival mean the West Indies are back on the road to glory? Yes and no.
Notwithstanding their plucky performances in the Test series against Australia in the West Indies, Sammy’s men will never be a sustainably good Test side capable of challenging the best in the business. At least not until the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) gets its act together and treats its players with a lot more respect. In the meantime, Test cricket will continue to be a chore for West Indian players who have financially more fulfilling options.
Not for the first time, Gayle, Bravo, Pollard, Andre Russell and Narine have chosen Twenty20 riches over Test cricket. In fact, apart from a set of privileged Test cricketers, most of who happen to be from England and Australia, the majority would rather play One Day Internationals and Twenty20 cricket; because it is the less demanding road to a secure future.
In spite of the noises (polite or otherwise) cricketers make about how badly they want to excel at Test cricket, it’s an incredibly difficult (and foolhardy) way to make a living. Especially, if one happens to belong to a country in which most fans don’t have the time or money to expend on the indulgent pleasures of Test cricket. Most players from the West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and, even, South Africa, to a certain extent, don’t have the luxury of the uncluttered minds needed to develop as Test cricketers. Put simply, they have too many things to worry about, too many distractions, and too little faith in their Board to take care of them once their skills as cricketers have waned.
Happily for the casual cricket fan, the burgeoning of Twenty20 cricket means talented, exciting and hungry cricketers from the less prosperous societies of the world will continue to emerge. These cricketers will excel at the shorter forms of the game (in particular, the shortest form) because cricket is not such a difficult game to play reasonably well. However, the teams that will shine at the most exacting version will, more often than not, be Australia, England and South Africa.
The West Indies were great at Test cricket during the eighties because they were driven by a burning to desire to show the world that that the black man could beat the supercilious others black and blue. Fortunately for the sake of humankind, the world is a relatively less racist place now. But what this means to the naturally talented and carefree people of the West Indies is a return to playing cricket primarily because it’s a fun way to make a pretty good living. And Test cricket is the least fun way to make a living as a cricketer.
If the International Cricket Council (ICC) wants to see more teams excel at Test cricket, their cricket boards have to make massive investments to make this most demanding profession worth it. Right now, only the Australian and English cricket boards are doing it.