Imagine this Indian team playing without the services of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and the rest of the 15, besides Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul et al. In such a scenario, what would the team look like? A pushover, without doubt.
That’s exactly the plight of West Indies cricket. Rather than who’s turning out for them, it is the quality of players not in the team that is most impressive: Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Chris Gayle, Samuel Badree, Darren Sammy, Carlos Brathwaite, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels et al.
Despite the absence of these players, the West Indies team has not only been competitive, but also sneaked a win against India in the current ODI series. And that needs to be appreciated.
The major problem of not having high-calibre players like Gayle, Bravo, Badree and the like is that there will be very little mentoring of the new crop of young West Indies players. They will also be deprived of the opportunity to look up to their own stars for inspiration.
In the current Indian team, young players have Dhoni and Kohli to mould and fast-forward their foray into international cricket. Likewise, Dhoni and Kohli would have learnt immensely in their younger days from sharing a dressing room with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and others.
West Indies cricket has lost the benefit of this sort of continuity and hand-holding for some time now. This has compelled their young aspirants to re-invent the wheel, time after time.
The skipper Jason Holder is just 25 years of age. Whatever he learnt in managing dressing rooms and teams must have been learnt during his stint with Chennai Super Kings under Dhoni. The 6'7" giant was appointed West Indies captain when he was barely 23 years of age, simply because there was no one else to rely on. At that age and stage of his career, he needed to concentrate on developing his game but was instead asked to think for and mentor younger players.
Players association-board standoff
The West Indies' experience with players associations has not been a happy one for players, the cricket board, cricket fans and the game itself. Repeated standoffs between players and the board for whatever reason have seriously damaged goodwill for the game.
To make matters worse, the West Indies players' pay dispute with their board ended up in players pulling out in the middle of a tour of India. This further eroded credibility of West Indies cricket.
Poor player management and poor administration wrecked the game in the Caribbean to the extent that the once undisputed world champions became mere pushovers for international teams. The worst indictment of their board came when West Indies failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy. Had their board organised a couple of manageable series during the qualification period, it would have been eventual winners Pakistan, rather than the Windies who would have had to sit out the Champions Trophy!
The failure to make the cut for the Champions Trophy must be the lowest ebb of West Indies cricket. The team has been in a poor shape for over a decade now. Under the circumstances, 2016 was an exceptional year. They won the World T20 in April, beating England in the final. (Not one member of that playing XI is in this current team) Earlier that year (in February), they won the U-19 World Cup defeating India in the final.
One of the heroes of that win, Alazzari Joseph, a tall and gangling fast-bowler has been fast tracked into the national team. He has started well and should be a handful with more experience and on quick and bouncy tracks. In fact, if Shannon Gabriel gets back to peak fitness, the West Indies will have a highly potent pace attack comprising Joseph, Gabriel, Miguel Cummins and skipper Holder.
Actually, the West Indies have a number of promising youngsters and if the board and players association don’t get pig-headed all over again, the team could become a force to reckon with in the not-too-distant future. Of course, they are in a transition phase, akin to the one in which Australia and England found themselves not all that long ago.
The Calypsos have stuck through the worst run during the crisis. They just need to be patient during the interim team-building phase to get back among the middle-level teams of international cricket. Besides Holder, Ashley Nurse, Joseph and others, they also have Hope (not just Shai and Kyle, that is). So that’s something to look forward to.