August 2010 Volume 7

WI Cricket At A Low Ebb

Dr. Cedric Lazarus
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For some strange reason, someone, who will remain nameless, asked me to write about the recently concluded 20/20 World Cup Cricket competition which was played in the Caribbean from April 30 to May 16. I told the person that not being a fan of 20/20 cricket I did not go to a single game; he insisted that I put pen to paper nevertheless.  

By now cricket fans the world over know that in the 20/20 Cricket World Cup the WI, playing at home, performed rather dismally. The WI team was drawn in a relatively easy first round group with Ireland and England with two of the three teams advancing to the second round. In the first game against minnows Ireland the WI won by 70 runs.  In the second game against England the team managed to eke out a narrow win due to two guys named Duckworth and Lewis. These two, although not players, have determined the course of many games limited over cricket games since their complex mathematical system was adopted by the ICC to determine the winner of limited overs games interrupted by bad weather, spectator disturbance or other unforeseen events. Batting first, the English batsmen were on fire and slaughtered the hapless WI bowling in making a whopping 191 runs, the third highest score in the competition, and then the rains came. This was considered an unbeatable total, but thanks to the rain, and Duckworth and Lewis, the WI was only required to make 63 runs from six overs to win the game and the batsmen made the required 63 runs with the loss of only two wickets with one ball to spare.

Unfortunately, the team won only one match in the second round. They beat India thanks to 98 runs off 66 balls from the captain Chris Gayle but fell to both Sri Lanka and Australia and failed to make it to the semi finals.  Suffice it to say that England played Australia in the finals at the Kensington Oval and for a change the Englishmen were able to get the better of Australia. They won so easily that it was almost an anticlimactic end to the competition. (For those who follow these things, Australia upset New Zealand in the finals of the women’s competition and unlike the men the WI women played some good cricket and got to the semifinals.) 

As I mentioned before I did not go to a single game and my friends from Jamaica who were planning to come to Barbados for the second round games were happy that they did not. I did not go to a game because when I was learning cricket in primary school in rural Jamaica it was an insult to be labeled a ‘yam-licker’ or for one’s strokes to be described as being ‘agricultural’. In 20/20 cricket however, successful ‘yam-licking’ is deemed a prerequisite for success and even accomplished number three batsmen play and execute so-called ‘agricultural’ shots with regularity. As far as bowling is concerned, for 20/20 cricket many bowlers have adopted the negative tactic of bowling as far as possible from the off-stump as they can get away with.  Of course the aim of this sorry tactic is to keep the ‘yam-licker’ especially in the last few overs from connecting and hitting the ball out of the ground. It is so farcical at times that many batsmen in swiping at balls a mile from their off-stump are stumped by the wicketkeeper even though the umpires would have signaled that the balls were wide. Others run themselves or their partners out trying to steal a single from a wide ball.

Nevertheless, the huge success of 20/20 cricket in India is well known. Millions of dollars are being pumped into the game there through the IPL, and many players including some from the WI have become millionaires or extremely wealthy, literally overnight, as a result of the contracts that are offered to them to play in the IPL. Looking in my crystal glass to the year 2030, I can see my grandson coming to me and asking,” Grand-dad, what was Test cricket like?”  In frustration I will probably tell him to Google it, if Google is still around then.

The South African team is currently on a tour of the WI and despite the fact that S. Africa did not do too well in the 20/20 World Cup and did not even get to the second round, the team is now busy beating the ‘you know what’ out of the Chris Gayle led WI.  Since the series started a few weeks ago the teams have played a couple of 20/20 games and five 50 overs games, the so called ODIs or One Day Internationals. How many of these games have the WI won? Zip! Zilch! Zero! In test cricket, the visiting team is ranked second behind India while the WI is ranked eighth or second from the bottom. So it is fair to assume that we will not come close to winning even one of the three Test matches which are to be played in Trinidad, St Kitts and Barbados. Nevertheless, I plan to take in at least two days of the Kensington Test which starts on the last Friday in June. By then I hope to have my copy of Michael Holding’s recently released autobiography, entitled, ‘No Holding Back’. I am planning to take it to the game and read it while South Africa is beating the living daylights out of our team. I probably won’t enjoy the cricket but based on what the reviews are saying I know that I will enjoy the book and that it will help me to be able to reminisce about that perfect opening over that Holding bowled to Geoff Boycott right there at the Kensington Oval in 1981. Although I was not there, I have watched it many times on You Tube.  Oh, for the good old days of WI cricket!

At the end of the current series against South Africa I hope that no one will be asking me to write an article about it because I fear that there will be nothing about the series which readers of this newsletter will want to read. By then of course, most of us will be so busy watching World Cup Football from South Africa that we will have no time to follow the fortunes of the ‘Worst Indies’ cricket team.

Postscript:  As most of my friends know by now, I tortured myself for eight hours by going to the Kensington Oval, the Mecca of West Indies Cricket, to watch the first day’s play of the third and final Test match between the WI and South Africa. It was the same day as the USA vs. Ghana game in the World Cup but being an ardent cricket fan I gave up football for cricket that one day. The Test match started and ended disastrously for the Chris Gayle led WI team. An hour or so before the game, the team manager, Joel Garner had to go to the newly created cricket Academy at the UWI’s Cave Hill Campus to get an eleventh player for the side. One Brandon Bess, a twenty- two years old up and coming Guyanese fast bowler, was plucked from the Academy to share the new ball with Kemar Roach. I assume that he was fast asleep in bed when Garner knocked on his door!

Despite winning the toss, the WI all but lost the match on the first day when they were bowled out for a mere 231 runs after the tea break. Gayle, the captain and opener, obviously forgot that he was playing a five day Test match, made 20 quick runs as if he was playing a 20/20 game and was back in the pavilion after exactly 20 minutes of play. His opening partner, Dale Richards, failed to trouble the scorer; I think that he occupied the crease for about 10 minutes. South Africa made 346 at their turn at the wicket. Batting a second time on day three the WI feared even worse than they did on day one (is that possible?) and were blown away for a dismal 161 on the fourth day leaving S. Africa with the simple formality of making 49 to win.

For me the most amazing thing about the game was that on day one there were about 400 persons in the stands at the Oval. Two stands were not even opened at all. It was a strange feeling to be watching the first day of a Test match at the Oval with only 400 other spectators. People have been saying for a long time that WI cricket was dying. After the Oval game some are saying that WI cricket can now be declared certified dead.

A few days before the game I had bought and read Michael Holding’s exciting new autobiography entitled, ‘No Holding Back’.  (Cricket lovers will recall that in 1988 he wrote his first book, ‘Whispering Death.’) No Holding Back is an entertaining, if not short, book which I read in less than three days. In it Holding talks about his early days at KC and his surprise when he was called up while still at school to play for Jamaica and later for the WI.  He is sharp and witty and gives us an insight into the contrasting but equally effective captaincies of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Who would have thought for instance, that there were prima donnas on Lloyd’s early team who refused to carry water as 12th men?  He dismisses the view held by many that his opening over to Boycott at the jam-packed Kensington Oval in the 1981 Test against England was the fastest and best over that he ever bowled. Mickey outlines his reasons why the game is dying in the region but, more importantly, he had strong views on how to reverse the trend. For those of us who love the game let’s hope that WI cricket is merely dying and not yet dead.      

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