West Indies still matter in world cricket
Here we are, on the eve of another spin on the international cricket merry-go-round. This time Australia stops off in the West Indies. But after an entertaining home summer, why should fans care about facing a team that now gets as little credibility as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe or even Ireland?
It may feel weird to say it, but the Windies still matter to cricket. They have shown, in a historic sense, a terrific knack for bringing an otherwise disparate set of territories together for a common cause.
United in the 1980s under legends like Clive Lloyd and Sir Viv Richards, the West Indies oozed confidence – and induced a decent level of helmet-smacking fear, as well.
Former Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill seemed less convinced of the tour’s place in the overall International Cricket Council schedule, which in itself is perfectly reasonable and understandable.
Buried as it is at the end of the local season, MacGill wondered whether the Australia-West Indies contests, primarily for the Frank Worrell Trophy Test series, would induce one giant yawn.
Over 15 years ago it was the exact opposite, of course. Who could forget the sight of Tubby Taylor hoisting the trophy in 1995? It was a victory two decades in the making.
“This was the big one,” MacGill recalled in the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.
“For most of my life the West Indies had been the team to watch and the team we always tried, and failed, to beat.”
That prestigious series title and feeling about the Windies games has been long overtaken by bouts against South Africa and India, along with the enduring appeal of the Ashes Tests against England and, in their own modest way, the trans-Tasman battles with New Zealand.
MacGill asked whether Australian fans will tell any incredible tales about the 2012 West Indies tour, looming as one of the “most poorly-watched tours in decades.”
Instead, MacGill suggested that everyone involved should just call it for what it may well become – a pre-season training run for the next home series against Sri Lanka, South Africa and – strangely – the West Indies in 2012-13.
I can understand the sentiment there, but I don’t quite agree with the summary.
I have the nagging sense that the West Indies of 2012 will be underestimated at Australia’s peril, much like the Sri Lankans, who got fans talking with some quality World Series performances over the past month.
From the West Indian perspective, though, things are apparently as bleak as MacGill’s view.
The editorial of the Jamaica Observer newspaper on Saturday said the island nations were “hoping for the best against Australia”.
“The frustrating aspect for those of us who continue to follow the on-the-field performances of regional cricketers is that there is wonderful talent available which, if harnessed and properly focused, would present a daunting challenge for any foe,” the paper continued.
A similar tone crept into the editorial piece on March 3 in The Vincentian, the major press outlet of St Vincent and Grenadines, where the tour will open with one-day matches starting Friday.
Despite gaining the favour of the West Indies Cricket Board, with St Vincent’s Arnos Vale Playing Field hosting the first three one-dayers, The Vincentian described the mood as pessimistic. What is needed, it said, is a radical revamp of the West Indian Cricket Board administration.
The Vincentian‘s sports writer Earl Robinson said on the same day that Australia couldn’t take the hosts lightly, but that the Windies will have their work cut-out right from the start.
“Readers will recall that the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Ireland were the only teams West Indies defeated in the last World Cup,” he added. Hardly a statistic that would inspire crowds to attend. Yet they still do – and will.
“On the field, the West Indies cricket team has not been impressive for the past seventeen years,” said Robinson.
“However, the people of the region still continue to rally around the cricketers, which is a good sign. They adore their flannelled knights, win or lose.”
What a delightfully colourful way to describe modern cricket players. Equally delightful are the words that his line references, those of the official Caribbean cricketing anthem.
“Rally round the West Indies, now and forever,” it goes.
Maybe fans could take those same phrases and apply them to encourage continued interest in the tour itself. The Windies, as of the end of last month, sat in seventh spot on the ICC Test rankings, with only the Kiwis and Bangladesh to look down on.
In the 50-over format, they are barely 20 rating points adrift from Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Holland and Kenya.
They are as little as nine points off joining the Irish in out-running the pursuing Afghanistan in the Twenty20 stakes.
A trifling concern, folks.
Because this is the West Indies. The Brazil of cricket. The capacity for flair never leaves the citizens entirely, though its effectiveness may come and go. And this very tour could be when it – gasp! – comes back. Against Australia.
So, while I will only be able to sample the unique delights of a Caribbean cricket tour from the pages of CricInfo and the ABC radio commentary team, it’s still top-flight stuff. And it’s still a test for a touring side like Australia – as any away series in different conditions always should be.