At one glance it would appear that constructing a best West Indies Test cricket line-up over the last 50 years is an easy task: simply list Clive Lloyd’s team of the mid-1980s.
But the task is more complicated. Deciding who to leave out rather than include is the biggest challenge.
With this in mind I have constructed the best West Indian Test cricket side of the last 50 years as follows:
Who can go past the pairing of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes? They formed a dynamic opening partnership against all types of bowlers and conditions. On the rare occasion when the team was trailing on the first innings, out would come these two and wipe off the deficit in no time.
The upper-middle order is Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Clive Lloyd and Garfield Sobers. The master blaster, replete with swagger and incessant gum chewing is at No. 3. Richard’s aggression, and ability to intimidate bowlers was second to none. He had some incredible series in England in 1976 and in the late 1970s in Australia, where at times he was unbowlable.
At No. 4 is Brian Lara, the games record-holder for an innings score. He could simply wear down bowlers with his brilliance, concentration and guile and his insatiable appetite for big runs. Lara virtually single-handedly kept the West Indies in the series against Australia in the Caribbean in 1999. He had an uncanny ability to find gaps in the field regardless of where fielders were placed or moved to.
At No. 5 I have gone for Clive Lloyd, the big cat, and I have also given him the captaincy. His dominating left-hand batting and captaincy, which moulded a disparate, talented and yet somewhat ill-disciplined group into arguably the finest team to ever grace the cricket field, could not be overlooked.
While some may quibble with my choice of Garfield Sobers at No. 6 on the grounds that he played his best cricket a decade earlier, I could not have overlooked him even if he had played just five minutes in the 1970s. His majestic knock of 254 in Melbourne for the World XI against Australia in 1971-72 when facing criticism for his lackadaisical series to date cemented a spot. In the unlikely situation that this team would fail to bowl out an opposition, Sobers’ off spin and medium pace would also come in handy.
There are a number of unlucky batsmen, notably Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, Richie Richardson and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who would have walked into many other sides.
At No. 7 and for the wicketkeeping slot is Jeff Dujon. Elegant batting and sound wicketkeeping, especially to pacemen, ensured that Dijon got the nod ahead of Deryck and David Murray.
Now come the bowlers. As per Clive Lloyd’s alleged edict that West Indies should play only pace bowlers, I have gone for a pace quartet in Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Curtly Ambrose.
Malcolm Marshall is an obvious selection with his skiddy bowling, deadly bouncer and ability to move it both ways but with a particularly deceptive in ducker. Joel Garner, the big bird, is an important complement to this side with his awkward trajectory – over the sightscreen at times! – and ability to do just enough with the ball.
Michael Holding, whispering death, was sheer poetry in motion with his long and silent run-up, high pace and pure class with the ball, and he was also a walk-up start after a difficult beginning to his career, playing in the 1975-76 drubbing by Australia. Holding’s destruction of the Australian batters in the opening Test at Perth in the 1984-85 series was a sight to behold.
The final spot goes to Curtly Ambrose, who lived up to the moniker of silent but deadly. With his high trajectory, his movement off the pitch and in the air and his at times express pace, Ambrose is also a starter in this line-up.
Who could forget the 7-1 that he took in the 1992-93 series to simply blow Australia away and ensure that the Frank Worrell Trophy remained in the Caribbean?
Desperately unlucky bowlers include Andy Roberts, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Colin Croft, and also Lance Gibbs if a spinner was sought for variety.
To boot this team has six knights: Sobers, Richards, Lloyd, Ambrose, Greenidge and 12th man Richie Richardson.
It is a sad indictment on the contemporary game in the West Indies that I could not find a spot for recent players – the most recent is Brian Lara, who retired in 2007. The game of cricket needs a strong West Indies contingent, and though the team and its individual players have shown promise and signs of a major recovery in recent years, it so far hasn’t amounted to a sustained run.