Just as too much can be made of the West Indies’ successive ODI wins on Thursday and yesterday in Dhaka, it is impossible to downgrade them, as they inevitably and widely will be, as “only” over Bangladesh.
For all their appalling overall record, the Bangladeshis are not utter pushovers at home. Their inconsistency and aversion to fast rib-cage bowling has been their major downfall (such as their all-out 58 against the West Indies and 78 against South Africa in last year’s World Cup). But they beat New Zealand in all four of their ODIs a year ago and have often pushed others hard.
More to the point, these were comprehensive victories by a West Indies team, according to coach Ottis Gibson, “building for the future” around the young brigade. And they represented real spirit in disregarding the disappointment of the last over defeat in the one-off T20 International a few days earlier.
As they were in the Caribbean early in the year, when the West Indies came back from losses in their first three ODIs against Pakistan and India to take the last two, the most senior players – Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Ramnaresh Sarwan – are all missing in Bangladesh. Shivnarine Chanderpaul is present but only for the two Tests.
In their stead, Lendl Simmons, 28 and a West Indies player since 2006, and Marlon Samuels, 30 with 119 to his name, are the seniors who have set the example and skillfully executed the game plans, never a West Indian strength.
Simmons’ two innings have yielded 122 and 88, Samuels 88 and 71. Their second wicket partnerships setting up the results have been 111 and 150.
In the past, their inability to assess the state of the game and their inconsistency had repeatedly cost each his place.
It explains why Simmons has had only 31 ODIs in almost six years for the West Indies and, along with an International Cricket Council (ICC) two-year suspension over his contacts with an Indian bookmaker, Samuels 119 in the 11 years since his debut match.
Both built their scores with a patience and maturity previously lacking throughout their chequered careers. They appear to appreciate that this in their last chance and finally understand their roles.
They have taken their time to weigh up the bowling. Once settled they have accelerated. It is a refreshing change.
Simmons has had a roller-coaster ride along the way. His most recent exit from the team followed his struggles in an ODI series in Australia in early 2010 and lasted a year.
Reinstated, for the home encounters against Pakistan and India, he dominated the batting in the ODIs only to be dropped again after failures in the Tests.
He has been chosen only for the ODIs in Bangladesh, a premature decision as the three openers picked for the Tests are young and with virtually no experience.
Adrian Barath is 21 and, with seven Tests and a hundred on debut, has with him Kraigg Brathwaite (19) and Kieran Powell (21),each with a solitary Test.
With Simmons’ form and guidance, he will surely be in both squads for the far tougher tour of India that immediately follows.
From the time he was surprisingly summoned to the series in Australia in December 2000, aged 19, Samuels has been as pleasing a stroke-player as the West Indies have had since Brian Lara.
Had he put such natural talent to best use, he would be averaging more than his 29 in Tests and 31.39 in ODIs, The problem was, always too eager to indulge himself, he found silly ways of getting out.
In the 2007-08 Tests in South Africa, he was just finding the reliability that is selectors’ priority (average 53) when his ICC sanction put him on hold for two years.
Once it was served, he scored heavily at both domestic and international level. He is now a crucial piece in Gibson’s team building jigsaw, his recently cleared illegal action providing captain Darren Sammy with an additional off-spin option.
Not everything has gone according to plan in Bangladesh but enough to make its satisfying. If there is a problem it is that Simmons and Samuels have left very little for any one else..
We’ve all heard the adage but it’s still strange how history keeps repeating itself. West Indies cricket is well acquainted with it.
Here is what the Caribbean Cricket Quarterly reported on the West Indies tour of Australia in December 1995. See if you can relate the situation or any of characters to the present series in Bangladesh. “He was not there in person but the West Indies could not escape the spectre of Brian Lara as they toured Australia, primarily for the annual Benson & Hedges World Series tournament. “The controversy over Lara’s late refusal to be part of the team overshadowed the reason for the West Indies presence and proved a distraction that severely affected the quality of their cricket.”
“They were bombarded with media questions about the affair from the time they set foot on Sydney’s Mascot Airport and diminished by the proliferation of words devoted to the unfolding saga.”
Now fast forward to Bangladesh 2011 and the similar media attention on the absence of Chris Gayle from the West Indies team. The backgrounds are somewhat different.
After walking out of the contentious tour of England that summer Lara said then that he “could not keep playing cricket under the problems that keep coming up.” A few months later, he was back in the team and was subsequently three times the captain.
Gayle is missing because he refuses to apologise for his public criticism of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and coach Ottis Gibson. He is yet to return.
The mayhem over their absence just goes to show that all that matters to those unacquainted with the details, such as Australia in 1995 and Bangladesh now, is that they are being denied the chance seeing two star attractions of the contemporary game.