The dust has settled on the Edgbaston pitch on which the historic first day/night Test in England was played. Scheduled for five days, England defeated the West Indies within three days, by an innings and 209 runs.
The pundits and commentators have had a field day with the inept Windies’ performance. The well respected English cricket writer and former Wisden editor, Scyld Berry pointed out in The Telegraph in his Sunday column that, “Only three times in Test history has a side been completely out twice in a day. [The Windies lost nineteen wickets on Saturday]. Had it been a full day’s play, of 98 overs, West Indies could have been bowled out three times as they would have started their third innings under floodlights.”
Berry poured salt in the wound by even suggesting at the end of his column that “It might be interesting if England’s selectors” chose a second XI for the next Test at Headingley and a third XI for the Lord’s match,” to see how West Indies compare.”
Geoffrey Boycott, former England opening batsman, now a plain spoken no holds barred commentator, also in The Telegraph, on Sunday, joined the fray. “This West Indies lot are the worst Test match team in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket. They can’t bat and can’t bowl. I take no pleasure out of saying this…” further on, he added, “… the gulf between these two cricketing countries is as wide as the Grand Canyon.”
The beat down was not restricted to the English side of the fence. Former West Indian fast bowling great, now well respected television commentator, Michael Holding, a long serving member of the (British) Sky TV team, raised the subject of the two-tier Test playing nations system again.
“I played Test cricket for 12 years. I never played a Test match against Sri Lanka because at that time Sri Lanka just weren’t good enough to play against the West Indies. What is the point of having a contest like this? It’s not good for cricket,” Holding opined.
These are all very strong, and perhaps justified, opinions, but the orators all seemed to have forgotten a bit of history.
Taking the latter first. In a televised interview aired recently, Michael Holding goes back to Jamaica, and the television crew and interviewer follow him around, as he reminisces about growing up and his early cricketing days. At one point, he reflects on the return from his first West Indies tour, the 1975-76 trip to Australia, where the West Indies had received their worst ever drubbing, losing 5-1.
His recall of the debacle was that he didn’t think that Test cricket could have been so hard and he didn’t think that he wanted any further part of it.
Beginning with the 2003-04 tour of the West Indies, England have won five of the seven series played, with the West Indies winning one and the other drawn. England have won 16 Test matches as compared to the West Indies’ two, in the 25 Tests contested.
Looking a bit further back, at the previous generation, a twenty-five year span, from 1976 to 2000. In twelve series, the West Indies won nine, England won the last one in 2000, and two were drawn. Between 1976 and 1990, in seven series, all won by the West Indies, England won a solitary Test in the 33 played, compared to the West Indians’ total of 22. In fact, between 1984 and 1988, in three series, two of which were played in England, the English players lost 14 out of 15 Test matches, including ten straight in the two five match series in 1984 and 1986.
Where would Michael Holding be sitting today, if there was a two-tier system back in 1975-76, and the then young West Indies team, following their worst ever defeat, had been relegated? Certainly not in the Sky television booth with past England captains of the 1980s, Ian Botham and David Gower, who experienced the wrath of the fearsome West Indian pace attack.
Scyld Berry and Geoffrey Boycott, astute students of the game, are well aware of the cyclical flow of the game, and the droughts experienced by English teams over time. It is no secret that the West Indies have not had their best XI on the field of play for a long time, for reasons beyond the players’ control.
In all this doom and gloom, there has been a voice of hope and defiance, refusing to bow and fold over. Sir Viv Richards, has remained optimistic throughout the slide. He was a part of that 1975-76 tour, his only taste of defeat whilst wearing the maroon cap.
Currently in England for the Test series, Sir Viv, never one to back away from any bowling attack or question, has been very critical of the current West Indies administrators, observing last week, “[they] are trying to compete with them [the players] for popularity and status… well we’re going to have huge problems.” Whilst urging the players to restore a sense of pride during the current series, Sir Viv went as far as to boldly predict that England could be beaten.
This is a young side, without its best bat, Darren Bravo, who have been exposed to the vagaries of swing bowling, which the number two ICC ranked South Africa succumbed to 3-1, a few weeks ago. Have we already forgotten that Holder and company came within six balls of drawing their last series, a few months ago, against a tough Pakistan side which held England to a 2-2 draw last summer?
The time has come for all West Indian supporters to forget about the dysfunctional board and all the other off the field distractions, and to cast their support around this young squad. As David Rudder sings, it’s time to “Rally Round the West Indies.”
To the pundits that spell doom, let them remember that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.