Saturday, December 16, 2017

Praise songs


Mark Fraser

Today, both our West Indies cricket teams will be playing in the first semi-finals of the WT20. Both have been defeated only by India in their respective tournaments so far; and we should celebrate the obvious development of many of the players, as we wish them well in today’s deciders.

Following this tournament—perhaps the most popular and important on the cricket calendar—has been such a pleasure, who can still resist the allure of T20? It is pure theatre; full of mishap, adventure and madcap chances—a true exposition of what humans pumped by adrenalin can get up to.

There has been some outstanding cricket, of course, the kind based on technique, flair and intelligence—and the intense combination is what makes T20 the complete package for our times.

In T20, we might find it possible to resurrect some of the lost joy that Test cricket once brought to West Indians; might once again feel pride and passion. Who knows?

Over time, I had learned to look at West Indies cricket with a dispassionate eye, but even so, that match against Pakistan had me in a state of anxiety that would not go away—even when a friend pointed out that it was impossible for Pakistan to score a hundred runs in the remaining overs. I am writing this after that blazing victory; but before the more nerve-wracking one taking place today against Sri Lanka—one of the truly formidable teams in this WT20 tournament (even moreso with the remarkable Rangana Herath in their arsenal).

Whatever the outcome of today’s matches, there are some praise songs that must be sung.

Denesh Ramdin has shown great maturity and has undoubtedly become one of the finest wicketkeepers in the world. His speed, agility and athleticism, and his ability to read his bowlers show an intelligence that must reassure all who had seen his enormous potential in the early days.

Samuel Badree’s straight and true ones have been a joy to watch. Not only is he a classy player, but he shares the unflappable air that Sunil Narine has, adding to their inscrutable aura. He joins Narine as two who deserve their plaudits, as well as Krishmar Santokie, who has surely found a place in the team.

When the West Indies women meet Australia in their semi-final, they will be relying on the batting strength of Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin, who have firmly established themselves as powerful strikers, and the bowling of Tremayne Smartt and young stalwart Anisa Mohammed. The women’s team has been a much more consistent force than the men’s, and the reason for this is worth some examination.

Darren Sammy has managed to outlast the sceptics who did not believe he was a good choice to be captain of the West Indies team. At the onset, I thought his outlook and leadership style were his most important assets because it seemed that was what the team needed most urgently. Technically, he might not have been the greatest strategist or batsman, but he has made enormous strides in those areas—and he has not lost any of his prime assets. Sammy must be the only captain who could be walloping Pakistani bowling out of the ground and still manage to make the wicketkeeper smile with him. He has a rare charm that is all the more endearing because it is so genuinely unaffected.

I still cannot understand though why he continues to play Marlon Samuels when it is so painful to watch him struggle. Whatever the reason Samuels has seemed so out of sorts, a 20-over match that needs maximum momentum from the first over, is not the place to allow him to work out his kinks. The team just cannot afford the dreadful slump that occurs when he comes to the wicket, because it affects the batsmen at the other end and puts pressure on the run rate. I am sure Samuels will find himself again, he is too classy to do otherwise, but it is just not tactically wise to send him in when they do.

Prior to the match against Pakistan, coach Ottis Gibson had advised the team not to panic and to try to keep cool heads. It suggests that this had been cited as one of the reasons for the clatter of wickets that has become a familiar aspect of our cricket.

Was that what happened to Lendl Simmons when he was so inexplicably stumped in the match against Bangladesh? I still cannot understand it, because it seemed he was looking right at the keeper who had the ball in his hand before he turned to run.

Even as we enter this semi-final pumped up with expectation over the past few matches, we must not lose sight of the areas of weakness. Rotating the strike is still not coming naturally and early wickets fall too cheaply. The fielding, particularly in the last match, was spectacular, but we shouldn’t come to expect ‘monster’ finishers to bring us fairy tale endings.

All of that being dispassionately said, I’m rallying around both our teams, heart fluttering until the final ball.