WHERE do the shocking three-day, innings defeats in India and New Zealand leave West Indies cricket?
There are three troubling answers.
The first is that their long-suffering supporters everywhere have become ever more disenchanted.
The second is that stronger teams will be inclined to reduce West Indies’s Tests from their itineraries in favour of short-format cricket.
The third is that the West Indies again come under the scrutiny of the International Cricket Council (ICC), whose chief executive Dave Richardson has more than once hinted at two divisions for Tests.
The pressure for a rise to full status from Ireland, taking into account their consistent, and continuing, dominance over the associate members (four-day Intercontinental Cup, 50-overs and Twenty20 champions), once more enters the discussion.
Although the embarrassing results over the past month came after the encouragement of six successive Test victories, regardless of the status of the opposition, they cannot be simply dismissed as an aberration, caused primarily by laid-back preparation utterly unsuitable for two tough, back-to-back overseas series, subsequently compounded by the chaotic cross-over from one to the other.
Enough technical and mental flaws were exposed on the field to validate the acknowledged weakness of the regional game to produce players good enough and strong enough to hold their own at the higher level.
Former players in the commentary boxes repeatedly referred to the faulty batting methods against the ball moving off the same (in India from the newcomer Mohammed Shami) and through the air (from the left-right New Zealand combination of Trent Boult and Tim Southee). Nor did everyone deal with the New Zealanders’s occasional aggressive body-line attack with any conviction.
In New Zealand, Ian Bishop and Simon Doull, themselves Test fast bowlers with 259 wickets between them, critically scrutinised the present West Indians’s inability to swing the ball or put it on the required length and line for more than two deliveries at a time. Shannon Gabriel’s scrambled seam was a regular topic.
As disturbing was the lethargic fielding, on the ground and especially in the air; it suggested a neglect of the one aspect that can be enhanced for even the weakest by concerted practice.
If taken, the seven catches that slipped through careless hands in the second Test in Wellington were unlikely to compensate for the batting collapses; they would certainly have ensured a more competitive contest. New Zealand’s top batsman, Ross Taylor, dropped at slip before he had scored, duly proceeded to 112.
The upshot of all this was all out totals of 453 and 495 (by India) and 609 for nine declared and 441 (by New Zealand) against 234, 168, 182 and 187 (in India) and 213, 193 and 175 (in New Zealand); the one total of substance, the second innings 507 in the first Test in New Zealand, just underlined the West Indies inconsistency from one day to the next (449 for nine declared to 148 against Australia, 153 to 463 and 590 to 134 in India in 2012).
At the end of their New Zealand trip, there is not long to sort things out before they are tested by four series in the last eight months of 2014.
The regional Super50 and four-day tournaments, from late January through to March, will provide new options for selectors with fresher ideas than the present panel that, after three years, has patently passed its sell-by date.
It is up to the territorial boards, whose responsibility to the greater whole is often overlooked, to ensure that their coaches and trainers lift their players’s fitness levels and their grounds staff present better pitches than the slow, turning unsatisfactory surfaces that are part of the problem of deteriorating batting standards.
From there, a squad of, say, 30 can be chosen to be in constant readiness to form the nucleus of teams for the international challenges that follow.
New Zealand return to the Caribbean in June for the third meeting of the teams in two years; they found the adjustment to conditions here in July and August 2012 as difficult as the West Indies have in their neck of the woods, losing both Tests, four of the five ODIs and both Twenty20s. As with the West Indies now, they paid the price for inadequate preparation.
They are followed by bottom-of-the-table but noticeably improving Bangladesh, leading into back-to-back tours (three Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20s each as per ICC schedule) of present powerhouses South Africa and India between October and January.
On the evidence of the last month, these loom as more heavy thrashings. While some miracle turnaround is unlikely in that time, it isn’t necessarily so once the West Indies arrive on time with everyone’s visa secured and well-primed.
If the same casual approach as led to the embarrassments in India and New Zealand persists, more three-day defeats are inevitable, bringing demotion to a new Division II of Test cricket ever closer.
That is the alternative. To use the phrase now favoured by West Indian leaders whose governments are in the same predicament, “as bad as things appear, it is not time to despair”.