The 17 years of suffering should have made followers of West Indies cricket pain-proof. But the lickings over the last two months in India and New Zealand have opened up fresh wounds.
It may be a good thing that the action in New Zealand could only be accessed on the Internet by those with fast enough computers. One colleague who went that route for the third One-day International sounded as if he had suffered as much as the West Indies bowlers did that bizarre day at the Queenstown Events Centre.
I’m not wanting to be a masochist, but as a reminder, that match was almost not played because of rain. In the end, the game was reduced to 21 overs per side. Dwayne Bravo won the toss for West Indies and decided to give himself and his bowlers what he thought would have been some kind of advantage by asking the Black Caps to bat first. He could not have imagined in the cliched “million years” what would happen next, but Corey Anderson helped himself to 131 not out off 47 balls and set a new record for the fastest ODI hundred in getting there. Jessie Ryder thumped another 104 off 51 deliveries and the “contest” was as good as over.
The spirit of giving was alive in New Zealand, with Bravo, Sunil Narine, Jason Holder, Ravi Rampaul, Nikita Miller all going for more than 10 runs per over. When the carnage and the hefty 159-run defeat was complete, skipper Bravo said his side had been “caught off-guard” by the onslaught.
Those hardy West Indian fans who had the stomach to watch it through to the bitter end were probably caught off guard as well.
Over the last decade and a half, there have been so many times when followers of the Caribbean team have been rendered speechless and almost bereft of hope because of bewildering reversals, results produced by the kind of cricket that simply would not have been contemplated from about 1979 – when Clive Lloyd’s former World Series Cricket crew went Down Under and beat Australia on their turf for the first time in West Indian history – right up until Mark Taylor’s Aussies came to the Caribbean and ended that glorious era in 1995.
But that Queenstown scene sticks out because one does not expect in a T20 scenario that a team could be beaten so badly. It was as if the side had come under some sort of spell that robbed them of the ability to think the cricket through. Or was it that each disappearing ball robbed the Windies of the will to resist?
Over the last two years or so especially, abject performances like that one seemed to have become a thing of the past. However, by now, anybody following West Indies cricket should have known better, especially after the cricket the team had played in losing both Test matches against India by an innings and two out of the three Tests in New Zealand.
The fact that the squad now about to wrap up a miserable tour barely resembles the West Indies side with its best players is no consolation. It is no consolation because as coach Ottis Gibson pointed out, the fringe players have not taken their chances. Not even their more established teammates have.
West Indies cricket is in serious, serious trouble readers.
Thinking about the dilemma facing an institution that has come to be so important to so many, I think about someone like Kieran Powell as an example.
For starters he is from St Kitts/Nevis in the Leeward Islands, a region that contributed richly to the success of West Indies cricket in the 1980s and 90s. Leewards cricket has fallen on barren times, so to have a youngster still emerge from there was encouraging.
Second, Powell is a strokeplayer, a shot-maker, exciting to watch, a batsman in the West Indian tradition.
Third, Powell is a product of the finishing school of Caribbean cricket – the Sagicor High Performance Centre. When it was launched in 2010, it was hailed as the saviour of future talent. Its graduates, including Powell and fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, have spoken glowingly of the help they have received. Powell has thus far been the most high-profile graduate. Last year he joined George Headley and Gordon Greenidge as West Indians to have scored two centuries in the same Test match when he did so in Bangladesh. Those were two of three centuries the left-hander notched in 2012. A foundation had been established, not so?
However, in seven Test matches in 2013, Powell scored 260 runs and averaged a flat 20.00.
But take note of the way the opening batsman lost his wicket.
First Test against India: (28, 36)
1st innings – Caught at mid-off trying to pull from outside off-stump, first session of the series with Chris Gayle already dismissed.
2nd innings - Lbw playing back to the off-spinner when he should have been forward.
Second Test: (48, nine)
1st innings - Catch to short-leg flicking at left-arm spinner
2nd inings - Picks out lone fielder in the deep at long-off, trying to attack the off-spinner
First Test against NZ: (7, 14)
1st Innings - Catch to keeper, prodding at ball wide of off-stump
2nd Innings - Edges drive to third slip. Does not move his feet to cover movement
Second Test: (21, 36)
1st innings - Lbw missing a flick shot
2nd innings - Bowled by in-swinger
Third Test: (26, zero)
1st innings - Edges a ramp shot to wicketkeeper
2nd innings - Edges catch to slip
Poor decision-making and inadequate technique against the seaming and swinging ball, they tell the story of a difficult year for one of the Windies’ batsmen for the future; a player in whom both time and training has been invested. There is still much opportunity for this 23-year-old to get the most out of his career. But the Powell case is not an isolated one.
As mentioned before, Shannon Gabriel has also spent time at the High Performance Centre but his bowling this year has not reflected such tuition.
The cases of these two and many others can make one wonder about a lot of things, but particularly if young cricketers in the Caribbean are getting the right kind of help and direction they need. It doesn’t seem that they are, or that the authorities really know how best to provide the needed assistance. They also have to deal with a generation lacking pride in themselves and by extension, what they represent.
Depending on the individual, the core reason may be more the former or the latter factor. But these are two issues that are strangling West Indies cricket, slowly but surely.
Every now and then--as in 2012 with the World T20 victory--the noose slackens.
But Mr Windies is still in critical shape.