Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Walking alone

What must it be like to be Devendra Bishoo today? How does Darren Bravo feel? What do you do next as Ramnaresh Sarwan?

Being a West Indies cricketer must be a most bittersweet thing in these times.

At 25, Bishoo is living his father's dream, having become a West Indies cricketer during last month's ICC World Cup.

Thrown over the boundary suddenly as a replacement for Dwayne Bravo, he landed on his feet, his clever leg-spin defeating three England batsmen in his first match. He left the Indian sub-continent with the reputation as a player to watch and in three matches in the new Home Series against Pakistan, the little Guyanese with the elf-like features has emerged as the Windies' go-to bowler.

In the opening Twenty20 match last Thursday, Bishoo was too good for Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Asad Shafiq.

Going over to Saturday's first One-Day International, he beautifully deceived Ahmed Shehzad and had him stumped and also removed the other opener Mohammad Hafeez.

On Monday, Bishoo got rid of Hafeez and Shezad again, but as in the first ODI, the Pakistanis won easily.

In fact, in those two ODIs, Bishoo was the only West Indies bowler to take a wicket.

What a burden to carry at the start of your career! How does he handle that?

How would you feel when you do the business as a newcomer to the big times, but those efforts don't even help to make for a close game.

Having won the T20 by seven runs, Bishoo and his teammates have followed up by losing the 50-over matches by eight and seven wickets.

What will follow, more licks?

Darren Bravo must be asking himself that question.

Since his West Indies debut last year, the younger brother of all-rounder Dwayne has shown that a physical likeness to Brian Lara is not the only reason his cricket deserves scrutiny.

At the World Cup, he found himself as the team's new No.3 and has remained there against Pakistan. He made 42 in the first T20 as Lendl Simmons did the brunt of the scoring. But in the first ODI, young Darren stood alone. His 67 was the only score over 30 in a total of 221. In the second match, he managed just 12.

By his own admission, he has a problem to solve in this series.

"I wasn't as fluent as I would have liked," he said following the first ODI. "There was a lot of spin and I wasn't able to rotate the strike the way I'm accustomed. I have to fix that. I have to put that right. I have to find a way to turn over the strike in the middle overs and keep the innings be a great player, you have to find a way to score off the good balls, not just the bad balls."

Good self-analysis there, commendable in a budding talent. But where in his team can he get help? New batting consultant Desmond Haynes would be an excellent shoulder to lean on, for he was highly skilled in keeping the score moving as an opening batsman. But talking with Desi at the nets is not the same as having him at the other end of the pitch, someone who can come up with helpful suggestions in between balls.

But here is Bravo, a rookie still but, like Bishoo, finding himself cast in the role of main performer. Wouldn't it have been a help to have Ramnaresh Sarwan or Shivnarine Chanderpaul meeting you at the crease at some stage to rotate the strike, to deal with Saeed Ajmal and take some of the pressure off?

Skipper Darren Sammy, poor fellow, has not been able to be of such aid to either of his young charges, struggling as he is even more than them with bat and ball.

And like so many of his predecessors in the job, the repeated beatings have forced him into repetitive speech.

Hear him after Monday's loss: "There were moments when things could have gone either way, but we didn't make it happen. We have to find a make to make it happen for us. We have to find a way to win those tight situations...we have to grab our chances."

Familiar words those. Empty words.

Captain after captain over the last decade has said similar things. But, nowadays, the need to "make things happen" is urgent. Why? Because West Indies cricket is full of greenhorns as the cowboys of the old West would have said: young, undeveloped talent searching for direction but not yet finding it.

The exclusion all at once of the three most senior batsmen, Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle has made an already bad situation worse.

Good sense would suggest that such an imbalance be rectified by at least the re-introduction of Sarwan for the ODIs and he and Chanders for the Tests.

We are such a throwaway society that as distinguished a servant as Chanderpaul seems to have been cast aside just so.

I have listened to West Indies Cricket Board CEO Ernest Hilaire's declaration that senior players like Sarwan and Chanderpaul have not been discarded. But I wonder if coach Ottis Gibson or head selector Clyde Butts has personally given such assurances to these players. Or are they as in the dark as I over what role, if any, they will have in the team this season? And will any return to the squad be evidence of a preconceived plan, or a typical knee-jerk reaction to defeat?

What, I wonder, must Chanders be thinking? Do 8,778 ODI runs and 11 centuries count for so little? Have the many years of unceasing runs in Tests (9,063--22 centuries) been of such fleeting value that a year of modest results can carry greater sway?

Does he feel as disrespected as Gayle over his Windies treatment?

This is a column of many questions. I don't expect answers.

The Bravos and Bishoos of regional cricket look as though they will have to walk alone.