Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Measuring expectations

File Photo: Dwayne Bravo


“It looks like West Indies have a chance now.”

As with many others invigorated at what appears to be the imminent return of Darren Bravo to international duty, a young man with great cricketing aspirations of his own was speaking enthusiastically on Thursday night about the regional team's prospects in England next month.

It is just the latest manifestation of that yearning for a return to glory ever since the dark clouds rolled in with the watershed triumph of Mark Taylor's Australians in 1995.

However this undimmed desire for the dawn of another era of sustained Caribbean dominance is such that too much is often read into the very occasional outstanding performance or the even more infrequent major success, wishfully celebrating those moments as if the gloom was being lifted at long last from the West Indian brand of style, panache and ruthless efficiency which remains the diamond standard of cricketing excellence.

From the demolition of India in the lone T20 International at Sabina Park eight days ago to the announcement that Bravo's exile is over, coupled with hints of a compromise clearing the way for the prominent T20 franchise stars to represent the West Indies across all formats, the growing optimism is palpable.

Which is why a reality check is necessary.

Yes, there may be a few more moments of brilliance on the field of play that could translate into greater competitiveness at Test and One-Day International level especially, but where is the evidence suggesting the presence of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine automatically translates into a more successful West Indies team?

If this so-called truce is real, if the reconciliation as expressed by both Cricket West Indies president Dave Cameron and Darren Bravo is sincere, then it is to be welcomed. It has been an entirely unnecessary and unedifying spectacle unfolding over the past eight months, serving only to expose the inability of grown men to settle a straightforward matter for the greater good of the game and the people who expect much more from their representatives on and off the field.

However it takes a whole lot more than that to transform a deep-rooted culture of defeat, a state of play to which all of the aforementioned superstars will be intimately familiar.

When the great schism occurred in October of 2014 and the Dwayne Bravo-led ODI side abandoned the tour of India in a pay dispute with their own Players Association in which Cameron chose not to intervene, the West Indies were already languishing at number eight in the International Cricket Council's one-day rankings. And as most should be aware, except for the brief period from mid-2012 to early 2013 when six Tests in a row were won (against New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), number eight has been a virtually permanent preserve of the Caribbean team in the traditional format, although Bangladesh's marked improvement could see them shunting the former kings down to number nine, with only Zimbabwe between themselves and the bottom.

So the evidence is unavoidable: notwithstanding the occasional pyrotechnics of the immediately recognisable stars of the West Indian firmament, their previous contributions have not translated into an improvement in the regional team's lowly position in world cricket in Tests and ODI's.

And isn't it ironic, according to the information leaking out from unofficial sources on the circumstances of the presumed reconciliation between players and administration, that it is being brokered by a West Indies Players Association to which most prominent players no longer belong?

This is not to say that, with the situation as desperate as it is, key personalities could not have come together over the past few days and agreed in large part to let bygones be bygones and try and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose for the sake of West Indies cricket, especially with another daunting challenge less than a month away.

Yet even if that mood of reconciliation exists - and it's only with the passage of time that we will know for sure - it must be emphasised that it is factually incorrect to hold that the lowly status of West Indies cricket was precipitated by the T20 franchise conflicts of the last five years.

We have been in a mess long before that, hence the earlier reference to 1995. All of those acclaimed icons of the past 22 years, as much as their individual brilliance would have delighted us, could not lift the West Indies from the mediocrity to which it had sunk.

It may therefore be expecting too much for them to do it now or, as someone overhearing the eager youngster's Darren Bravo-inspired optimism of last Thursday responded: “Don't bother with them fellas! Is young players like you who have to save West Indies cricket!”