Given the insipid cricket which the West Indies have been playing for years and years, there have been times – and the time that I wrote this was one of them – when it has been easy to forget their glorious history. This was a small attempt to redress the balance, founded on the feeling that these days you always know what to expect from the West Indies, and the realization that, in fact, you always did. In the old days it was excellence and domination; now it is low standards and capitulation.
Sometimes, though, as when Kemar Roach bounced Jonny Bairstow at Trent Bridge in 2012, there are echoes of the past to cling on to.
For a West Indian fast bowler Kemar Roach is quite a small man, and, with his gentle features and unassuming body language, he gives off a slight air of reticence. When it comes to height, aggression and the iron confidence that accompanies great skill, he’s no Ambrose, or Croft or Marshall.
The West Indies have been getting beaten for so long that many of their players carry an air of pessimism and fractured confidence without even being aware of it. This, along with the technical issues which are seemingly always there – Roach’s no-balls, poor shot selection by the upper order, confused running between the wickets and vulnerable fielding – is what Gibson and Sammy are striving to overcome. Small strides have been made in England over the past week or two, although placid pitches have helped and a relatively small number of players – Shiv (of course), Samuels, Sammy and Roach himself – have really excelled.
More, much more, is needed from others and some may not be capable of it.
This is the West Indies. They never are.
It’s easy to feel sorry for modern West Indian players. Even for those of us who lived through it, the era when their predecessors exuded invincibility has long since faded into the past. Documentaries are made about it, YouTube is full of it, but, when all is said, it’s just so last century. For more years than is decent, the West Indian Test team has been a pitiful thing.
For me, the most exciting moment of the match which concluded today at Trent Bridge was the second ball which Roach bowled to Jonny Bairstow yesterday. It was a perfectly directed short ball of high pace, heading for the throat, impossible for anyone, let alone an inexperienced Test batsman like Bairstow, to play with composure, or ease, or lack of fear. For a second or two you could have been back watching Close against Holding at Old Trafford, or Peter Willey facing Patterson at Kingston, or Robin Smith battling away, seemingly for his very life, against Bishop and the rest in Bridgetown.
Then there is something as apparently inconsequential as the West Indies cap. A deep and meaningful shade of maroon, bearing the badge which all of the combined territories’ very best players – and they have been among the greatest the game itself has ever produced – have worn. With the sole exception of Chanderpaul, none of the players who wore it today will ever be talked of as great, but the cap links them to the past and brings you up short if you ever find yourself thinking of them as just another team.
This is the West Indies. Don’t ever forget it.
These evocations of the past must be relished and clung to as tangible representations of the hope of a better future.
For without those there is nothing.
Different Shades of Green, 28th May 2012