Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Series no great yardstick


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It is simple to regard West Indies’ thrashing of Bangladesh over the past month as nothing more than an embarrassing mismatch.

Given the victories in the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and those by ten wickets and 296 runs in the Tests, that was, indeed, what it was.

A contest between teams, along with Zimbabwe, at the bottom of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) rankings would appear to have only a negative bearing on the overall state of Test cricket.

The sprinkling of spectators barely visible, or audible, in stands usually filled for the abbreviated formats, offered further evidence of the dwindling interest in the traditional game.

The situation should have been of interest to the ICC.

The sport’s world governing body repeatedly trumpets its commitment to the primacy of Test cricket, above its populist limited-overs offshoots. Instead, it grudgingly offers inadequate opportunities to its newest, most vulnerable members to improve by experience.

It has mulled over a two-tier, promotion and relegation arrangement with six teams in each division, except that the three financial powerhouses, Australia, England and India, would be untouchable.   

Zimbabwe and Bangladesh can only remain stationary once they continue to depend on “series” of two Tests.

In the 14 years since they were granted full status, Bangladesh have never been accorded a Test against their neighbours India. Their solitary visit to Australia, for two Tests, was 11 years ago; their forthcoming bottom-of-the-table clash against Zimbabwe at home will be just their third with as many as three Tests.

Gordon Greenidge, the head coach who guided them to the ICC Trophy in Malaysia in 1997 and on to the World Cup two years later, cautioned at the time that they were not properly prepared for Test status. His reasoning was that their domestic cricket was based solely on the one-day variety. The other most recent Test countries, Sri Lanka (1982) and Zimbabwe (1992), came in with the backgrounds of solid first-class tournaments.

Still, seduced by prestige and politics, the administrators dismissed Greenidge’s advice, sacked him and embraced Bangladesh’s promotion. They have floundered ever since, beaten in 70 of their 85 Tests, victorious in just four (two over Zimbabwe, two over the strike-weakened West Indies in 2009).

Although domestic first-class cricket has been introduced, they can make no real progress without more Tests against tougher opposition. It is an extension of Greenidge’s point.

They have had their moments as a team. Left-handed all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, the plucky captain Mushfiqur Rahim and opener Tamim Iqbal are among a group of players of genuine quality.

After the Caribbean losses, Mushfiqur had straightforward reasons for the problems. His team had not found a way to avoid collapsing during crucial periods of a match, he said. It exposed a dearth of mental toughness. They are laments with which West Indies, throughout their regression, can identify.   

In the circumstances, what are West Indies to make of their overall supremacy this time?

It is comparable to their records against New Zealand in the Caribbean in 2012 (both Tests, four of five ODIs and both T20s won) and Zimbabwe last year (a clean sweep of two Tests, three ODIs and two T20s). The shock of heavy defeats that followed in Tests in India and New Zealand should be instructive.

Their upcoming opponents bear no comparison to the beleaguered Bangladeshis. They are India, Test cricket’s No.5 and recent No.1, and South Africa, the present cocks of the walk. They have the home advantage and they loom back to back from late October through late January.

The significant difference is the changes initiated after the defeats in India and New Zealand.

Ottis Gibson is no longer coach, taking his leave after four frustrating years. Curtly Ambrose’s energy and enthusiasm make him more than his official title as bowling coach. Clive Lloyd is new chief selector, insisting that players put West Indies above Twenty20 franchises.

Denesh Ramdin is captain, replacing Darren Sammy, who has quit Test cricket. Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor, both previously absent, are back together as an incisive pace combination. Sulieman Benn, with the height to guarantee complementary bounce for his left-arm spin and the competitive edge to keep him going for lengthy spells, has returned.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul keeps doggedly churning out the runs, accumulating his 30th Test hundred in his 158th and West Indies’ 500th Test in St. Lucia.

After ten Tests, Kraigg Brathwaite has developed into the role as stereotypical Test opener at 21, more or less a top-of-the-order Chanderpaul. His maiden hundred against New Zealand and 214 against Bangladesh two Tests later hint at more to follow over the years.

It’s not to say, as has been said hundreds of times before, that West Indies have “turned the corner”.

Chris Gayle’s lingering back problem is a concern, as is Darren Bravo’s ongoing failure to make good his clearly abundant talent.

There is no settled No. 3, the absence of a qualified all-rounder continues to unbalance the XI and the abundance of muffed catches reveals a combination of complacency and concentration lapses.

Come January, they should know whether the elusive corner is finally beginning to lead straight or if there’s yet another about-turn ahead.

For Bangladesh, it’s Zimbabwe and, apparently, more of the same neglect.

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