It is time! West Indies and Australia are ready for Test cricket. While five ODI’s (One Day Internationals) and two T20I’s (Twenty20 Internationals) gave us great surprises, tremendous excitement, even euphoria, it is Test cricket where slugging does not work, that really counts. Only the very strong, those with real, tough stamina, will survive! “Fast is good, it may get you there quickly! Do not underrate slow, you will get there anyway, maybe!” My mother reminded this daily. Without much knowledge of cricket, Sylvia was right. Our appetites are now whetted for three Tests. Mindsets and preparations—mental and physical—must be realigned and retooled for longer games. What may have been thought for 20, 40, 50 or 100 overs, must now take cranial space for five days. As England found out, to their chagrin, last week in Test No 1 versus Sri Lanka, Test cricket is long and hard. Its many varying loops are quite subtle and deliberate. If you only trained for a 400 metre race, you will be unprepared for a 3,000m steeplechase and will falter badly at the longer escapade. West Indies have done wonderfully well against Australia in games that lasted one day. Now, it is left to be seen how much mental development and maturity have been gained over especially the last year, with Ottis Gibson as head coach and Darren Sammy as captain. As Walt Disney World says: “Now is the time, now is the best time of your life!” Yes, now is exactly that time when those who profess by actions, words or commitment, or none whatsoever too, that “I am good,” must prove it definitively, not for flirtatious, flashy overs but for five days. It will not be easy. Like invigilators instruct at the end of test-taking periods while you ponder as to if you did indeed complete everything required to pass the examinations for that specific qualification, “It is time!”
Australia’s South African head coach, Mickey Arthur, prophetically suggested West Indies should not be underrated as teams playing in their ‘back-yard’ (home) could even things out. He was correct! As Sri Lanka started the First Test against England, England’s former captain Michael Vaughan in his preview on Test Match Special (TMS) opined incredulously thoughts that probably came directly out of his present team’s dressing room, uncovering their mindset. “Sri Lanka’s left-arm spinner Rangana Herath is a good bowler,” suggested Vaughan, “but he does not spin the ball much. Even on spin-friendly pitches, England’s batsmen should not find him too difficult a proposition. He does not get any prodigious turn. All England must do is be patient and play him out.” In that opening Test, Sri Lanka against England, Herath had career-best match figures of 12–171 (6–74 and 6–97)! He bowled magnificently to allow his team their first Test success since that champion of bowling champions, Muttiah Muralitheran, retired in July 2010. Australia though, have Test personnel advantages, even if they are not fully aware of conditions. Having come face-to-face with some of West Indies’ offerings, they will certainly not be taking the home team lightly. They are probably shocked at the ODI series; (2-2) and T20I (1-1) results. Veterans Ricky Ponting (162 Tests, 13200 runs), Michael Hussey (70 Tests, 5489 runs) and Michael Clarke (80 Tests, 5909 runs) present tremendous experiences and production. Get one cheaply and others could still pummel West Indies to a pulp. It has been done before. While Australia struggled to manage the slowness of Arnos Vale’s pitches, they endured, diligently as good professionals do, to bring themselves up to throttled speed for games there.
Having enjoyed the bounce and pace of Beausejour, St Lucia, they also looked forward to the renowned Kensington Oval (Barbados), considered almost universally of having the best cricket-friendly pitch in the Caribbean. The curators at “The Mecca” have massive responsibilities to uphold. Consistent bounce, good pace, sufficient movement and late game spin, enabling batsmen to play strokes “through the line,” should allow for a tremendous First Test at Kensington Oval, even though, like most things for West Indies recently, it is no longer that bastion of our own successes anymore. Former England captain Mike Gatting, who vacationed in Barbados weeks ago, former England national selector, David Graveney, and his immediate successor, Geoff Miller, told me at a Professional Cricketers Association event in London last week, exactly the same thing about West Indies cricket: “Whatever West Indies selectors do, they must try their best to keep a specific squad together. It makes no sense to chop and change players—two players here, three more there—if West Indies are to build a squad which could compete on level ground, in all formats of the game.” They are not wrong. We have all heard this before. Indeed, all of us have been begging West Indies selectors to do exactly that for ages. Fazeer Mohammed, probably the best statistician among Caribbean sports journalists, even kept a log of comings and goings. He must have given up around 2009, players coming and leaving all too often. Clive Lloyd, West Indies’ captain from 1974-1986, used fewer than 35 players in his world-beating teams of over ten years. Viv Richards did better, using even less! Since 1995, after West Indies lost its No 1 Test status to Australia, especially in 2000’s, abacuses must have disintegrated adding names of players who have represented West Indies. For the 2010’s that practice must end. Time in the team, like Test cricket, is the key.
There are few ‘certainties’. Kemar Roach has proved his worth. Hopefully his fitness will hold. Fidel Edwards has bettered his speed and control such that he features in T20’s. If Ravi Rampaul is fully fit so much the better. Adrian Barath has returned but like Dwayne Smith, is garnering a reputation of being a one-hundred wonder. With Chris Gayle uncertain, Barath has a great opportunity to remove such doubts. Kirk Edwards has not featured much so far this year. Test No 1 is a good time to start. “Old Man,” Shivnarine Chanderpaul (137 Tests, 9709 runs) is guaranteed to assist reliably. Spinners Devendra Bishoo and Sunil Narine have excelled in recent outings. With Narine scheduled for IP (Indian Premier League), Bishoo could be entrenched in this ultimate, attritional war. Shane Shillingford, Windward Islands off-spinner, and Guyanese all-rounder Narsingh Deonarine could feature this series too. Sammy has become better at inspiration, cohesiveness and performances while wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh keeps his place, having clawed his way number one with as good ‘keeping over the last six months as have been seen in the halcyon days of West Indies cricket. He now needs runs. Andre Russell would be a great contender and competitor as would Dwayne Bravo, if both are fit and available. Darren Bravo also has an IPL contract but will have to overcome his recent ODI failures even though his recent Test returns have been excellent. Kieron Pollard and Marlon Samuels might also be missing through IPL. Thus, Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell could feature too. While West Indies selectors will have a very difficult situation with players’ availability, this can still be the best time for all! Enjoy!