Firstly, Happy New Year to all readers. After all, let us hope that 2022 is far better than the last two years and that we can get back to some sort of normalcy with our lives. Test cricket started the New Year with some shockers. In terms of marketability and hype, every cricket lover was glued to the Ashes series between England and Australia. One was hoping, especially the English, for a very competitive series down under as the English have not fared well in the last couple of visits to Australia.
Skipper Joe Root, the great player he undoubtedly is, cannot yet score a century in front of an Australian home crowd. Perhaps understandably, their only warm-up match against their A team was abandoned after 29 overs so their preparation leading up to the first test was virtually non-existent. Subsequently, it came as no surprise that they were hammered in the first three tests before the turn of the new year. 2022 did not bring them much more luck as they hung on for a draw in the 4th test with their last pair, the evergreen James Anderson and his bowling partner for many a year - Stuart Broad - actually saving them with the bat as they played out the final two overs of the test. Based on their visible excitement, you would have thought England won but I suppose the “victory” is they now cannot be whitewashed in the series.
The critics in England, in analysing their test teams performance, are now saying that the powers that be are paying too much attention to white-ball cricket and not enough preparation and planning is going on with red-ball cricket. Sounds familiar, right? But I just cannot see them rebounding and turning their fortunes around to win the fifth test. I think it's going to be another case of survival as this Australian team at home is such an incredibly strong unit. They are producing fast bowlers as the West Indies did in the ’70s. After the first test, both Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood were injured and out of the 2nd test, incomes Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser. After going wicketless in the first innings, Richardson scalps a fiver in the second innings; Cummins returns for the third test; Richardson is dropped (yes, dropped after taking a fiver) and Scott Boland makes his debut and gets 6 for 7 to dismiss the English for 68. It doesn’t stop there - Travis Head, who got a century in the first test and a 50 in the 2nd test, was ill and couldn't play the 4th test so in comes Usman Khawaja and he promptly scores 137 and 101 not out in the test match. Crazy, isn't it?
Australia is playing some fantastic cricket in all formats of the game and their cricketers are bouncing around with the confidence of champions. It will be interesting to see when they come out of their comfort zone of playing in Australia just how they will perform.
The real shocker came in the test series New Zealand vs. Bangladesh. How did the impossible happen for the Kiwis, the world test champions, to lose on home soil too, of all teams, the Tigers! Give Bangladesh a lot of credit as they have improved tremendously since I last saw them and they are getting these results without Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal. They are a fighting unit and they were underrated by their opponents who paid the ultimate price. The world champions certainly put things right in the 2nd test as the pitch had some bounce and pace and the Bangladesh batsmen, except for Litton Das couldn't cope with the pace and bounce of the Kiwi fast bowlers. Going forward, this Bangladesh test team will cause some uncomfortable moments for the more established test nations and I won’t be surprised if they move up the test rankings.
The 3rd test series that is currently taking place is also making compelling viewing. India, the top-ranked Test team in the world, is finding life tough in South Africa. After winning the first test comfortably by 113 runs, the Proteas bounced back to win the 2nd test even with the shock retirement of Quinton de Kock. It goes to show that sometimes when a superstar quits a team, the team pulls together even more. His replacement behind the stumps - Kyle Verreynne - took 7 catches in the 2nd test and has already taken 5 catches in the Indian first innings of the current third test. The Indians are not going to get any spinners’ pitch in South Africa so their quality fast-bowlers led by Jasprit Bumrah will have to win the test for them but it is going to be a real dog fight to see who eventually wins the series.
My dear readers, this is test cricket at its best. An irate West Indies fan told me recently, “you think West Indies could cope with that cricket? Not even Bangladesh we could beat now.” It is an unfortunate statement however I am happy to see the regional 4-day tournament is back and perhaps the West Indies can unearth some young bright prospects.
I am sure many would love to see the likes of Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Brandon King, just to name a few, playing four-day cricket to get into the Test team. However, with all the lucrative T20 cricket all over the world, playing in the regional tournament is not as attractive and Cricket West Indies (even though some of these players are under contract) will still be granted permission to go and play yet the obvious wish is to see the best West Indies team in the test arena. Well, as Iwer George who sang a calypso instead of a soca song many years ago would say in that calypso, “think it over”.
There is nothing to test a player's ability like test cricket. How is it that the Australians, the English, the Kiwis, the Indians etc. can easily get their best players playing for their country in all formats of the game? Something has to be fundamentally wrong with the structure of West Indies cricket.
Let me end on an extremely sad note as I would like to send my deepest condolences to the family, friends and the entire athletic community on the passing of Deon Lendore. He was one of those athletes that made me proud to be a Trini when I was in London in 2012 attending the Olympic games. I distinctly remember the 4 x 400 metres relay team finishing third with Deon Lendore holding off a fast-finishing Martyn Rooney of Great Britain by .13 seconds with the entire stadium shouting for Rooney but what heart and courage Lendore showed. A truly tragic end to such a short and promising life. May he rest in eternal peace.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.