I expect the pessimists and the cynics to criticise the West Indies (WI) cricket team that completed a considerable beating on Afghanistan in the one-off Test last week. I imagine they would say things like,”It’s only Afghanistan, they don’t count for much.” I assume they would have liked the WI to have been beaten so they could yell, “I told you so.”
And it’s true, as we hear it from the comments in the letters to the editor and from sports writers and even past Test players. Of course, not everyone is negatively bent, and there are also the optimists who, although disappointed over the years, always anticipate the best. They trust that sooner rather than later, WI will be battling with the top-rated cricket teams and competing in a manner to satisfy their deep yearning.
However, the cricket fan who does not wear his heart on his sleeve will understand that rebuilding will take a few years, and what is necessary is to observe the brand of cricket being played as the WI begin their arduous climb back up from the depths of despair and at least get a glimpse of the light of success once more.
Jason Holder’s team defeated England in the Caribbean early this year in the three-Test series and drew the One-Day Internationals (ODI) two-all. That was a great performance, but soon afterwards, in the English summer, they only managed two victories in ten games in the World Cup under ODI rules. That was tough to take.
Nevertheless, I’m happy for Holder, because he’s trying his best for someone who was pitched in at the deep end of the pool and told to be captain, at that time not even being established on the team. He did not succumb to all the defeats he endured and kept his spirits up throughout. It is my feeling that he will rapidly improve his development under Phil Simmons as coach and having Kieron Pollard as his captain in the limited over competitions, both 20 and 50 overs.
The self-confidence that expressed itself in this particular Test, given the reason they were playing away on the Asian sub-continent – which is notorious for its slow turning pitches – and their immediate self-adjustment is noteworthy. The bowling approach by Rahkeem Cornwall in only his second Test, his first away from home, must have been guided by the motivation of his coach and the confidence in him passed on by his captain. And this is a very good sign of things to come.
Their next assignment is against India, a three-match series in all contests. After that first step against the Afghans, it is demanding to leap up the ladder from playing a number ten rated team to the challenges of a number 1! Again, the quality of the cricket will be important whether WI win or lose. While lots of cricket was being played against Afghanistan, the Indians had been playing a series of games as well, against Bangladesh. Therefore they won’t be caught with their pants down.
Also, India had just a couple of months ago trounced the WI in the Caribbean in all formats.
That’s why I believe the mentality of the side going into the tournament is vital. At no time must they consider themselves lesser cricketers than the Indians; but this is easier said than done, because form and outlook would suggest the Indians are way ahead in their ability, confidence and positive expectations. This combination of experience is the virtue the West Indies teams enjoyed in their successful and colourful past.
To regain that psychological attitude one has to be positively motivated and play the game in full concentration, session by session. I expect it will be repeatedly drummed into the players that they are class cricketers. The coach and captain must instil in them the self-belief that they are winners.
The wins against Afghanistan away from home show that they could be directed on a winning course. A sweep in the ODIs and an encouraging and satisfying win in the one-off Test more than offset the loss of 2 to 1 in the T20’s. That shortest format is the easiest to re-build.
The maturity of Sharmah Brooks, piling on a century under the most testing conditions, augurs well for the self-assurance of the team. WI performance in a foreign land. albeit against a weak opposition, is a confidence-builder!