Former TT and West Indies pacer Tony Gray believes Cricket West Indies (CWI) and the various territorial boards must do all in their power to curate pitches across the Caribbean to help nurture the raw fast-bowling talent in the region.
Speaking to Newsday in the aftermath of Shamar Joseph's stunning match-winning spell of seven for 68 against the number-one ranked Australia in the second Test of their two-match series at The Gabba in Brisbane, Gray said similar fast-bowling talents can be unearthed by producing faster tracks and implementing more strategic scouting initiatives.
Joseph, 24, has taken the cricket world by storm in the last two weeks, with his second-innings exploits in The Gabba Test leading West Indies to their first Test win in Australia since 1997. Joseph took the wicket of Aussie talisman Steve Smith with his very first ball in Test cricket, before bowling his way to a five-wicket haul on his Test debut in Adelaide.
After having his big toe busted by a brutal Mitchell Starc yorker on day three of the Brisbane Test, a fiery Joseph returned on day four to help captain Kraigg Brathwaite's team to a riveting eight-run win – handing the Aussies their first loss in 12 day/night pink-ball Tests. Joseph's heroics earned him both the Man of the Match and Player of the Series awards and also him receiving plaudits from cricket greats such as AB de Villiers and former Australian skipper Steve Waugh.
Gray said Joseph's "mechanics are near-perfect for his height and size" and he said the Guyanese quick was a "source of inspiration" for Brathwaite's troops in their thrilling win. Gray also lauded the all-round effort from West Indies in the second Test, and he highlighted Joshua Da Silva, Kavem Hodge and the fast-bowling pair of Alzarri Joseph and Kemar Roach for their respective roles in the Caribbean team's win.
In the Josephs and young TT seamer Jayden Seales, Gray said West Indies have the tools to rattle quality opposing batsmen. He said "pace is it" in the world's game at present and the Windies must return to what brought them success in their heyday.
"We have to set up scouting efforts and caravans, where we have people who understand the intricacies of pace and what we are looking for. We should be looking for pace first of all.
"We dominated world cricket with pace. Australia and India are doing it now. There is a fear-factor attached to it."
Gray said improving the quality of bowlers and pitches in the Caribbean will only help to enhance the overall standard of the game.
"The focus cannot be fast bowling alone, but if we build the fast bowlers we will build batsmen who can play against fast bowlers.
"All the pitches cannot be fast eh. We had the perfect system which created the perfect team," Gray said, throwing his mind back to West Indies teams from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
"When you look at the dominance of our teams, they came from different pitches in the Caribbean. They had pitches which challenged their techniques and their psychological strengths," Gray said.
"The type of pitches will produce the type of cricketer."
Gray said West Indies' legendary opening pair of Gordon Greenidge and current chief selector Desmond Haynes honed their skills on fast and bouncy wickets in Barbados, with the pair of Richie Richardson and Vivian Richards also harnessing their own playing styles on pacey pitches in Antigua. Meanwhile, Gray said the trio of Sir Clive Lloyd, Larry Gomes and Alvin Kallicharran were able to build their foundations on "slow turners" in Guyana and Trinidad.
"We need to go back to the times when we dominated world cricket. The pitches were varied so it increased our intelligence level too, because we had to adjust. We had perfect preparation in our batting order in accordance with where they came from. It clearly shows the environment impacts the way people play."
Gray said the decision-makers do not need to reinvent the wheel, as the template to success was established with previous West Indian teams.
"It is easy, but we have not done the research. There is no research being done on West Indies cricket. There is no systematic or individual research (being conducted)."
Former Windies leg-spinner Samuel Badree also spoke about the need for the quality of the pitches in the Caribbean to be improved, even as he heaped praises on Brathwaite's team for a Test win which will "no doubt would be etched in West Indian folklore."
"Speaking to Newsday, Badree said, "CWI needs to strengthen the regional game at the territorial level. Our first class and Super 50 tournaments need drastic improvements – not only in quality of pitches – but quality of cricket.
"I believe in quality (of matches) over quantity. 'A' team tours are important for continued development."