First Past the Last Post

27th April 2015

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

The new Chairman of the ECB, Colin Graves recently marked his arrival in the role with a few eye-raising pronouncements: he excited expectation by appearing to concede that were was a chance Kevin Pietersen could return to England’s Test side; he insisted that anything less than an emphatic series win in the Caribbean was unacceptable for an England side up against the ‘mediocre’ West Indies; and he confirmed he would push for the introduction of 4-day Tests.

Glad to hear English cricket is now in safe hands!

In fact, of the above statements, only the second can really be given any credence. But how happy the West Indies would have been if 4-day Tests were already with us!

They could have slept soundly after four days of competitive cricket in the 2nd Test, and written off the events of Day 5 as an unpleasant nightmare brought about by a case of dyspepsia. As the disbelieving Ebenezer Scrooge says of Jacob Marley’s apparition in ‘A Christmas Carol’:

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Well, Antigua’s Gravy has long since retired – a memory of Test cricket past; while Graves’ 4-day foolishness may be an unpleasant foreboding of Test cricket yet to come. Yet West Indies’ Grenada capitulation was all too real, and all too horrible. Test cricket present – and what a gift-wrapped one they handed England.

However, let us not undervalue England’s last day performance, James Anderson’s in particular.

Having written last week of Jimmy’s record-breaking wicket haul for England, many scribes were keeping their pencils sharp in preparation to follow-up by scribbling his Test cricket obit. This week he proved he still has the ability to bag a few more scalps before he’s hauled off the international stage.

Reactions to sporting victories/defeats have a forgivable tendency to be one-eyed, depending on context and the climate of the prevailing perceived wisdom. Thus, in the UK a win is most usually received with either a ‘we were great’ or a ‘they were rubbish’ analysis. At the moment, England’s fans are rather down on their team, hence the emphasis was a little on the latter.

In the Caribbean the response will have been similar – I doubt many analysts were focusing on England’s Day 5 excellence, rather on West Indies’ abysmal capitulation.

I try to remain balanced in these things, so of course I have to conclude that it was a bit of both.

Anderson undeniably raised his game on the last day, and prised out a couple of very prized possessors of the crease in Brathwaite and Chanderpaul. Kraigg had been resolute and excellent, and his defiance was worthy of greater reward than defeat. He is a rock around which West Indies cricket can lay the foundations of their rebuilding.

Shiv, however, is past his best – in fact it may be that he’s not merely exceeded his ‘best before’ date, but also, sadly, his ‘sell by’ – and now belongs on the shelf with the other ‘reduced items’. If the selectors are looking for a scapegoat in defeat, he is now the most obvious fall guy.

But the wickets of others were charitable hand-outs. Blackwood especially, and to a lesser degree Holder and Roach, were dreadful dismissals from a team trying to draw a Test. It was almost as if the West Indies had done so well on Day 4, and in the previous Test’s rearguard, that they could relax and chill out. They forgot that a Test Match is no place for a ‘lime’.

Getting caught at deep mid-off/on, or being run-out without due care and attention when you are attempting to save a match are not acceptable. Hundreds in the 1st Test did not give Jermaine and Jason licence to give it away in the 2nd. Coach Curtly Ambrose’s infuriated face reflected the annoyance and frustration that most of the Caribbean was feeling.

Holder’s injury has put his place in doubt for the Barbados Test, in which case I’d expect a straight swap for Carlos Brathwaite. Blackwood’s place is not in doubt – but repeat performances of his 2nd Test indiscretions would give the selectors food for thought.

His 1st Test century was hailed as suitably old-style Caribbean ‘calypso’ in manner – but he also enjoyed a fair measure of good fortune. I reserve judgement on whether he has the right temperament for a long-term Test future – and his acknowledgement that Chris Gayle and Andre Russell were his greatest influences did not reassure me.

West Indies need to reinforce their bowling if they are to win the final Test – but it’s still not clear where they can squeeze that extra resource into the side. If Taylor is fit they may gamble and include him instead of a batsman – probably Shiv, or possibly even Devon Smith, shifting someone up as a make-shift opener – but a similar make-up to the first two Tests is most likely. The only other change may be seeing Leon Johnson replacing Smith at the top of the order.

Bishoo bowled well in Grenada, but the impression was that he would’ve been more of a threat if he’d been supported by a more challenging second spinner than Samuels, well though he did. West Indies missed a trick by not including Bishoo’s Guyanese partner Permaul here to balance the attack – but it’s unlikely they’ll consider this an option for the Kensington Oval.

West Indies have been unfortunate with their spinners in recent times. They’ve had a few good ones, but keep losing them. Shane Shillingford and Sunil Narine were both effectively neutered by having their bowling actions condemned, and Bishoo lost form. His impressive return to Test cricket was timely and welcome, and gives his side some hope for the final Test – though I expect a stronger England performance and another victory.

A lot of newspaper print and Twitter characters during the St George’s Test were used arguing the pros and cons of Marlon Samuels’ send-off to Ben Stokes – standing smartly to attention as though on the parade ground signalling the Last Post to the departing batsman.

Some felt it funny, some inflammatory. It was both.

Sledging in all its forms is not big, but just (very) occasionally it can clever.

It was an amusing moment, and Stokes deserved some come back after previously exchanged pleasantries – but thank Heavens he just took it and moved on. Likewise Samuels when Stokes came a little to close to applaud him off the field later in the game. Samuels’ salute was enjoyable – but let’s hope we don’t see it repeated or imitated, or we may see players squaring up rather than square bashing.

There was some good news for the West Indies this week – they have climbed a place in the ICC ODI rankings to 7th – courtesy of Pakistan’s fall to 8th, following a 3-0 defeat in Bangladesh.

However, they should look beyond the brief satisfaction of gaining at another’s expense and worry that Bangladesh are getting ever-closer. If Pakistan can fall to 8th, then the WIndies can conceivably drop to 9th – and bear in mind that the Champions Trophy usually features only the world’s top eight 50-over sides.

In Tests, England are currently 3rd and West Indies 8th. To tell the truth, there isn’t that much between either of them, or Pakistan, nor a few others. It only goes to demonstrate that there are a lot of 5th rate cricket teams out there at the moment.

Perhaps of most significance in the last seven days was the joint statement by Caricom and the West Indies Cricket Board that, following a meeting between Caricom’s Cricket Governance Committee and the Directors and Management of the WICB in Grenada on April 20th, a panel is to be established to conduct a review of the governance structure of the Board.

The news of this latest Caribbean détente was delivered with an air of mutual accord and satisfaction, and (as yet) without any media rumblings.

But I detect more than a whiff of Government interference. While I certainly welcome it, I wonder if the Board and its President does?

WICB President Dave Cameron said:

“I think the meeting was very productive and very positive. We have agreed on a way forward. I think we have a shared vision and all of us want to see West Indies perform at the highest standard. We are committed to making this happen.”

Elsewhere in the press release, however, it is evident that the State Heads have decided ‘enough is enough’ and that the time has come for the WICB to be placed under direct governmental scrutiny:

“The Cricket Governance Committee, which initiated the meeting, was established by the Heads of Government to review the administrative and governance structure of WICB with a view to involving greater stakeholder participation. It comprises the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. the Hon. Keith Mitchell as Chairman, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon. Gaston Brown and the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves.

It was agreed that the Prime Minister of Grenada, as Chairman of the Cricket Governance Committee, will consult with the President of the WICB on the composition of the five-member panel.

The CARICOM Secretary General will prepare the Terms of Reference for the work of the panel and submit them to Prime Minister Mitchell who will also consult with the President of the WICB on the matter.

The Cricket Governance Committee and the WICB have also agreed that the panel will submit its recommendations within three months of the commencement of its evaluation. Upon receipt of the report, both sides are intent on collaborating with each other with a view to reversing the current negative trends in the sport and its governance.”

Some heavyweight intervention is certainly needed if the wolf at the door claiming USD$42m is to be kept at bay and somehow satisfied or assuaged (although Vinode Mamchan reported that this issue was not actually discussed at the meeting last Monday).

Grenada’s Prime Minster, Dr. Keith Mitchell when interviewed by Barry Wilkinson on this week’s edition of Line and Length, made it abundantly clear that the region’s Heads of State were getting personally involved, saying:

“Heads of government have in fact invested their credibility into a solution for West Indies cricket. We cannot afford to fail. Politicians cannot afford to invest their credibility into any serious issue and fail because it will affect their image, and this has so much impact on the region and our economy that we cannot afford to do otherwise.”

That seems to make it pretty clear that the PMs and Presidents of the islands are going to be throwing their weight about this time, with Dr Mitchell, as he put it, at the ‘centre of the leadership‘.

Surely this undermines both Dave Cameron’s authority, and the powers of the WICB? It also begs the question: ultimately, who is running the show?

I doubt very much that Dave Cameron is comfortable with this interference. I suspect that this is the price he is being made to pay for undermining Dr Gonsalves and Dr Mitchell over the Hyatt Accord – insulting them by reneging on the gentleman’s agreement not to ‘discriminate against’ nor ‘victimise’ Dwayne Bravo and his teammates over their strike action in India last October. Bravo and Kieron Pollard were nonetheless dropped from West Indies’ World Cup squad.

The players’ representative, Ralph Thorne QC recently confirmed that Bravo and Pollard would not be seeking redress though the courts. It is unlikely they will pursue the issue further, effectively ending the matter. But a bitter taste remains in several mouths over the episode, not least among the politicians, who (without any sense of irony!) concluded that Cameron was not a man of his word.

The recriminations over the circumstances that lead up to the strike, the tour’s abandonment, and the events that followed, are still simmering under the surface, and have still yet to properly boil. This week’s Joint Statement may well be the first sign of new bubbles.

I doubt very much that this will be my last post on the subject.

David Oram

David Oram is an Englishman resident in Islamabad following West Indies cricket. When living in Barbados he was the ‘statto’ and sometime presenter of ‘Mason & Guests’ – Voice of Barbados’ weekly cricket talk show, the leading cricket radio show in the West Indies – hosted by the Caribbean’s principal radio commentator, Andrew Mason. You can tweet me at DavidOram@colblimp1983.

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7 thoughts on “First Past the Last Post

  1. David Oram Post author

    My good friend David Kinnon (my former next-door neighbour in Barbados) emailed me the following:

    Hi David

    You will remember perhaps that in his early days James Anderson was criticized for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that some felt he did not play enough county cricket to develop as a bowler or to warrant selection.

    Then and now, I believed he had talent of an all-round bowling nature. Not the nagging persistence of a Hoggard or the wicket-taking explosiveness of a Harmison but an ability to work with ball, wicket and conditions to produce results in almost all circumstances. Not the best English bowler of all time, for sure, but a very good one in my opinion.

    As for Mr Graves?
    No to Pietersen’s return
    No to 4-day Tests
    No to expecting a resounding triumph on this West Indies tour: not when experimenting with Trott’s rehabilitation, at a time when Braithwaite, Jason Holder and one or two others are showing promise in the West Indies XI.

    These blogs really cheer up my morning! From a misty Trinidad.

    Best regards

    David

    Reply
  2. realthog

    I guess we’re all having to eat crow, those of us who in comments on your previous post talked about Anderson being vastly overrated: on that last morning he took four wickets and two catches, and executed a brilliant runout . . . and it was quite a surprise when the final wicket fell and he wasn’t involved. Although I don’t like the man and his attitude to the game, I thought it was a travesty when Little Joe (of whom I’m a great fan) got the MoM award, even though his innings was a masterpiece.

    Reply
  3. David Oram Post author

    Yes and no. ‘One swallow does not a summer make’, and neither does one session make us eat crow. Jimmy is a good cricketers, capable of periods of greatness – but not prolonged excellence. Probably agree with you on the MoM award though, even though Root may be made of the stuff of greatness. At least we know Jimmy has potentially enough left in him to win us back the Ashes!

    Reply
    1. Michael Oram

      Thoroughly enjoyable piece full of quality opinion. I class Jimmy Anderson on the same level as Kevin Pietersen . I believe that Pietersen is not a great player but a very good one who is capable of playing a great innings. Similarly, Anderson is a very good test match bowler capable of bowling a great or match winning spell as we witnessed in the 2nd test. Bear in mind he took 10 wickets in the 1st test against the Aussies at Nottingham two years ago but did not influence any of the other test matches in that series. Great bowlers influence the whole of a series. I am sure that there will be many readers out there that do not agree with me.

      Reply
      1. David Oram Post author

        Well said, Dad!
        I agree with you – and that’s all that counts! 🙂

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