Thanks to the T20 leagues, there are obvious reasons to believe chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd, who recently remarked that playing Tests for West Indies no longer seems paramount for players, writes Tony Cozier
Clive Lloyd leaves no doubt over where he stands on Twenty20 cricket. As West Indies were trounced by an innings inside three days in the two Sachin Tendulkar farewell Tests in India in November 2013, the captain through the glory days of the 1980s commented that they "looked drunk on Twenty20".
West Indies' Sheldon Cottrell is clean bowled on Day Three of the first Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park on December 19. Pic/Getty Images
Last week, as new chairman of selectors, Lloyd contended that Twenty20 had "messed up West Indies cricket". Playing Tests for West Indies, he said, no longer seemed a paramount goal for players. There are obvious reasons. Players can read the certain signs that Test cricket for West Indies is in its last throes, a condition evident in the results over the past two decades and in the markedly dwindling attendances. The upshot is that they regard Twenty20 as the game of the future. For some, if not all, it is also undoubtedly a matter of money and how much of it they can make in the two vastly different versions.
Pollard's time is up
For others, it is a response to their pigeon-holing as limited-overs specialists by previous selection panels. Certainly, Kieron Pollard, who is yet to be picked for Tests seven years after his first-class debut, has repeatedly pleaded for an opportunity to test himself at that level; now 27, he is unlikely to get it. The same holds true for Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith and others who have come to acknowledge that their futures are in the shortest format.
Bravo's last of his 40 Tests was nearly five years ago; he is now even shut out from ODIs as he is made to pay the price for his part in the team's withdrawal from the tour of India in October. Smith dazzled with a hundred on Test debut in South Africa, aged 20; he has had nine Tests since, the last in 2006. Three weeks ago, he retired from first-class cricket.
They and the others confined to short-format cricket were all back in the maroon kit at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday, contributing to the West Indies victory over South Africa in the first of three Twenty20 Internationals. The home team was below top strength, minus Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, yet there was a certain confidence to the West Indies' performance missing in the Tests. Not for nothing does Faf du Plessis, South Africa's short-format captain, rate them the strongest of Twenty20 teams.
They carry explosive power-hitters and sharp, sure-handed fielders, both critical in matches abbreviated to 20 overs an innings. Chris Gayle, whose Test credentials were established well before the advent of Twenty20, has become the new game's most devastating batsman. As much as his 77 off 31 balls in Friday's win was typical, it could have just as well come from the bats of any one of Pollard, Smith, Marlon Samuels or Andre Russell. Russell was one of the seven West Indians not engaged in the preceding Test series; Lloyd cited him as an example of his concerns about the effects of Twenty20 cricket.
Russell, such a waste...
He described Russell as "one of the best all-rounders in the world". Instead of aspiring to Test cricket, he said Russell advised him he could only play one-day cricket because of a knee problem. Lloyd's lament was that it was "such a waste that we have a guy who could be a great cricketer who is now not thinking of playing both formats". Russell's one and only Test was in Sri Lanka just over four years ago. He is an exceptional athlete, with his Jamaican speed and outstanding work in the outfield, a bowler of lively pace and as potentially destructive a hitter as any.
His presence in the Tests in South Africa would have made a difference to the shoddy fielding and the collapsible West Indies lower order (7-44, 6-39, 7-44 and 7-33 in successive innings). His bowling would not have been out of place either. He has clearly given up on a recall to the Test team; lucrative contracts in the Indian Premier League (IPL) where he is driven by the adrenaline rush of large, appreciative crowds are now his game.
Of the dozen West Indians engaged in the IPL last year, only five — Chris Gayle, Ravi Rampaul, Darren Sammy and Sunil Narine – had played Test cricket. Jason Holder joined them a few weeks later. Only Holder was in the recent Tests in South Africa. The pride of the others in representing the West Indies now comes in the spasmodic Twenty20s, such as the three in South Africa.
Gifted T20 cricketers
They have become gifted at it, primarily through their experience competing against the best of the best in the IPL and other global Twenty20 tournaments. So it was with English county cricket in Lloyd's time. It was there that he and his fellow West Indians skillfully adapted to the intricacies of the limited-overs game, then between 40 and 60 overs an innings and as unfamiliar as Twenty20 was at the start.
All eleven in the victorious team in the final of the inaugural World Cup in 1975 were with county teams. County cricket also polished their natural talent. World Series Cricket in Australia and the cutthroat rivalry of the regional Shell Shield made them mentally tough. The consequence was their unrivaled dominance through the 1980s.
The IPL, along with the Big Bash, Ram Slam and other bizarrely titled contests, has had the same effect on Twenty20 West Indians. Now that their equivalent, the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), has landed on our doorstep carrying a host of identifiable international stars, a new generation of Gayles, Pollards and the like can be expected. It is a further worrying blow to the likely survival of West Indies' Test cricket.