As the attention of the cricket world centred exclusively on the decisive closing matches to determine the World Cup champions in Australia and New Zealand, two also-rans from the tournament were preparing for a low-key Test series on the other side of the planet relevant only to the teams themselves and a few individuals on either side.
Phil Simmons. Pic/Getty Images
West Indies depended on net run-rate and the result of a match between others to squeeze into the quarter-final of the Cup where they were promptly dispatched by New Zealand. They returned home to promptly prepare for three Tests from April 13 through May 6 against England who simply didn’t make it into the top eight.
It is an immediate opportunity to start rebuilding for the future under Phil Simmons, the new head coach, himself West Indian whose international career as power-hitting opening batsman and useful medium-pace bowler spanned 1988 through 1999. There is also the possibility of a new Test captain to join with Simmons, 23-year-old Jason Holder who led the ODI team in South Africa and the World Cup. Simmons was signed on the day before West Indies’ heavy quarter-final loss. He returns to his roots after eight years in charge of Ireland, the strongest of the International Cricket Council’s associates, where he forged an enviable reputation.
Under him, they won 11 trophies and qualified for every main ICC tournament, with World Cup wins over England in 2011 and, just five weeks before his move, ironically over West Indies.
His appointment on a three-year contract has been widely welcomed yet the first time he meets most of the players today, the first day of a preparatory camp for a squad of 20.
Even impatient West Indian devotees can’t expect a turnaround of the sharp decline of the once prominent position of West Indies cricket in that time; the pressure will mount only if there is no gradual improvement.
The 2015 West Indies bear no comparison to Clive Lloyd’s combination of proven players and emerging superstars Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. The majority have just returned from their chastening experiences in South Africa and the World Cup; the last time they faced England in Tests, in England three years ago, the lost two of the three matches with the other ruined by the weather.
Yet there is nothing more infuriating for any sporting team than to be belittled by the opposition before the contest starts. History is replete with examples of upsets triggered by such arrogance.
It has the potential to add a few kph to the clocking of Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach and the other pace contenders and to the towering Holder’s bounce, to heighten the proven resolve of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Kraigg Brathwaite, to influence Marlon Samuels against repeatedly wasting his wicket, to sharpen their slack fielding.
Richards, captain from 1985 to 1999 and himself briefly the team coach in the late 1990s, noted the need for Simmons to have the backing of the players, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the selectors.
The reality is that several of his ten predecessors lacked all three. Rohan Kanhai, the former captain who was the first in the post in 1992, was removed after he complained that some players were abusive to him during the World Cup of that year.
Roberts, the first of the fearsome fast bowlers of Lloyd’s team, succeeded Kanhai. He was dismissed midway through the 1996 World Cup, the last time West Indies reached the semi-final; he asserted that senior players rejected his advice and claimed he once had to coerce them to take the field during a Test.
Ottis Gibson said after he was sacked last August that the main reason given by WICB president Dave Cameron was that senior players’ lost confidence in his methods.
These are the sub-plots surrounding the upcoming series. In the aftermath of the excitement of the World Cup, they seem trivial.