In the seventies, nineteen eighties (1980s), and half the nineties, the West Indies had perhaps the best team of fast bowlers of all time. They had Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall. Then came Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner. The end of the dominating West Indian pace attack was in the 1990s when both Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose came to the end of their career.
Ironically, during those two and a half (2.5) decades of dominance, the team also had dominant batsmen likes Lawrence Rowe (short career because of the South Africa trip during apartheid era), tail of all-rounder Gary Sobers’ brilliant career, full careers of Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Robert Haynes, “the master blaster” Sir Vivian “Viv” Richards, and the start of Brian Lara’s career.
Since those 2.5 decades of West Indian dominance, we have seen great batting from the likes of Brian Lara, shortened Jimmy Adams career, the ever-reliable Shivnarine “Shiv” Chanderpaul, hard-hitting Chris Gayle, and resurgence of classy batsman Marlon Samuels (after he returned from his 2-year ban for his contact with a known Indian bookie / match fixer). The problem is the team lacked the consistency even in the batting but it would be good enough if we had fast bowlers like the aforementioned.
West Indian Selectors
Apparently, the West Indian selectors and each coach/manager felt the same as I did (“The problem is we lacked the consistency even in the batting but it would be good enough if we had fast bowlers like those“) because they kept selecting 4 pace-bowlers (fast + fast medium or medium-fast) ad-nauseum. During the next 12 years of mediocrity, 1996-2007, I felt the team was just that… mediocre at best. I, like many, blamed the team’s performance on things like the West Indian Player’s Assn (WIPA) feud with the West Indian Cricket Board (WICB), the Caribbean divide, distractions from other up-and-coming sports like basketball in the Caribbean, lack of contracts by players to play overseas (English Country Cricket), the rise in the video game industry and the Internet. Each of those had a part to play in the decline along with player indiscipline (not insubordination as some might confuse that to mean) and poor player selection, and failure to develop young players in the latter part of the greats’ careers.
Fast-forward 2008-Present and, while the West Indies have tasted recent success by winning the T-20 World Cup and winning consecutive series against New Zealand, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe, those are the 3 worst teams overall, of all test-playing nations, so we are supposed to win those series. But, in that span, something became very clear to cricket fans in the Caribbean, of Caribbean descent, and everywhere that West Indian selectors are penny-wise and pound-foolish. They have neglected the best-performing cricketers in the Caribbean, the spinners. Whilst it’s foolish to say these spinners can become what our pace attack of 1970s through mid-90s was, they are clearly the most successful bowlers we have had since 2008.
We have top-class spin bowlers the likes of Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller, Sunil Narine, Odean Brown, Veerasammy Permaul, and Shane Shillingford, making the Caribbean, for the first time, a spin-bowling region for the first time. But you wouldn’t know it if you see the team that the West Indian selectors continue to pick which, for the most part, include 4 pace bowlers when Gayle was captain, or 2-4 pace bowlers + Darren Sammy when he is captain. During that time, they would include 1 spinner on the team. Benn got a run in tests and ODIs, Nikita Miller got 1 test match and a number of ODIs, Shillingford was discarded after a question about bowling action, and they found the gem Sunil Narine who they have mostly overused as the lone spinner on the team for the most part, with a Permaul here, a Badree there.
Re-Enter Shane Shillingford
While resting Sunil Narine, who truly has been overworked, and not selecting Permaul, they decided to only select Shane Shillingford for the 2 test series against Zimbabwe, this after thrashing winning the ODIs and T-20 International against Zimbabwe before. This was a great choice because, let me tell you what happened. I may borrow some style from the great Reggae artist / dub poet Linton “Kewsi” Johnson and his timeless “Sonny’s Lettah“.
Dear Cricket fans of the Caribbean, I do hope that when you read this you will be a bit optimistic. Zimbabwe fans, I don’t know how to tell you this because I made a solemn promise to look out for and promote West Indian cricket whenever I can, unfortunately at the expense of your team and others.
Zimbabwe really did try their best but non-the-less, I am happy to tell you West Indian cricket fans that Zimbabwe was defeated 2-0 by spin. It was the first Test match and Zimbabwe batted first. The West Indies, as always, opened with pace, and backed it up with pace. The fans are watching nonchalantly as Zimbabwe move to 82-2 after 25 overs.
When all of a sudden, Captain Darren Sammy brought out Shane Shillingford, then Marlon Samuels, both armed with spin. Shillingford took the wickets of Mawoyo, Waller, and Chakabva to finish with figures of 3-58 while Samuels finished with figures of 4-13, taking the wickets fo 3 of the last 4 batsmen. It was Zimbabwe all out for 211. The West Indies then went in and made 307, a lead of 96. When Zimbabwe batted again, Sammy wisely brought Shillingford on early with Zimbabwe at 26-1. Cricket fans, Caribbean people, West Indians let me tell you what Shillingford did to Zimbabwe. I’ll tell you what he did to them.
He had Masakadza caught by Sammy from his first ball for 1, he bowled and caught Sibanda for 15, he had Taylor and Waller caught by Powell for 6 and 5 respectively, then he bowled Chakabva for 6. Then he finished up with figures of 6-49 (9-107 match) after getting Cremer caught behind by wicketkeeper Ramdin for 14. The West Indian players had a little giggle, as Zimbabwe gave their last wiggle. Fans, Zimbabwe just couldn’t do anything. They were all out for 107 with a lead of 11. West Indies made 12-1 to win by 9 wickets.
So Zimbabwe licked their wounds but didn’t cry, at least not openly. They had another opportunity coming up to square the season and salvage some pride in the Caribbean. After all they were seriously wounded by spin but they were still alive not dead. Openly they were ready to take on the West Indies and whatever spin attack brought. Behind the scenes, we doubt they had anything in their arsenal to counter this tricky and wicked West Indian spin attack. But, there was no way they were going to scream “murder!”.
West Indian cricket fans, don’t fret, don’t get depressed nor downhearted. Be of good courage, Shane Shillingford again arrived in the 2nd test. In the 2nd Test it was Zimbabwe 175 in the first innings with Shillingford 5-59 and Samuels 3-15. Then, after the West Indies’ reply of 381 (Gayle 101, Chanderpaul 108, resurgent Ramdin 86), Zimbabwe crumbled at Sammy’s new found spin attack, scoring 141 all out. This time it was Shillingford 5-34 (10-93 match figures) and Samuels 3-35 (6-50 match figures). West Indies won by an inning and 65 runs.
Next Move Selectors
In the 2-match series, Shillingford took 19 wickets for 200 runs, an unheralded feat by any West Indian bowler in a 2-match stretch ever! That includes the great pace attacks that dominated Test and one-day cricket for decades. The spinner-and-a-half (Shillingford full time and Marlon part-time) attack was responsible for 28 of the 40 Zimbabwe wickets. Can you imagine that! It’s almost unfathomable.
My recommendation to the West Indian selectors is that, until the spinners prove non-productive or the pace attack surpasses spin in the Caribbean, there should ALWAYS be at least 2 spinners in the final 11. At the moment, the main 2 are obviously Sunil Narine and Shane Shillingford. What an attack that would be, when they get backed up by part-time slow-bowlers Samuels and Gayle! Not to mention, when either Shillingford or Narine needs to be rested, you can bring in Nikita Miller, or Sulieman Benn, or Veerasammy Permaul or Odean Brown. Selectors, the point is you have choice spinners in the Caribbean who have proven over the past 5 years to be your best bowlers. SELECT THEM. Then coach Gibson and Captain Sammy, USE THEM. It will help your attempt to rise in the ranks of the 3 formats of the game (Test, ODI, T20I).