With two days remaining in the opening match of the three-Test series between South Africa and West Indies at SuperSport Park in Centurion, it would be more than fair to say that a big defeat looms for Denesh Ramdin’s team.
As optimistic as some West Indian fans would have wanted to be of the team playing competitively, there is yet again the realisation that the grit and determination needed to succeed at the highest level will be another sore point.
Following-on with a first innings deficit of 351, West Indies closed the third day on 76 for two in their second innings –– still trailing by 275 runs. If they manage to take the match into the fifth day, the batting would have had to improve significantly when compared to what was produced in the first innings.
Playing against the world’s No. 1 ranked side was never going to be easy. Yet, having reduced South Africa to 57 for three within the first 16 overs after sending them in, gave one a feeling that there could be a surprise in store.
Seamer Kemar Roach was bowling beautifully and had accounted for two of the wickets –– Alvero Peterson (27), caught at second slip by Devon Smith and Faf du Plessis (nought), edging to wicket-keeper Ramdin.
But after Roach pulled up with an ankle injury in his 16th over and was unable to bowl for the rest of the innings, and captain Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers were rebuilding the innings, the reality gradually hit home that another depressing series would be in the making for West Indies.
One hates to be constantly critical of the showing of West Indies teams in the past 15 years or so, but having been privileged to watch and follow the success of their predecessors between the late 1970s and early 90s, there is hurt.
Apart from Roach, who took two for 52 and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, who toiled for 46 overs in picking up two for 148, the rest of the bowling was ordinary. Jerome Taylor (none for 108) never looked the part from the start and like fellow pacer Sheldon Cottrell (one for 124), sent down too many boundary balls.
As it turned out, Amla and de Villiers added 308 for the fourth wicket with Amla scoring 208 and de Villiers 152. Then debutant Stiaan van Zyl hit an unbeaten 101 in a total of 552 for five declared.
After rising early this morning to watch the response of West Indies, there was some optimism of a fight based on the confidence shown by openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Smith.
The pair added 72 in 21.4 overs before Smith was unfortunately given out on DRS, caught at the wicket by de Villiers off pacer Vernon Philander for 35. It was a decision described as “absolutely ridiculous” by television commentator Michael Holding, the outstanding former West Indies fast bowler.
After Brathwaite followed a couple overs later, also off Philander, for 34, the consolidation that was required never materialised. The scores from the first five batsmen showed another example of getting starts and not carrying on –– Leon Johnson (31), Marlon Samuels (33) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (21).
Simply call it a matter of flattering to deceive as West Indies were dismissed for 201 in 60.2 overs.
There were a couple soft dismissals including Ramdin for 14, caught at cover from a loose drive off left-arm spinner Dean Elgar.
Basically, West Indies were blown away by the pace of Philander, who took four for 29 off 15 overs and Morne Morkel, three for 55 for 15.2 overs.
And mind you, the great Dale Steyn did not pick up a wicket in conceding 53 runs off 14 overs.
In their second innings, West Indies lost Smith for five and Brathwaite for 20 during which the latter passed 1 000 runs in his 15th Test before Johnson on 33 and Samuels on 13 battled to stumps.
If we are to judge by what has so far transpired, it will certainly be very difficult for West Indies to avoid being swept aside in the series.
Clive Lloyd, the chairman of the West Indies selection and the illustrious former captain, has lamented the fact that there are not enough warm-up first-class matches on tours nowadays. His point is well taken but ultimately the onus is on the players to put in that extra effort.
The inability of batsmen to occupy the crease for long periods is also a reflection of the poor standard of play in the regional domestic first-class Championship.
And as we continue to debate the pros and cons of West Indies cricket, the passing last Saturday following illness of Ashley Toppin, the long-standing secretary/treasurer of North Stars Cultural & Social Club, will certainly be a telling blow not only to his family, friends and members of the Crab Hill, St Lucy club, but also to cricket administration as a whole.
It is the second time in recent weeks that North Stars lost a stalwart following the death of former club president Arthur “Paul” Cadogan.
A Chartered Accountant by profession, Toppin was the secretary/treasurer of North Stars since March 1996 and the brainchild and co-ordinator of the several biennial tours to England by the club.
For many Barbadians, North Stars was virtually unknown until 1999 when it hosted a match in the West Indies Under-19 Championship featuring Barbados and Jamaica. Two members of the current West Indies Test team –– Sulieman Benn and Marlon Samuels –– played in that match.
North Stars would later host several regional first-class matches and was a favourite venue for players and fans alike. And in recent years, a couple English County teams have used the venue in preparation for the English domestic first-class season.
I recall Toppin delivering the feature address at a week of activities at North Stars last year. The topic was The Decline Of West Indies Cricket: Can North Stars Point A Way For A Resurgence?
During his speech, Toppin asked the question: “Do our cricket leaders understand and appreciate what is wrong?”
He noted then that when former West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) president Ken Gordon demitted office in July 2007, he reported that: “The performance of our team on the field has been for the most part disappointing. We have changed captains, altered selectors, lost one of the best batsmen the world has seen, appointed a cricket committee and made innumerable adjustments to tour team, but the results continue to be up and down and far more often down”.
According to Toppin, Gordon could have said that “during the past three-and-a-half decades, they had changed board presidents, endured numerous board members, set up a secretariat, changed its location, established an academy, appointed highly paid CEOs and support staff, employed highly paid foreign coaches and support staff, had advice from several consultants, involved the Caricom Heads of Governments, paid the cricketers ridiculously high salaries, and yet our cricket continued to decline”.
He further pointed out that West Indies cricket was still languishing and since then they had established a High Performance Centre and paid retainers to leading players.
Toppin added that the WICB, according to another former president Julian Hunte, “implemented or has been implementing the recommendations of the Patterson Report”.
Yet, Toppin argued, “West Indies cricket has not improved. Why? Because there has been no focus on fixing the cricket!”
Toppin also played cricket competitively for roughly fifty years including BCA First division while a sixth former at Harrison College after leaving Coleridge & Parry. In addition, he assisted in negotiations between the WICB and the West Indies Players Association to establish Industrial Relations protocols.
He was the chairman of the National Housing Corporation, Barbados Lumber Company Ltd and the St. Lucy Constituency Council, and Director of three other private companies in Barbados.
Ashley, you were a wonderful man. Rest in peace!
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: Keithfholder@gmail.com.