SPORTS Commentary-Cricket in Lilliput
By Wade Gibbons
Whenever I think about regional cricket administration, I often get an image of Caribbean people huddled into a one-storey structure and the West Indies Cricket Board personified as a giant Gulliver standing over the building and gleefully emptying his bladder on an edifice that is not burning. Then it becomes clearer that there is actually no building and the people stand exposed.
Several of our past greats, as their careers neared conclusion, have similarly been drenched by the WICB. Add Shivnarine Chanderpaul to that list.
The West Indian great has been discarded after back-to-back series failures against England and South Africa. On the tour of South Africa he mustered 91 runs with a highest score of 50 and averaged 18.20 in five innings. Here in the Caribbean against England he eked out 92 runs with a highest score of 46 and averaged 15.33 in six innings. At the age of 40, admittedly, such failure is bound to raise questions.
But here is what else Chanderpaul has been doing between ages 39 and 40. Against New Zealand in the 2013/14 away series he scored 256 runs in three matches with a highest of 122 not out at an average of 64. Against the same opponents at home he made 195 runs in three matches with a highest of 84 not out at an average of 48.75. Against Bangladesh in two matches he scored 270 runs with a highest of 101 not out without being dismissed in the series. This was just last year. There is no need to delve further into his stellar career that has seemingly now ended with him averaging 51.
Whether at age 40 or 30, batsmen will from time to time have a dip in form. Our selectors should be able to make a judgement as to whether this is an incapacity to make runs, an irreversible deterioration in ability or simply a temporary loss of form. After only six matches of mostly low scores and given Chanderpaul’s history, the selectors appear to be doing him an injustice by determining that he is now incapable of making runs or that there is an irreversible deterioration in his ability.
Chief selector Clive Lloyd, of all people, should appreciate this more than most. He produced some of his best cricket at ages 39 and 40 because of form. Age 40 was not the benchmark for rejection then; it shouldn’t be now because of a seeming dip in form. The call on Chanderpaul has been made too quickly and he deserves better treatment.
Lloyd speaks about giving young players opportunities and they should be. But there must be merit in their selection and they should only push senior greats out of the regional side by weight of runs. But what is the reality? There is currently not a single young West Indian batsman with two or three domestic seasons under his belt who averages over 40.
Perhaps this is the reason for our decline. In a time of desperation we have given opportunities to youthful mediocrity in the form of the Dwayne Smiths and Devon Smiths and others, saw potential greatness in average players such as Marlon Samuels, without really allowing proper substance to matter. Chanderpaul has always been out of the top drawer. And at age 40, he is still the best we have.
And it cannot just be a case of Lloyd wanting to give opportunities to youngsters. Devon Smith is as likely to be a successful Test opener as I am to win the Boston Marathon. Yet after 12 years of mimicking an international cricketer, Smith was picked for the just concluded series against England ahead of Guyana’s Leon Johnson who has had a promising start to his international career against tough opposition and currently averages around 40. Johnson, too, has been drenched by Lloyd and the WICB.
Baseball Hall of Famer Babe Ruth had 714 career home runs and a slugging percentage of .690. No one ever questions the quality of those who pitched to him, or denigrates their names when they speak of Ruth’s stats and his greatness. People always refer to boxer Rocky Marciano’s 49-bout unbeaten career and consider him great. No one ever mentions that outside of Ezzard Charles, Roland La Starza, an aging Joe Louis, and two geriatrics in Archie Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott, that Marciano never fought anyone of note.
But Chanderpaul is often belittled as “selfish”, “batting only for himself”, concentrating on the ‘crime’ of not being dismissed; along with being deemed unworthy to be considered great. All because his sole purpose has always been to accumulate runs and maintain good batting stats. His greatness is always tainted by “buts” and comparisons. Had the West Indies possessed two other selfish, singular-minded batsmen between 1995 and 2015 – along with Brian Lara – they would scarcely have lost a Test series.
But the West Indies Cricket Board and its selection panel continue the traditional doublespeak. In the same week that WICB president Dave Cameron stated that senior players like Chanderpaul deserve a proper send-off into retirement, his selection panel dumps its premier batsman who had indicated he was available for the imminent series at home against Australia. Surely, if Chanderpaul were to be given a “proper send-off”, that location should be at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica in the second Test, before adoring, cheering fans, exiting the field through a guard of honour.
Lloyd has stressed that West Indies cricket must come first. He has correctly stated that profitable aberrations such as the Indian Premier League must come second to the regional side. But he and his board are not encouraging or making a particularly good case for loyalty if they continue to treat the outstanding stalwarts of the game in such a shoddy manner. Others of fresher vintage are watching and weighing monetary gain against unrequited loyalty.
The history of West Indies selection policy is strewn with the stories of Charlie Davis, Desmond Lewis, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and many more. Surely there is a better way of dealing with our cricketers, of which Chanderpaul is one of the most outstanding ever.
It is about time that the WICB in all of its manifestations pulls its zipper up if it cannot shower our great players with substance more befitting their contributions.