‘For ten long years, we ruled the cricket world and now the rule seems coming to an end’ from the looks, it just looks like a line from Rally Round the West Indies anthem but after Windies’ lacklustre batting display in the series, it looks like the deafening sound is set to stand a few more years.
“Some of the old generals have retired and gone and the runs don't come by as they did before,” read the next line. The song was written in 1990, after one of the worst periods in West Indies cricketing history. Under the leadership of Clive Lloyd in the mid-70s and early 80s, West Indies were completely a different side, with a legendary top-order that consisted of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Vivian Richards and the skipper himself in the top-four. Now that was like driving a Porsche on a fine English road but it is 2020 and the ‘Porsche’ seems to be just a dream now.
In equal measures, they had a bowling unit which needed no introduction back then and even now. Whilst this 2020 side led by Jason Holder has some of the best elements from the legendary bowling attack, it does not even come close to competing with the best Windies side, leaving the best side in the world. Despite being home to legendary pacers in the past, in equal measures, the Caribbean islands have been home to some extraordinary batsmen, be it the Richards, the Laras or the Haynes.
To refine it a bit more, Lara has 11,953 runs in Test cricket against his name. However, on the flip side, the entire Windies batting unit that went up against England combined doesn’t have as many runs. Whilst every country does get themselves in such a patch of form, where they fine-tuning themselves, the Windies have been in such a situation for quite some time now. Every now and then, there comes a piece of news from the Islands that they have found the next Gayle, Lara and Sarwan yet none comes out and puts the pen on the paper.
Last time they were in England, the result was no different with Jason Holder-led side failing narrowly 2-1 against the hosts. On July 26 2020, the third day of the Third Test in Manchester, Windies found themselves in another of such position, at 10/2 chasing a mammoth target set by the hosts. Whilst the English batsmen found it tough to bat against the threatening pace attack posed by the travelling side, it was always met with vigour from their deep-lying batting unit.
Yes, the Windies pace attack was strong, yes they were threatening but England were no leftovers, especially in home conditions. For any side to beat the colonial beasts at home, their batting has to be at the gritty best with a zest to them. Australia, in the 2019 Ashes pulled off such a batting performance on the back of Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith. But this is West Indies and their best batsman from the 2017 series was Shai Hope, who scored 375 runs in that series.
The selectors including their coach Phil Simmons’ hopes were on the shoulders of Hope after his performance from last time around. Since that series in England and the turn of the same year, Hope has been rather hopeless in the longest format. His returns have been nothing more than an average county batsman, with only 580 runs in three calendar years.
The moment he walked out to bat at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, he looked pretty much done like there was some sort of apocalypse in the country post-COVID-19. Looking at the TV screens, it did feel like it was just a bad dream. But in reality, it was a bad dream that has lasted over three years in the Windies cricketing history on the back of long and hopeful nights. Somewhere down the line, this dream has slowly turned itself into a hopeless one which surely would have haunted Phil Simmons sometime during the series. Alongside Hope, there was John Campbell who too was facing rather torrid times being restless at the crease.
Amidst all these calamities, it was only soothing to have a Jermaine Blackwood who was standing through the testing times with his effort in Southampton. It was the sense of respite that the Windies management misunderstood as a strong batting unit. If at all anything, their batting was just hanging on the thinnest of threads while their bowling unit was anchoring them every single game. The 28-year-old Jamaican was just forcing all possible things through his batting display, with 188 runs thus far in the series. Meanwhile, in England, there were as many as three names above Blackwood on the run-scoring list and this was despite them having a bowling attack that averaged under 20.
Every one of Windies winning parties have been headlined by a bowling effort or a magical effort from one of their batsmen. But it has never ever been a day in recent history, where the batting has put on a score exceeding 350 away from home. On top of that, in the last year none of their batsmen apart from Jason Holder average above 35 with the bat. From the word ‘go’ in this series, their plans were simple and pretty much well-known go for the head in the most Windies of fashion- with the ball. Yet at the same time, they have hardly figured out that in equal measures they need to have a batting unit which can fire, not under fire as you can’t really clap with just a hand.
Before the second Test, on the back of Shai Hope’s dismal form, there were talks to suggest that the 22-year-old Joshua da Silva might get a look-in. It looked inevitable, given that the youngster has been pressing his case, on the back of a sensational 133* and 56* in the second warm-up game. In the first-class scene, it was not a different sight as the youngster had piled on 507 runs with only Devon Smith, Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers ahead of him. At the same time, Smith is 38 years old, Blackwood has already established himself as the first pick and the pair of Bonner-Mayers finding themselves working closely in the background alongside da Silva.
More than trusting the pack that has performed back at home, Phil Simmons’ brain-fade included picking Hope and Campbell for every one of the three Tests was enough to put Windies on the cusp of another defeat in England, so much so even the rains can't seem to help them anymore. Unfortunately, it is their batting which has to Rally Round the West Indies if they want to see themselves ruling the cricketing world. But down here in England, just a chink in the armour was enough, enough to lose their friend- Wisden Trophy. Pretty soon the runs are going to flow like water, bringing so much joy to every son and daughter, say we're going to rise again like a raging fire as the sun shines you know we gonna take it higher but till then, it doesn’t have the same tune to it.