This weekend, West Indies restarts that quest for recognition as a re-emerging force in world cricket. After that most disappointing tour against England in May and June, the next several weeks give West Indies a chance to redeem itself, to try to prove to many of us that there really is a plan to succeed. It is a great triumph that initial games of New Zealand’s West Indies tour 2012 are being held at Central Broward Regional Park (CBRP), Fort Lauderdale. The man responsible for this venue being built, former City Mayor Joe Kaplan, should be very proud. He worked assiduously to make this a reality, back in 2006-7. The Mayor had substantial help from legendary former Guyana and West Indies off spinner, Lancelot Richard Gibbs. Between these two men, this venue that is now being celebrated came into being in 2006, with plans to host ICC World Cup games, in 2007. Disappointingly, these never materialised then. The only reason that World Cup 2007 games had not been held at CBRP was that ICC could not get a guarantee, from Government of United States of America, that all playing and associated personnel would be allowed the required security clearances to proceed into the country, especially after “9-11”! Now, with over 10,000 patrons attending each day, some paying as much as US$125 to be in the Party Stand, there certainly should be a festive, carnival-like feeling in Fort Lauderdale. All that could be required to complement that would be West Indies not only winning, but winning well, showing that they are seriously better, at least improved, with sun on their backs. No more excuses! New Zealand, who, ironically, has made a commitment to further cricket in the USA, have played here before, in 2010, against Sri Lanka. The T20’s produced really dull cricket, while the teams shared that series 1-1. By the way, should not that have been West Indies helping USA’s cricket?
The pitches in 2010 were ‘dead’, with bounce not above the knees, so all hope that those for games this weekend would be much more bouncy and quicker, to produce good stroke-play. New Zealand even brought in noted pitch curator Mark Perham to help with the preparation of the pitches at the CBPR. Lawrence “Yagga” Rowe, former Jamaica and West Indies batsman, has also had some input into this event. With his influence, another Jamaican, Samuel Plummer, who for years looked after Chedwin Park, one of Jamaica’s first class cricket grounds, has also been brought in as continuing ground curator. Chris Gayle has gone on record to suggest that West Indies should win for “Caribbean-American people” who live in USA, who probably number about 4 million overall. I wonder what has happened to that feeling that they should always also play well enough to please the “Home people”, all 7 million of them! Anyway, propaganda out of the way, West Indies must now have serious thoughts of improvement. Ross Taylor, New Zealand’s captain and his men are not in USA and Caribbean for a holiday. They always want to beat West Indies, maybe remembering the shellacking they received in times gone by. I remember speaking to Stephen Fleming, former New Zealand captain, two Caribbean tours ago in 2002, when he pointedly outlined that New Zealand was extremely pleased to beat West Indies in that year’s Test series, as it made up for so much pain that his country and players had endured from West Indies. Indeed, Gayle should remember New Zealand fondly, as he got his first Test double hundred, 204, against them at New Queen’s Park, St Georges, Grenada. Now, Gayle has yet another chance, an opportunity to follow his mouth, to overwhelm New Zealand at yet another new world cricketing venue. It is also quite ironic that both Taylor and Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke, have suggested that West Indies could be favourites for next T20 World Cup, to be held in Sri Lanka later this year. As we all know, “words are wind; blows are unkind!” Maybe both New Zealand and Australia are just blowing steam!
Last week, Germany was also favourites to win football’s European Championships too. If one wants to be honest, they could even have been favourites to win World Cup 2010, in South Africa. They have won neither, so suggestions that any team should win anything do not necessarily make that become reality. Spain, on the other hand, has shown that where everything counts is on the field of play. The present defending European and World football champions have shown, like 1970’s and 1980’s West Indies, that even when they play badly, as Spain recently did against Portugal, they could still come out as winners. Present-day West Indies have the converse to prove. They have been so poor in England that it is almost inconceivable that they could play that badly again. Yet, when it comes to West Indies cricket, no-one really knows how low they really can go. When it comes to West Indies, anything is possible! My own eternal memory of that pit feeling, ironically, also features New Zealand. On its tour of that country, 1999/2000, in its first Test, at Hamilton, West Indies closed Day 1 at 282-1. They subsequently made a reasonable 365 in its first innings, openers Sherwin Campbell getting 170 and Adrian Griffith 114. Disappointingly, distressingly even, to many of us who covered that tour, West Indies were dismissed for 97 in the second innings, Chris Cairns getting seven wickets.
New Zealand eventually won by nine wickets, with nearly a day to spare. After that episode, at least me, if no one else, lost faith in West Indies’ play. The two T20’s, in Fort Lauderdale, along with the five ODI’s (One Day International), to follow, should be a great indication as to where both of these teams are right now. West Indies have been playing recently, but not playing well. New Zealand probably had the longest rest that they ever had in their cricket history. They can be rusty. With these shorter games also come two Tests in Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica. One really hopes that the experiences of Dwayne Bravo, Gayle, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Marlon Samuels, Darren Sammy and Dwayne Smith, would overcome New Zealand’s effervescence in the two T20’s and five ODI’s. New Zealand, always ably led by Taylor, would be unleashing some young guns like Ronnie Hera and Tom Latham, but these would certainly be augmented by the experiences of Doug Bracewell, Daniel Flynn, Nathan McCallum, Kyle Mills and old-stager Jacob Oram. I expect a dog-fight to the finish. When Tests come around, West Indies would have to dig deep to find a bowling attack that could dismiss New Zealand twice. With Test pitches expected to provide bounce but not necessarily pace, the spin of that wily old veteran Daniel Vettori and consistent pace of Chris Martin could be very useful. This has been a long international series for West Indies. They started well against Australia, losing that Test series 2-0. That they managed to tie both ODI series 2-2 and T20 series 1-1 gave all hope. That hope was dashed against England. Now, can West Indies, like the proverbial Phoenix, rise again? Enjoy!