LIKE many of a certain generation, my fascination with cricket was fuelled by the great West Indian sides of the 1980s.
Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner – I will never forget watching such magnificent players on television as a child.
No one who recalls that golden era – the regal swagger of Richards, the fearsome menace of Marshall – can possibly regard the present state of West Indian cricket with anything other than sadness. Although Richards et al routinely prospered at England’s expense, getting the better of such childhood heroes as Botham, Gower and Lamb, those magnificent West Indians made you fall in love with the game, made you want to play it, regardless of which country you supported.
After their embarrassing defeat in the first Test against England at Edgbaston last month, where they lost by an innings and 209 runs inside three days, the chances of the current West Indian side inspiring anyone to love or play cricket seemed laughable.
Geoffrey Boycott branded them “the worst Test match team I have seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket”, while former England captain Michael Vaughan feared that the rest of the series would be “sad to watch”.
Curtly Ambrose was one of several former West Indian stars with a similar view, the former fast bowler branding their performance in Birmingham “pathetic”, and it is difficult to recall any touring side who have been so strongly criticised.
Suddenly, from somewhere, West Indian cricket stirred again and new heroes emerged for the summer and beyond.Chris Waters
Indeed, after years of disagreements between the West Indies Cricket Board and their players, many of whom now prefer to ply their trade in the far more lucrative theatre of T20, the consensus was that the West Indies were a shadow of their former selves.
But then came Headingley…
Suddenly, from somewhere, West Indian cricket stirred again and new heroes emerged for the summer and beyond. There was Shai Hope, whose twin centuries saw him become not only the first man to achieve that feat in a first-class game at Headingley, but also more importantly inspired a five-wicket win that ranked among the biggest of modern upsets.
Cool and composed, with a skill evocative of the glory years, Hope indeed springs eternal if this 23-year-old can continue to develop. There was also Kraigg Brathwaite, who so nearly made two hundreds in the match at Headingley himself, and who is now assisting Yorkshire until the end of the season.
At 24, Brathwaite is another excellent prospect, a right-handed version of the limpet-like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and the perfect foil for Hope’s artistry. By prospering against such as the timeless James Anderson, Hope and Brathwaite showed that they are the future of West Indies batting for the next decade.
Further optimism arrived in the form of the new-ball attack of Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel. Although Roach is not as quick as he was, and Gabriel bowls too many no-balls for comfort, no batsman would enjoy facing those two on song.
A nine-wicket defeat in last week’s final Test saw England run out series winners, but West Indies cricket is breathing again. Yes, they have flaws; yes, they have problem areas such as No.3 and the wicketkeeper, but they also have a good young captain in Jason Holder, a positive coach in Stuart Law, and a new-found belief that gives them something to build on and cricket, in general, something to celebrate.