The selection of the West Indian side is strewn with political pitfalls and difficulties. No first-class cricket had been played in the previous two years; pitches have been loaded in favor of the bowlers; top players are drawn to franchise money, and inter-island bias and politics are a regular topic of discussion.
The result is a team that can sometimes feel like the best players available as opposed to the best players in the region, with West Indian cricket icons often not being the ones we see in white on the pitch. On the other hand, events like this have happened to give us a Windies squad full of players with incredible stories, both personal and professional.
The old West Indies were everyone’s second favorite team because they won all the time. The West Indies of new are everyone’s second favorite team because they’re full of people you want to succeed.
But where Brathwaite paints masterpieces with his bat and forces everyone to watch them dry, his teammates show flashes of brilliance that lead wise heads to wisely nod that “there’s a player test in there somewhere”.
Originally from Jamaica, the same island as Chris Gayle, Campbell was nicknamed “Little Chris” early in his career. Along with Brooks, he’s another player who had the weight of expectations on him from an early age. But that never really happened for him, and another failure in the next innings could lead to him being pushed out of the side again.
Barring a few ridiculous hours yesterday where Saqib Mahmood and Jack Leach aired their frustrations, everywhere you look with this Windies team are people who are putting in absolute effort and taking pride in representing their region. Whether it’s Brathwaite at bat for days on end, Holder or Da Silva leading the team in mid-game, group drills on the pitch, or Seales celebrating every wicket as if it were the game winner, it’s is a team that works incredibly hard for each other.
And that is rather the point. While that side struggled against England, Hetmyer – who failed the fitness tests required to be eligible for selection – prepared for the IPL on a deal worth £1.13million. dollars. A contract that is worth two hundred and thirty-six million dollars when converted into its national currency.
The same goes for the idea of blind patriotism that places pride in representing your country above all else. Because if this same pride exists in the West Indies as everywhere in the world, it is different here. You represent your region, not your island. Does it make this affiliation less intense? Maybe, for some. Maybe not, for others.
It’s a vast region that is home to more cultures and political landscapes than you can really imagine. Jamaica is closer to Texas than Guyana. And despite all the talk of island culture, Guyana isn’t even one of them. It is a South American landmass that borders Brazil.
It has long been said that cricket in the West Indies is a fading light. And compared to the glory days of yesteryear, there’s definitely some truth to that. But that’s not to say the talent pool isn’t deep yet, as evidenced by Da Silva’s innings today. Da Silva himself is a player who, if Pooran were available, might not play. This is not an insult to him, but rather a credit to the strength of the region.
So perhaps rather than shrinking the talent pool, there’s an argument that it’s instead been watered down when it needed focus, with talent leaking out – whether to England, in the form of Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer and now Jacob Bethell, or the white-ball leagues in Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard then, and Pooran now.
West Indies administrators know and realize this, and launched the CWI Emerging Players Academy two weeks ago. The aim is to select 30 players, male and female, between the ages of 19 and 25 to bridge the gap between U19 cricket and top-class play. Hopefully this will be the first step towards retaining talent in the game and on the pitch for the region. But closing out this contest and sealing another gutsy home series win against England will go a long way to proving these guys are Test cricketers after all.
Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby