Cow Corner

The West Indies: Credible opponents?

Cow Corner

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Chris Gayle is back in the West Indies fold - but it sadly isn't going to turn the West Indies back into a force to be reckoned with any time soon.

Coming into the 'summer' series against England (UK residents looking out their windows may need a reminder that summertime is a mere few weeks away), the West Indies are rated seventh of the Test teams, and eighth of the ODI sides.

As the documentary Fire in Babylon reminded fans, the great West Indian team of the 1970s and 1980s arose because the players were no longer prepared to be dismissed as 'calypso cricketers', putting in entertaining performances with no substance.

Living up to the days of Richards, Holding, Roberts and company is a feat that has proven beyond not just all subsequent West Indies sides, but just about every team in every sport.

But the sad truth is that the West Indies have regressed not merely to where they once aimed to escape, but often without even the saving grace of being entertaining.

Their coach, former fast bowler Ottis Gibson, has been trying to instil discipline to a side that is not short on talent, but from the words of captain Darren Sammy, it's not quite as easy as it should be.

Sammy described his coach as "quite professional" after the Windies arrived on tour in England, and said the lessons Gibson was attempting to impart "were starting to sink in". Gibson might be a touch concerned that his message is only just hitting home after two years in the job.

But for all the cynicism, the current West Indies squad is probably as strong as they have been in several years - and will be strengthened further once Chris Gayle completes a likely return when the IPL is done and dusted.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, ranked the world's best Test batsman once again, is naggingly brilliant, a man who has risen above the mediocrity of his team-mates to score runs whatever the situation.

Since Brian Lara's retirement the left-hander has amassed 3,319 runs at an average of 66.38. If any batsman has performed as well in adversity, Cowers would like to buy him a beer.

Add the batting of Gayle - in the future, although he could play in the one-day series in England - and Darren Bravo, as well as that of all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, and there is substance to the West Indian order around which youngsters could develop.

Where the bowling is concerned, there's no shortage of potential, with Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach a real handful on their day.

The slow, low turning tracks of the Caribbean are also encouraging spin bowling, with Devendra Bishoo and Shane Shillingford the latest to make their presence felt in the Test line-up.

Will it be enough to cause England any problems?

No, probably not.

England may have had a chastening time on the subcontinent this winter, but they're a different proposition at home, especially in the cold, wet and seaming springtime.

If the teams were equally matched, the weather alone would hand England an enormous advantage.

As Gibson himself has reflected, the last time the two sides met he was a bowling coach for England — and his charges romped to two quick-fire victories in the Test series that were embarrassingly predictable.

The West Indies are in something of a bind when it comes to touring England. As a lower-ranked Test nation, they continually find themselves invited in the early part of the season, when the conditions favour them the least.

Seen by many as little more than a warm-up act before the serious business of the summer comes against South Africa, the West Indies face circumstances where it will be harder than ever to disprove that perception.

Against that backdrop, you might be forgiven for thinking that some calypso cricket would be a step forward, brightening up a murky May in England.

But Gibson will prize solidity over flair as he tries to rebuild this side — and if he gets it, he will be delighted.

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