Fingers crossed for stability in West Indies cricket

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(Reprinted from the Jamaica Observer)

The West Indies tour of India across three cricket formats — firstly against Afghanistan and now against India — is entering its final phase with three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) starting (today).

Cricket followers will be aware that the first half of the tour involved three ODIs, three Twenty20 Internationals, and a historic Test against Afghanistan. Such is the continuing instability in their country, that the Afghans — newly embraced by international cricket’s elite group — are forced to play their ‘home games’ away from home.

At the start of the tour, there would have been nerves in the West Indies camp, and perhaps even more so at the headquarters of Cricket West Indies in Antigua, given that in 2018 (One Day International) ICC World Cup qualifiers, the Afghans beat the Caribbean team twice.

There surely was a sigh of relief last month when the West Indies, now led by Mr Kieron Pollard, eased past the Afghans 3-0 in the ODI series at Lucknow in north India.

Anxiety, no doubt, set in once again when West Indies, the world T20 champions, went down to Afghanistan 1-2 in the follow-up T20 series.

Not that the result was unexpected. It’s testament to the instability that has afflicted West Indies cricket for too long, that while the regional team won the world T20 tournament in 2012, and again in 2016, they are now ranked at tenth by the ICC, below the Afghans.

Against that backdrop, there was understandable trepidation in Caribbean cricket circles, optimism for the Afghans, and considerable curiosity among neutrals as the two teams faced each other in the lone Test match, also at Lucknow, in late November.

As it turned out, the West Indies came out comfortable nine-wicket winners in just over two days. A game many expected to be dominated by Afghan spinners — considered among the most skilful in world cricket — in spin-friendly conditions, was actually bossed by West Indies off-spinner Mr Rahkeem Cornwall.

The tall, burly Antiguan ended with a match haul of 10 wickets in what was only his second Test.  

It should be noted that in the new arrangements decided on by Cricket West Indies in recent months, Mr Jason Holder — who had previously led in all three formats — remains captain of the Test team, while Mr Pollard leads in the shorter formats. 

With the Afghan fixtures completed, the expectation in some quarters was that fifth-ranked India would have dominated West Indies in the three-match T20 which followed.

Pleasingly, Mr Pollard’s men competed well and won the second game to go down 1-2 in the series.

If they can compete as well in the three-match ODI series which opens tomorrow in Chennai, faithful West Indian cricket followers will be quietly happy.

Their hope is that the improvements noticed over recent weeks will be sustained for the long haul. 

For that to happen, off-the-field stability and good sense, so missing from West Indies cricket over many years, will have to be maintained by the Ricky Skerritt-led Administration in the face of chronic money and resource constraints.

Regional cricket fans are keeping their fingers crossed.

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