The first test of the Wisden Trophy between England and West Indies began yesterday at Lords. The English summer is under way with this series against the West Indies. No other team in the world can relate to “fall from grace” as much as the West Indies. From being the undisputed kings of world cricket, to being just mere low-ranked passengers in the game, the downslide has been stunning. And it must have hurt, for sure. This contest, on paper, seems relatively straight forward. It is a showdown between the top-ranked team in the world (although wobbly away from home, England have been impeccable in their dominance at home) and the team ranked 7th (out of 9) in the world. If the rankings are anything to go by, it should be a mere walk-over for England. A few brilliant individual performances that will boost player stats, earn England some ranking points and give them some more breathing space at the top of the table (South Africa are almost literally breathing down their necks). But most of the time, cricket does not work like that.
|Darren Sammy: The Fighter|
I have been following this West Indies team for almost a year now; thanks largely to the two full series they played against India, home and away. I also followed the recently concluded Australian tour to the West Indies quite closely, specifically to see how the Aussies cope up in the West Indies and simply because I love to see the Aussies taking the field under Clarke’s leadership. Although the Windies are not going to be the world beaters that they were through the 70’s anytime soon, you simply can’t ignore the fact that they are improving, vastly improving. The way they stood up against India in India and against the Aussies at home, they gave a very good account of themselves. A vast portion of the credit must go to coach Ottis Gibson and more so to skipper Darren Sammy. He is no Sir Garfield Sobers; he is not as gifted as many other cricketers from the Caribbean before him have been. Honestly, even I did not think he merited a place in the side based on his cricketing skills, let alone being the captain. But over the past year, much like his team, he has come a long way. He now seems to be the natural leader of the pack. He is a fighter. He knows he does not have express pace, but he has control. He knows he is no Chris Gayle, but can be more than handy as an aggressive batsman in the lower order. His main asset is that he doesn’t overestimate his ability. He exactly knows what he can do and what he cannot. Most times in life, knowing your limitations is the first step to success. You do not have any sort of control over the cards you are dealt in a game. What you can control though, is using those cards to the best of your ability to win the hand. Sammy is doing exactly that, with his cricketing skills.
|Clarke: Aggressive and Fearless|
I have heard a lot in all these years of watching the game that a team plays in the character of its captain. My first counter argument for that was and will always be Ricky Ponting. Innumerable record breaking winning streaks and the 2 World Cups that the Aussies won under him, in my humble opinion, had nothing to do with his captaincy. You could have made anyone the captain of that champion side and they would still have won everything. As good a batsman as he is, with captaincy he was just in the right place at the right time. I am sure that if Ponting was leading this far-less gifted team that Clarke is leading now, he would have struggled tremendously to get even half the success that Clarke has had. And Clarke’s leadership is exactly what justifies this point. Clarke is smart, tactically shrewd, aggressive and fearless. He has just one motto; he wants to win at all costs. That is exactly what reflects in his Australian team. Every batsman right up to number 11 puts a price on his wicket and everyone is ready to give individual sacrifices to win for the team. Nothing embodies it better than Clarke declaring 43 runs behind at Bridgetown in the first test, instilling the belief in his team that it is their game to win and everyone, charged with this belief from their skipper, went out and did exactly that. The team also, like him, became fearless in the pursuit of victory at all costs. The same is true for Sammy as well. He is a fighter who will not give up. He is positive in his approach and will do everything in his ability to ensure a positive outcome for his side. That is exactly how his team, with just one world class batsman in the 11 in Chanderpaul, and a more than decent bowling attack has stood up and performed against India and Australia. Though the results did not go their way, the performances were outstanding. Especially Sammy promoting himself to number 3 at Port of Spain to go after a challenging target set by Clarke on the last day and striking some lusty blows, only for rain to play spoil sport, was a telling example of the belief and fight within the man and his team.
Against England, that is exactly what his team needs to do. They will have to fight for every run and every wicket against the best team in the world at home. They have a decent attack. If the batting can stand up and support Mr. Grit and Determination (Chanderpaul), they could ruffle a few feathers in the English camp. That, then, would be great fun to watch. Watching cricket in English conditions is always a great sight, and on top of that a good contest is always great fun.
You quite often hear that a captain is always as good as his team. And that is true for the most part. But sometimes, just sometimes, guys like Mark Taylor, Shane Warne (for Rajasthan Royals), MSD (20 and 50 over World Cups), Clarke and Sammy come along and show that even if they don’t have the best team in the world at their disposal, they can still instill their character into the team and inspire them to become champions. So yeah, a captain is good as his team. But a few special men have always shown that with their leadership skills, a team can become as good as its captain.