West Indies playing for their future as a legitimate Test nation with memory fading of long lost Calypso glory days
One of the saddest elements about the West Indies’ steep decline over the past 20 years is a whole generation of fans have never seen them as the force they once were.
As they get ready for a second two-Test tour of Australia in as many years due to pandemic-related rescheduling, they are in danger of falling to minnow status alongside Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan in the five-day format.
With Cricket Australia pushing to play Test series as a three-match minimum in the next Future Programme when it gets planned for 2028 and beyond that is good news for some nations but not all of them.
With India and England taking up two of the four-year cycle of home summers with lucrative five-Test contests, that means Australia need four other nations to provide competitive opposition over three-match showdowns.
New Zealand are guaranteed to be one, Pakistan are certain to be another, particularly after their promising effort recently where they could have jagged a win or even two if their fielding had been up to Test standard.
That leaves the Windies, Sri Lanka and South Africa in contention for the remaining two marquee slots.
Even though South Africa are running dead in their upcoming series in New Zealand, they have shown they can still put a decent team on the field, as evidenced by thumping India by an innings in their home Boxing Day Test win.
Cricket South Africa claims the second-string squad that will devalue Test cricket and the honour of representing the Proteas is a one-off occurrence due to the scheduling clash with their T20 league.
Sri Lanka have made a decent fist of Test cricket over the past few years and deserve to leapfrog the Windies on the pecking order unless the Caribbean tourists can somehow defy expectations to give the Aussies a run for their money in Adelaide and Brisbane over the next fortnight.
And that could mean the once mighty Windies could be relegated to one or two Tests outside of the summer months at a venue like Darwin, Cairns or Townsville.
Kerry Packer used to insist on getting the Windies to Australia more often than not from the start of his World Series Cricket revolution in the late 1970s through to the early 1990s.
The old Australian Cricket Board would oblige but such was the all-round strength of the powerhouse line-ups under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards that baggy green careers were cut short by the relentless onslaught.
Kim Hughes resigned the Australian captaincy midway through the hammering at the end of 1984 which came after they had copped a similar hiding months earlier in the Caribbean.
How times have changed – now the Australian cricketing public is bemused by the Windies touring two years in a row for totally different reasons.
And that’s to be expected because there are now adult cricket fans in Australia who have never seen the West Indies dominate apart from the highlights that the current broadcasters show to remind fans of their glory days.
It’s been more than 25 years since their last Test win in Australia and with seven uncapped players in this squad while star all-rounder Jason Holder elects for T20 franchise cricket instead, these two matches have the potential to be embarrassingly lopsided mismatches.
Even if the ICC can come up with a solution to provide a long-awaited financial boost to the poorer countries to make Test cricket more viable, like Steve Waugh’s idea of a guaranteed “premium match fee” for players who take part in the format, the boards of those nations still face a fight to convince them it’s worth it.
Particularly for fast bowlers and all-rounders, the physical toll of playing Test cricket is immense compared to jetsetting around the global T20 circuit.
Why reduce the limited time in which your earning capacity is at its highest just so you can travel to Australia, India or England for a drawn-out hiding over five days when you spend a large portion in the field chasing leather?
T20 specialists like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dan Christian have been able to pick up pay cheques at franchises well into their late 30s or past their 40th birthday due mainly to their top-quality skills but also because they don’t need to be in their physical prime to shine in the shortest format.
It has been disappointing to say the least that there has been little said in protest by the frontline South African players who have been told they will be sitting out Tests to suit up for the IPL-contrived Durban Super Giants, Joburg Super Kings, MI Cape Town, Paarl Royals, Pretoria Capitals and Sunrisers Eastern Cape.
Pakistan fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi also toed the company line when he sat out the SCG Test to rest up for the T20 tour of New Zealand.
Players know where their bread is buttered but the more this becomes the accepted norm, the worse it is for Test cricket’s future.