When you have low key series like this one, there’s a temptation to re-use an old post title, asking whether a tree does fall in a forest if no one is there to witness it, but there is an unquestionable appeal to cricket in the West Indies in its own right, not least to the thousands of British tourists who use the opportunity of a cricket tour to get some much needed sunshine at the end of winter. For the journalists too, it’s still a plum posting to get following the England team about, irrespective of the cricket on offer. That’s not to criticise them for that, we all have elements of our employment that are rather better than others, and it’s understandable enough to want to go.
Although England are talking a good game about this tour being an integral part of the warm up for the Champions Trophy (which is something of a stretch) there is some importance for the West Indies given the psychological – but not cricketing – shock of failing to qualify for the tournament. Moreover, there’s no certainty whether they’ll make the next World Cup given the determination to restrict it to as few teams as possible. As an aside, it would thoroughly serve the ICC right to lose the West Indies if they didn’t make it just to highlight the stupidity of making the premier one day tournament such a restricted affair. That being said, it would diminish the tournament if they were not there.
Therefore there is something riding on the series, at least for the home team who have only a further five matches to cement their place in the competition before the September cutoff. Cricket fans around the world have watched in distress as the administrators and players collided repeatedly and often idiotically over the years. The former powerhouse of world cricket had enough structural problems to deal with without constantly making things even worse. The blame game got to the point that for many outsiders, they know longer understood what each spat was about, and more damningly they no longer cared. Across the Caribbean positions were naturally more entrenched, but at the end of it the despair over the collapse of the international team never seemed to concentrated minds sufficiently to the point where all involved actually felt they needed to do something about it.
Given the conduct of the ECB over the last couple of years it’s easy to be cynical about all attempts of governing bodies – who tend to be anything but – to profess a new dawn in how they will run the game, but at some point the civil war in West Indies cricket will have to end. It might be too much to hope that they will go from their current mess to back challenging all and sundry in the foreseeable future, but any signs of progress have to be welcomed. If the ICC’s Big Three takeover is properly reversed, there might even be an opportunity to make the most of doing so, but it will require an alignment of the all the planets to happen. In England, Andrew Strauss’s title of “Director, Cricket” has been much mocked, yet his role unquestionably has value if done properly. For the West Indies, the slightly less marketing department inspired Director of Cricket position has been taken up by Jimmy Adams, who is at least a figure who ought to generate widespread respect for his achievements.
George Dobell interviewed him for Cricinfo, and while words in themselves mean little, his desire to have the best players available – no qualification, no hedging – as a straightforward statement of intent, and that all sides need to give ground is perhaps one of the more promising signs for some time. Whether it ultimately means anything at all, or whether he becomes another in a long line of people to leave in frustration at the Kafkaesque machinations of all sides is still to be seen, but any and all cricket fans around the world will hoping against hope that perhaps he is the one to really push the vested interests into looking after the wider game in the region.
In terms of the on field action most attention has been directed at the reunion of Ben Stokes and Carlos Brathwaite, following the spectacular end to the last World T20 final. Brathwaite has spoken about his struggles to live up to that day, and it’s perhaps unfair to have expected him to. There’s every chance it will be the highlight of his career when he comes to look back on it. If so, there are worse memories to have.
Stokes himself might be worth keeping an eye on, if for no other reason than it’s either in the Caribbean or with Caribbean players that seems to define so many of his actions, from punching a locker to the repeated clashes with Marlon Samuels – which Samuels, it must be said, won.
As far as conditions in Antigua for the first match are concerned, the pitch appears grassy in places and bare in others, but with a 57 metre boundary at one end, the bowlers are going to have their work cut out to stop it being carnage. As is so often the case with one day or T20 cricket, much discussion is had about bats, fielding restrictions and so on, whereas actually giving the bowlers a chance in the first place tends to be ignored.
England were pretty well beaten in India – in all formats – and perhaps their desire to put right some of those frustrations will make for a watchable series. But let’s not pretend it’s essential, because it isn’t.