The West Indies have not too long ago made headlines not for striking on-pitch achievements, but for losing yet another series. Must be said, it isn't too surprising. At the same time it is important to reflect on the morbidity of their defeat.
The fact that Sri Lanka won not only the Test series but also peaked to clinch the more exciting one day series is the talking point. Were they made to really slog by a fighting Windies in taking the ODI series 3-0? In the first place, was there a fight at all? Apart from the first One Day international where, despite low scoring on both sides and an ever obstructive rain, the Windies nearly edged out their rivals, or so it seemed. While terrific hitting by Dilshan, Kusal Perera and Thirimanne saw Lanka zapping Windies from the top, the final blow was delivered by the spinners.
Of course, taking on a side known for its mediocrity and frail structure wasn’t exactly a challenge for Sri Lanka.
In their month long tour to Sri Lanka, Windies courted tragedy once again with their listless approach in all games but one: their final outing in the second T20 game, which they won. But one could argue that even that victory came at the cost of a sudden Sri Lankan batting collapse. Yet, at the same time, it did terribly little to heal their wounds, most of which were results of their miserable underperformance in all aspects of the game.
T20 lovers can argue that the Windies' last win, powered by all round performances from Bravo, Pollard and Sammy, brought the men some consolation. But does that hold any value in terms of the significance of the loss that Windies recorded?
Sadly they have dipped to a level of mediocrity hitherto unseen in their evident decline since the last decade, that has made many wonder- "if they would actually be playing Cricket altogether".
In the middle of 2015 earlier there were series fought, rather lackadaisically marked by absence of grit and both application with the mighty Australians, before the English came calling. Yes, their pain was somewhat short-lived with the classy Darren Bravo's timely 82 (7 boundaries and 3 sixes) at Barbados in the second innings whilst chasing 194 for victory. The knock gave them an unlikely but highly important victory over England, easily a better Test side, and also became a post card for Euphoria, given that it also helped Windies square the series on the home turf after a long time.
You would need to very be biased to dub the talents of Marlon Samuels and Jerome Taylor as mediocre, the former their most experienced and capable limited over bat and the latter easily their quickest and most consistent bowler. Yet their own inadequacies, painful sluggishness and outright moodiness, weigh the team down.
In the second test, in Colombo, the Windies needed just 244 to win. But they buckled at 172, gifting what could have been an easy win to a side that seemed hungry to actually win. What hurt more was theirs was a top score of 171, an 8 run improvement of the first inning score of 163 in return to Lanka's 200.
This doesn't imply that their first test performance was satisfactory. In a game where Sri Lankans only needed to bat once, having put 484 in their first inning on board, the West Indies crumbled to an innings defeat, putting a high total of 251 in their first round of batting. They scattered under a Sri Lankan sun that shone brightest on Karunaratne and Chandimal, who struck 186 and 151 respectively.
Fundamentally, being enforced the follow-on in itself is a reason enough in itself to fight back. But for West Indians, motivation often comes veiled in the easy perks of playing brash cricket in a format that best suits their approach to the game: T20. It doesn't imply the need to bring obduracy to their game, a factor that elongates success in test formats. So poor was Samuels' mediocre handling of Herath's spin in tests that despite his magnificent 110 off 95 in the final game in the ODI series which clearly showed his massive improvement- it did little to ease the hurt inflicted by his team's showing in previous games.
But even today, as they are working consistently enough toward inspiring ridiculous parodies given their current form the West Indies still matter. Their glorious history notwithstanding, there's got to be something out there that the Caribbean unit can perhaps hold on to? Prudence implies and stats suggest that some youngsters in their test squad who have also held minor ODI responsibilities can be banked upon! But again, talent often needs skilful mentoring and constant nurturing if it is to blossom.
The likes of Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood, Devendra Bishoo and Johnson Charles need support from their Cricket Board, one which is known to incite arguments and needless disparagement from players. This will decide the course of Windies' in the long term.
Brathwaite, even though he struggled throughout the two Tests, has demonstrated the patience and grit expected from a top level Test Batsman. With 4 centuries and 6 fifties from 24 tests including a personal best of 212, he is clearly the batsman Windies need, if not the one they can always rely on for massive scores. He's got a warehouse of patience too. If he can be guided on how to handle the new, incoming delivery (which Jimmy Anderson exposed as a weakness earlier this year) he can be a handy bat.
Devendra Bishoo's sharply turning legspin took the Mickey out of none other than Michael Clarke earlier this year, and his stats of 55 wickets from 15 tests with 4 four-fers and 2 five wicket hauls inspire confidence. He needs to stick around, and WICB would do well to let him play, for he is their sharpest turner of the ball.
Johnson Charles may not be your ideal Test player, but his effortless batting has given them brilliant starts in the ODIs. This calls for some appreciation even though he has plenty of things to prove, such as his lack of footwork; a common malaise running in Windies players. His 70-ball 83 in the second ODI brought to light his ability to score fluently, something he has exhibited before, notably in a 2013 home series versus the Aussies. In that match, another game they lost, Charles not only improvised against fast and spin bowling on a pitch that was hard to bat on, but coolly belted 4 sixes and 7 boundaries in a losing cause, demonstrating a nonchalant but effective approach toward batting.
Their most impressive Test bat, after the charming Darren Bravo (the only batsman to put up a fight, with two fifties from two tests), is Jermaine Blackwood. He's fearless, intelligent and hungry to score. In his last 10 test innings he's made 85, 51 and 92 against England and Australia at home (2015), and starred in a memorable Barbados test win. The West Indies have found their second resolute batsman after Brathwaite. But he must learn to curb his desire to hit big, a regular way he has lost his wicket.
In these four extremely talented cricketers lay the Windies' hopes for finding their rhythm in both tests and ODIs, if Holder, Sammy, Pollard and Bravo senior are out of the fray. With age on their side, all is not lost for West Indies, provided they are willing to re-discover themselves.