29 November 2009.
Over the past three days Chris Gayle, Travis Dowlin and Adrian Barath, the hare, the tortoise and the colt, displayed the best and worst of West Indian cricket. Gayle once again betrayed his position and his talent with a craven and idle performance ill-befitting any Test batsman, let alone an opener and leader called upon to bind together a group of disparate Islands.
Although half the player, Dowlin fought with every power at his disposal to keep his wicket intact and improve his team’s position. Barath pointed the way forwards with an innings of skill and spirit, a combination thin on the ground in this line-up. In height and ability, Gayle is head and shoulders above these newcomers. As far as grit and attitude are concerned, they are his superiors.
Gayle’s second innings dismissal was as wanton as his previous setback. In both cases a routine delivery accounted for him. In both cases his defences were easily breached. But, then, he has hardly played any proper cricket for months and in the interim has been flying back and forth. On and off the field he has chased the dollar, a trait he has learnt from posturing past players. Lacking idealism, he has failed to give his side any sense of direction. A team crying out for leadership has looked in vain towards the languid left-hander. To put it mildly, the notion that he is nurturing a group of talented youngsters capable of upholding the reputation of West Indian cricket is optimistic.
Not for the first time Gayle’s judgement let him down. Encountering a delivery from Ben Hilfenhaus directed around his off-stick, the casual opener ill-advisedly shouldered arms and the ball thundered into pads placed in front of the poles. Determined to prove that he can be as effective hereabouts as on English tracks, the Tasmanian appealed lustily. The finger was raised. Gayle appeared stunned and once again asked for a review. But the error was his own.
By seeking a replay, Gayle sent a rotten message to his players. As an experienced batsman he ought to have known that he was plumb in the first innings and perilously close in the second. He knows, too, that the rules permit a reprieve only when the issue is clear-cut. Colleagues were entitled to think he regarded his wicket as worth preserving at all costs. What price his teammates? Vain leaders are poorly placed to inspire those under their wing.
Dowlin’s chance came when the senior players went on strike over pay. Aware of his limitations, he had never expected to represent the region. Till recently he had featured only as 12th man, a position he occupied whenever the West Indies came to Guyana, and assumed his two catches would be his only trophies. A devotee of the game, he considered it a satisfactory return for his efforts.
But better days lay ahead. Pride swelled in his heart as he put on the maroon cap and he did his utmost to prove himself worthy of the honour. He scored runs against Bangladesh, followed with 50 against Australia in the Champions Trophy, secured a place on this tour, played at the Gabba after Ramnaresh Sarwan was injured and promptly batted almost the entire first innings. Indeed, he lost his wicket unselfishly, having a dip with the last man keeping him company. Dowlin might not be a world-beater but he has a heart and head.
Barath was magnificent in the second dig. Coming from the same high school as Dinesh Ramdin and Ravi Rampaul, spotted by Brian Lara batting in ramshackle concrete nets behind a cricket ground, he has scored five first-class hundreds but came to wider attention opening for Trinidad and Tobago in the recent Champions League. Now he took upon himself the task of restoring hope to a beaten team and dignity to West Indian cricket.
Driving through the covers off both feet, able to use his wrists, eager to play his shots and sturdy in defence, the 19-year-old promises to emerge as a fine opener. His temperament seems as sound as his technique. Certainly he was not flustered by the total amassed by the hosts, the unfamiliar pitch, the cheap loss of both elders or the fierce reputation of his opponents.
Instead he looked Australia in the eye and went about his business in his own inimitable way. In short, he displayed the fearlessness and dedication expected at this level.
Dowlin and Barath were entitled to be dismayed by the crass efforts of their elders and supposed betters. Dwayne Bravo’s abject dismissal made matters worse. It ill-behoves an important batsman to hook a lifter delivered by a medium-pacer straight to deep backward square leg. Jerome Taylor was as culpable and ought to be sent home.
Perhaps the seniors will be uplifted by the juniors. It’s supposed to be the other way around.