By Roger Sawh
It would not be far-fetched to compare a nation’s test cricket history to a long and elaborate book. Books are divided into chapters; chapters, occasionally, into headings and sub-headings. All writing is put into paragraphs, and paragraphs into sentences. Every sentence, it may be said, is a statement or a thought. Individually, sentences have little influence; but paragraphed, chapterized, and ultimately compiled into a tome, little sentences can make a world of difference.
In a similar vein, an over in cricket, or even a spell or an innings or a session, might be likened to a sentence. A test match might be considered to be a paragraph, and a test series might be a collection of paragraphs under a common heading. What, though, might a chapter be compared to? I suggest an ‘era’ – an ‘era’ under a particular regime of leadership; an era of captaincy.
Reports emanating from West Indies cricket have suggested that the chapter entitled ‘Sammy’ is over. West Indies cricket began this phase with a lot to do, and with a helter-skelter situation in which to get things done. Now, with the end apparently here, earnest reflection will show that strides have been made even though questions and concerns still heavily outnumber answers. Much will be written of Sammy the captain, just as much has already been said. For what it’s worth, he was not the worst ever, yet he was also far from the best. To engage in a fulsome analysis requires an article in and of itself – I leave that to the sagely hands of Cozier or Pereira or Bishop or Holding. I wish to peer ahead to the next page.
Denesh Ramdin is the new test captain of the West Indies. A new leaf has been turned. The first I ever heard of Ramdin was when he was the gloveman for the world cup winning West Indies under-15 team in the year 2000 – a team in which Ravi Rampaul was the opening batsman and opening bowler, and names like Krishmar Santokie, Xavier Marshall, and Assad Fudadin were prominent. It must have been difficult for such young men to envisage themselves in maroon at the highest level – indeed, most players from that tournament seem to have fallen off the international radar. Ramdin, though, is a case of quite the opposite, for he has ascended the ranks from under-15 to under-19 (where he captained the West Indies team to the under-19 world cup final) to the senior team, consistently showing the needed improvement and desire to elevate his game.
Before discussing Ramdin the skipper, one cannot help but dwell on Ramdin, the player. One of the most vitriolic criticisms towards his predecessor was his lack of ‘command’ of a place in a starting XI for the West Indies. Ramdin’s place as the keeper of the squad is currently in no doubt, though it had been tenuous only a few months ago. Challenges from the likes of Carlton Baugh Jr and Devon Thomas, and all the contenders since his initial test ascension in 2005 (just a few months past his 20th birthday) have been more out of frustration with what Ramdin ought to be as opposed to a demand for him to be replaced by an evidently better player. Make no mistake – Denesh Ramdin is the best wicketkeeper in the West Indies, and he has been and will be for a long time. The fault has almost always rested with his batting.
Maybe it’s a case of his era – in this age, when masters like Gilchrist and Sangakkara pen poetry with willow, Ramdin’s average returns at the top of the West Indies’ lower order have been magnified. It isn’t that he is a bad batsman, it’s that he should and could be much better. In a perfect world, Ramdin would be a silky smooth shot maker who could contribute 40-50 runs an innings at number 5 or 6, occasionally getting a quick hundred or battening down the hatches to consolidate after a top order collapse. In a perfect world, of course, there would be no wars, no hunger, and no poverty. In the real world, Ramdin’s test average after 56 matches is below 30, with 4 centuries and 11 fifties. In fact, that average and those conversions might explain why he has played only 56 tests in a 9-year span.
Taking a closer look, one might forgive Denesh just a bit – when he ‘arrived’ on the big stage, there was a vicious player battle with the authorities; he was captained by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but found woefully little class to otherwise cling on to. The culture of losing and the air of dismay that immersed West Indies cricket were in full force, and the introduction of a young player into those circumstances cannot have been easy. With time and administrative effort the situation has been changing, but negative experiences still stymied growth. It’s hard to say if this has had an effect on ‘Shotta’ Ramdin, but given that he was looked to for lofty returns in that atmosphere from an early age should not be ignored.
Ramdin’s first test century came in his fourth year of test cricket and during his 33rd test. His second was just 12 tests later in his career, but it took a further 3 years to attain because, circa 2010 (when Sammy was first named test captain), he was dropped – nay, banished – to fix his inefficiencies. His return tour to England in 2012, when he made his second ton, has become popular for all the wrong reasons: upon crossing the three-figure mark at Edgbaston, Ramdin revealed a hand-written note directed at West Indies legend, Sir Vivian Richards – ‘Yeh Viv, Talk Nah’ it read. It was insulting, though no doubt spurred on by the pressure of that time in exile and the weight of public opinion. It was a sign of some immaturity, and though apologies and regret were forthcoming, the damage had been done. Ramdin, again, was at a crossroads.
To his great credit, it seems as if that incident (and its fallout) was cathartic for the little Trinidadian. He has added another two test hundreds to his tally since the infamous ‘Talk Nah’ note, averaging 45 in 11 tests. His wicketkeeping has remained efficient and steady, providing surety behind the likes of Sunil Narine with his mysterious wiles. He is one of the senior-most faces in the dressing room now, and his captaincy credentials have always been mentioned. Not only was he a brave leader during the under-19 world cup many years ago, but he has also led Trinidad and Tobago excellently in all formats after serving as an able deputy to Darren Ganga, himself one of the region’s best leaders in recent times. ‘Captain’ Ramdin always seemed to be a matter of when rather than if.
As a new chapter begins, what does the Ramdin era have in store? The West Indies team has shown signs of improvement in recent years, but there have still been sorry displays, especially overseas. Having been through a lot, Ramdin is now a hardened international cricketer who has seen and done it all. This installment, the reign of the Ramdin, will hopefully feature a similar fortification of the troops, and a transformation into a more productive and consistent unit. Sammy’s tenure was to gel the team into a common force with a common goal; Ramdin’s mandate should be to progress West Indies cricket from consistent triers to consistent winners.
International cricket is not without its trials and times of difficulty – every player, at some point, will face hard times. The true measure of a player, and of a leader, is how they overcome and learn from their adversities. For the new captain’s sake, and the sake of the West Indies test team, here’s hoping that the chapter of Denesh Ramdin leaves the world ‘talking’ about all the right things.
Roger Sawh is a lifelong cricket fan who attends Law School at Queen’s University in Canada. A non-test leg spinner, his favorite cricketers are Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Shane Warne. When he isn’t pretending to be busy with books, he’s either watching cricket (or basketball), reading about cricket (or basketball), stressing about his next move in fantasy cricket (or basketball), or pursuing his newest hobby – writing about cricket (and not basketball) for www.wicricketgroup.blogspot.com