Burns Eye View
Shai Offers Hope While England Face Ashes Uncertainty
When Shai Hope clipped the winning runs through square leg on Tuesday evening 29th August, to ensure the Windies beat England in the 2nd Test at Headingley, the whole cricketing world (except the England team) must have rejoiced with him and his team simultaneously.
It was a brilliant innings and an even more brilliant victory off the back of a humiliating defeat at Edgbaston only one week ago. The transformation in performance terms was remarkable, and must rank among the all-time greatest sporting comebacks.
However, the stark reality is that the Windies have now beaten England in 2 of their last 3 Test matches. It is not the record of a cricketing nation requiring a life support machine. Whether they can maintain their excellence at Lord’s will be interesting to observe.
As a cricket supporter, I was thrilled to see them excel again. West Indies Cricket holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in awe of their brilliant teams and was fortunate to train with them in 1980 before their county match v Essex. It was an inspirational experience for me and other fellow 13 year-olds. Clive Lloyd was fabulous – so inclusive and kind to me and my Essex Schoolboy teammates, who included a 12 year-old future England captain in Nasser Hussain.
Having spent several enjoyable times in some of the loveliest islands of the Caribbean, including an England young Cricketers Tour in 1985 (with Phil Tufnell and Philip DeFreitas among the touring party, plus Jimmy Adams and Carl Hooper in the Windies team), I know how much the game means to the people there. Let's hope for their sake that off the back of last week’s miraculous performance, Jimmy Adams and other key people can galvanise all the best people around them to put the correct measures in place to enable the Windies to return to the top table of cricket over time. Our sport needs it.
What is also needed is long-term thinking in a short-term world. T20 has taken over in many places, but Test cricket remains the benchmark by which great cricketers are judged, and its’ successful future is worth fighting for.
The sooner that West Indies can begin the long-term project, and restore quality and commitment to their domestic first-class competitions the sooner it can bear fruit. It seems key people have wasted too many years squabbling and causing regression since 'the glory decade'. The West Indies Players Association and the West Indies Cricket Board seem to have been at war with each other and many of ‘the greats’ seem to have become disillusioned by the failure of the Board to involve them in meaningful roles that their frustration turned into exasperation, and eventual withdrawal from the fold. It provided a story in how not to manage a transition from great to good and back to great again.
Lord’s may inspire the Windies to reproduce their best cricket, but the occasion and the uniqueness of the playing conditions may also get the better of them too. My sense is that the energy expended by them in winning at Headingley may be difficult to find once again.
I think England will come back hard at Lord’s, but they will need to be so much better than they proved at Headingley. Fundamentally, their cricket has been too inconsistent for too long now. Their first innings batting and bowling cost them the 2nd Test match, and the uncertainty around the top order batting positions reveals a paucity of talent emerging from county cricket. The batting at Headingley in the first innings was poor, especially so when one factors in winning the toss and deciding to bat first. And, when they bowled (apart from Jimmy Anderson in the first innings) their quality was indifferent.
Despite having a great opportunity to win the match on the final day, their slip catching also proved costly – Alastair Cook dropping both Brathwaite and Hope.
Headingley was a match for many England players to forget, a statement made too often in recent times. Is there too much hype about England when they win? Are they a decent team capable of playing exceptionally well? Or, are they a good team that plays poorly sometimes?
Statistically, England’s recent Test record is very ordinary for a team with pretensions to be regarded among the world’s best. Since defeating Pakistan at Edgbaston in August 2016, they have lost eight times from the following 14 Tests. And, they have only had one drawn match in their last 17 Tests.
England will need to find their best cricket at Lord’s this weekend if they are to travel to Australia with genuine confidence about retaining the Ashes.
One thing is for sure, the cricket is certainly entertaining!
This brings to mind the wonderful piece of writing inscribed at The 3 W’s Oval at the University of West Indies in Barbados by the legendary former West Indies captain, the late Sir Frank Worrell:
“I play because I enjoy it...
No matter whether I am on the winning side or the losing side, or whether the game ends in a draw, I always manage to extract some enjoyment out of the game.
I have satisfied my greatest ambition.
My aim was always to see West Indies moulded from brilliant individualists, into a real team, and I have done it.
Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to win. There is nothing wrong with winning. But there is a lot wrong with getting so carried away by success that you can no longer play the game in the proper spirit. The public should be entertained to some worthwhile cricket and not just a struggle for victory.”
Sir Frank Worrell
Bring on Lord’s!