History judges all. It weighs on the present. It weighs on the future. And it even weighs on the past itself. If you watch the Netflix blockbuster series Dark (or any sci-fi movie), you know how much history influences everything and how slight alterations can change the world irrevocably. An error caused by a malfunctioning clock is the source of a seismic shift in events. It is a science fiction trope.
Cricket is not science fiction (last year’s ICC World Cup final notwithstanding). Cricket is real. And so in the game, history influences the present the way it does across life. It weighs you down. You can’t stop thinking about it. Everything you do is printed out on X-ray film then hoisted to the light for comparison with an older x-ray film.
For Jason Holder’s West Indies this has been especially true. This new generation West Indies is a walking, talking, plainly existing, x-ray film always held up to the light to check against those great teams of earlier decades. The difference is that perhaps they don’t care. Not in the ‘I don’t care’ of the West Indies of the 2000s with their pointed barbs at the greats of the game. Their attitude is more inclusive, yet dismissive.
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Case in point, Jason Holder’s interview over a year back with Wisden, where he addresses the criticism the modern West Indian cricketer faces at the hands of the all time greats. A question repeated to captains spanning generations from Brian Lara to Courtney Walsh to Darren Sammy. There have been players who have hit out at the criticism publicly, privately and in the case of Denesh Ramdin, in full view of the world.
“Look, it’s tough, but I just put it all away,” Holder said in that interview. “I can’t, I can’t… change it. I respect them for what they’ve done in the game, I’ve not been privileged to see it first-hand. They’ve had their era, they’ve had their time, it’s about us now. It’s about us trying to make our era, make our time.”
They have taken their first steps. Chasing 200 to win the first Test against England in Southampton last weekend, they were prime placed to win. Not just because they had played well to put England under the hammer through the days, but also because of, erm, history. Because not winning would create a new unwanted record. West Indies are the only team in Test cricket to have never lost a game while chasing 200 or less in the fourth innings.
More history. Everything is not as it was in the past but definitely needs to be compared. The victory would be West Indies’ first in an opening Test in England in 20 years. Brian Lara was a young man then. To see when they won a series in England you have to go a dozen years further back. 1988. Viv Richards chewing gum.
As the characters in Dark keep saying, it feels like it happened not quite so long ago. And it’s true. The West Indies have done so little in Test cricket for so long now that old victories are still fresh in memory.
It has been 25 years since they won a series away to one of the seven sides above them in the rankings. The teams they have beaten in that time are Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
But there is change here now. Something different. Whatever it is it is invisibly visible. The preparations this team undertook in circumstances that few can imagine — battling not just the Covid scare but also protests that turned riotous following police brutality — makes this x-ray film luminous. Their actions were statements. A black glove on a single hand as they kneeled and lifted their fists to the sky. In the studio, history created more history. For too long there has been tension between history and present. They always wanted to pull in the same direction but the judgement of history scarred the present. For once they had the same message.
Maybe it is the curious circumstances a call for societal change provides that has locked them in step. Everyone knows now who the battle is really against. It isn’t past vs present. It isn’t gold vs turmeric anymore. It is, to paraphrase the legendary Arsenal footballer Tony Adams, ‘the name at the front of the shirt’ pulling more weight than the one at the back. There is an odd statistic that sticks out when looking at this fixture over the past few years. The win at the Ageas Bowl meant West Indies have now beaten England in four of their last six Tests played. Make of that what you will.
There are two more coming up. And West Indies are the Pakistan out of the sub continent. Wind in sails, ship sailing along, everything well and fine. But what when the sea hits back? Here’s three things to watch for in the second Test.
Joe Goes and Joe Returns
England have delayed announcing their squad by 24 hours. While this smacks of uncertainty among the management it is also incredibly unhelpful to Joe Denly, whose scores of 18 and 29 make him the obvious fall guy from the Ageas Bowl. Denly’s cause of course will not be helped by the fact that Joe Root is set to slot back in at No. 4 (and captain England).
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This could be curtains for Denly’s England career. He is 34, and despite being held in great regard for providing stability to England’s top-order, his statistics don’t warrant it.
What will make it worse is that Denly may be dropped so that England can retain the services of the man he awarded a Test cap, his Kent teammate Zak Crawley -- 12 years his junior -- whose score of 76 in the second innings of the first Test made it the fifth consecutive match in which he posted a Test-best score.
James Anderson End: Bowlers Paradise
The best part about playing cricket with a Covid-19 backdrop is that the unpredictability helps clear any airs of future. If there were any doubts about player fitness and fast bowler sufferings they were dismissed pretty harshly by Jason Holder and Shanno Gabriel in the first Test. It can even be said Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were equally terrifying with lesser results.
The West Indies will probably massage up and send their bowlers out for a second go in quite the same way they did at the Ageas Bowl. Stunningly, despite their victory and the overwhelming brilliance of their team effort, their first up bowler Kemar Roach has yet to snag a wicket in the series. His figures for the Test match read 41 overs, 14 maidens, 91 runs and zero wickets. He’s bound to get one sometime soon.
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England may have to rethink. Not only because their bowling plan didn’t exactly work out at the Ageas but also because they play five Tests between now and the end of August. Rotation is often talked about as a method to aid recovery, and this may be a time to see it happen. And if they do rotate it means they will make another huge call by dropping James Anderson for his home Test. Anderson is at the end of his England career and these next two Tests may be his last chance to bowl from the, erm, James Anderson end at Old Trafford. Maybe they bring him back for the finale.
95 to Infinity
Well, there is at least one person on this planet who has benefitted from the year 2020. Discounting the billionaires raking in the money, and the streaming services guaranteed to survive forever, Jermaine Blackwood remains the one sportsperson who has benefitted from the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Jamaican wouldn’t have been in England if it wasn’t for Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo’s decision to not go on tour. That decision propped Blackwood into the squad for the Test series as a middle-order replacement. He has seized it with both hands.
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Blackwood has been known for his attacking bursts as a batsman, but even before the series had spoken about how he was changing his game to “bat as long as possible”. It seems to have worked. Despite missing out on a century in the fourth innings chase, and very often looking like he would throw his wicket away, Blackwood stuck it out, blocking, chopping and slashing the boundary when required.
And what of Shai Hope? The hero when the West Indies last beat England at home in 2017. Hope scored two centuries in that great game at Headingley, a feat that had never been achieved before at the ground in its vaunted history. His second was in an improbable 322 run chase -- a 118* that was as controlled as it was devil may care and as crackling as it was defiant. He hasn’t scored a century since.
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