This is the West Indies

For a West Indian fast bowler Kemar Roach is quite a small man, and, with his gentle features and unassuming body language, he gives off a slight air of reticence. When it comes to height, aggression and the iron confidence that accompanies great skill, he's no Ambrose, or Croft or Marshall.

The West Indies have been getting beaten for so long that many of their players carry an air of pessimism and fractured confidence without even being aware of it. This, along with the technical issues which are seemingly always there - Roach's no-balls, poor shot selection by the upper order, confused running between the wickets and vulnerable fielding - is what Gibson and Sammy are striving to overcome. Small strides have been made in England over the past week or two, although placid pitches have helped and a relatively small number of players - Shiv (of course), Samuels, Sammy and Roach himself - have really excelled.

More, much more, is needed from others and some may not be capable of it.

This is the West Indies. They never are.

It's easy to feel sorry for modern West Indian players. Even for those of us who lived through it, the era when their predecessors exuded invincibility has long since faded into the past. Documentaries are made about it, YouTube is full of it, but, when all is said, it's just so last century. For more years than is decent, the West Indian Test team has been a pitiful thing.

For me, the most exciting moment of the match which concluded today at Trent Bridge was the second ball which Roach bowled to Jonny Bairstow yesterday. It was a perfectly directed short ball of high pace, heading for the throat, impossible for anyone, let alone an inexperienced Test batsman like Bairstow, to play with composure, or ease, or lack of fear. For a second or two you could have been back watching Close against Holding at Old Trafford, or Peter Willey facing Patterson at Kingston, or Robin Smith battling away, seemingly for his very life, against Bishop and the rest in Bridgetown.

Then there is something as apparently inconsequential as the West Indies cap. A deep and meaningful shade of maroon, bearing the badge which all of the combined territories' very best players - and they have been among the greatest the game itself has ever produced - have worn. With the sole exception of Chanderpaul, none of the players who wore it today will ever be talked of as great, but the cap links them to the past and brings you up short if you ever find yourself thinking of them as just another team.

This is the West Indies. Don't ever forget it.

These evocations of the past must be relished and clung to as tangible representations of the hope of a better future.

For without those there is nothing.


Unforced Power

In modern sport, as in life, time waits for no man. If your career loses momentum to injuries or fading form, people move past you. You can be forgotten as quickly as you arrived.

This time last year people were talking about Ben Stokes. Late in the season, without much fanfare or success, he even played for England. But his form was in decline and a persistent finger injury was causing serious concern. In the early winter, with little publicity, he was ruled out of England's winter programme.

Last Tuesday saw Stokes in Taunton, struggling to re-establish himself as part of a Durham side which is also far from what it was. On the game's first afternoon, he came to the wicket with his side 232 for 2, high at four perhaps, but with the sun on his back and the wind grazing his muscular forearms.

Though he is still only twenty, the left-handed Stokes is an imposing figure. At the wicket he still has the air of an overgrown schoolboy humiliating his puny peers in the under-thirteens and at times the bat resembles a toy in his hands in the way it always did with Andrew Flintoff, but, although he has the customary lumbering footwork of the really big man, his basic technique is good. His head is still, allowing his gifted natural timing to work its spell. He likes to deal in boundaries and at Taunton he hits eight fours and a six in his innings, which lasts just under an hour and a half. Most of these are drives and pulls, and one wristy on-drive off Arul Suppiah which beats long-on with ease, even though the fielder has only a few yards to move, stays in the memory for its casual, unforced power.

On sixty, Stokes strays from his crease after nudging the ball back to the bowler and is brilliantly run out by a reflex shy at the stumps. He leaves, head bowed, frustrated, not for the first time you sense, by his inability to convert a virile start into a big innings. The two aren't necessarily connected, but, after Stokes is out, his side's innings rapidly declines. Two days later Durham are defeated, and Stokes fails to score in the second innings.

There are still many rough edges to smooth. But we will be hearing much more of Ben Stokes.


Far from Crap

There's a frightening amount of stuff out there in the 'Blogosphere'. Some of it is even worth reading. I have no memory of what I was searching for at the time but I recently came across a link to this.

The stuff about the writer's own games can be taken or left. In many cases you have to have some personal knowledge of the people and circumstances involved to really appreciate it, but some of the pieces about cricket and cricketers (and the News of the World) - especially from last year - are absolutely superb. It was no surprise to discover that it's the work of a professional writer.

Highly recommended.


Not the IPL

When 'people' - usually lazy journalists of the type who become disorientated if they're ever forced to set foot outside the M25 - say that county cricket (by which they mainly mean County Championship cricket) is dying and isn't watched by anyone, I tend to get a bit annoyed. This is because I like County Championship cricket, and, where I usually watch it, the number of people who turn up can easily be mistaken for a crowd.

It's not always like that, though.

On a Saturday afternoon in early May which looked and felt more like a Tuesday morning in late November, it briefly seemed like a good idea to try to see some cricket. It may not have felt like it, but it was, after all, supposed to be the cricket season.

After a tour round the suburban cricket grounds of Derby, most of which appear to be under water, there is only one thing for it. We head for the County Ground, where a Second Division match between Derbyshire and Gloucestershire is quietly dying.

We drive into the ground and fortunately no-one tries to charge us for doing so. It is mid-afternoon and any stewards who may once have been on duty have long since gone home. It is a comparatively easy task to count the crowd, which, remarkably, numbers as many as seventy people. In the middle the two Gloucestershire batsmen, Ian Cockbain and Will Gidman, are stroking the ball around with ease against a Derbyshire 'attack' which comprises almost everyone who is still standing. The pitch has preceded the match into a watery grave. The players are cold, the umpires are cold and the crowd is cold. The prevailing atmosphere carries more than a hint of desolation and utter pointlessness. The IPL it ain't.

Tea is taken at 3.40, but, having carelessly neglected to bring either the Laws of Cricket or the playing conditions of the County Championship with us, we are unsure exactly when the game will finish. We assume that it will finally be certified extinct at about five o'clock, so we are somewhat surprised when, at half past four, Peter Willey calls a drinks interval. Conditions being what they are, this is no ordinary drinks interval. The twelfth men bear large metallic flasks which contain we know not what. Tea? Coffee? Soup? Clinical stimulants? For God's sake, we know that everyone is struggling to stay awake but the match will, it turns out, be ending in twenty minutes.

After the drinks interval things start to get even more bizarre. This being a County Championship match, loud music isn't scheduled to play any part in proceedings. However, in a marquee at deep fine leg, a local DJ is warming up for that evening's wedding reception. As the bowler bowls, the increasingly empty ground suddenly reverberates to the sound of Mr.Brightside by The Killers. This annoys Peter Willey (and an angry Peter Willey is a worrying sight). In blunt Geordie tones he instructs a fielder to enter the marquee and tell the person responsible to leave his sound check until the end of the game. He will not have long to wait.

At ten to five, with only eighteen spectators still present, Gloucestershire declare their innings and the match is laid to rest. Few will mourn its passing.

We all go home.

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