Michael Holding, the popular former West Indian fast bowler, now doing television commentary of Test cricket from England, in an interview after the first Test at Edgbaston (August 17–21), had a lot to say. West Indies (WI) lost the match in less than three days. It was a pitiful performance to lose 19 wickets in one day to the English bowlers to bring the Test to its conclusion.
As a former first class and Test cricketer, it tore at my heart to lose this way. As much as I might criticise cricket in the WI it is still mentally destroying to witness such a spectacle.
Batsmen exhibiting poor technique like they never played at this level before; bowlers lacking the control necessary to bowl properly in a Club game let alone a match of international status; fieldsmen missing the simplest of ground balls and catches that made one wonder if they practised and prepared for the game at all.
Then I recalled that practice games were played, three-day games against counties such as Essex, Kent, and Derbyshire with the result that four or five hundred were scored by the West Indian batsmen with some even retiring after hitting half centuries.
The WI cricketers felt right about themselves and looked forward to the Test series. If they looked deeper they would recognise the fact that regular top-class county players did not take part in the games and what the counties did was give some exposure to their inexperienced youth players which they believe would lure the touring team into a false sense of security; and it worked! Their concentration was lacking and their spirit was absent in the first Test.
Then Holding decided to tell the world that it is time for two separate divisions in Test cricket! This statement reignited debate on the subject two years after the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided against it when the three leading countries at the time in Test cricket India, England and Australia had recommended such, for the main reason they did not envisage any financial profits from games against the lesser teams.
That is a rule which would suit them now, but just 25 years or so ago when England and India were low down the ladder of success there was no such talk! I quote Holding: “That has been in my mind since this Test series started—and I’ve been talking about it for years. What is the point of having a contest like this? I played Test cricket for 12 years. I never played a test match against Sri Lanka because at that time Sri Lanka just weren’t good enough to play against the West Indies. What is the point of having a contest like this? It’s not good for cricket.”
Firstly, I would like to inform the boastful and selfish Mr Holding that, in international contests, all countries qualify to play against one another regardless of their standard of play. This is not club cricket where you split teams into divisions; this is international sport and countries should not be degraded according to their strength at a particular time. And what is of vital importance is how teams will judge their ability to play at the highest level if they don’t play against the best and therefore know how to develop and improve their game.
In 1928, WI joined England, Australia and South Africa as a test playing country and were quickly thrashed by an innings in all three Tests in their first series against England. That’s the yardstick for the newcomers to measure their standard and work on their improvement.
Cricket is unique, a difficult taskmaster and care should be taken in competition. It is international sport and not because the WI are in a poor position now does it mean that they will never be good again; and it is exactly in positions like this that the ICC needs to uplift the weaker countries and give them advice and carry them to ensure that a high competitive level is kept; and not only the WI but Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and now Afghanistan and Ireland.
However, two divisions in international cricket will do nothing to improve the value and the competitiveness of the cricket. The reason it has never spread its popularity world-wide is due to its time-consuming nature and its complexity quotient in learning its skills.
For those who know and appreciate the game, there’s no greater game. Great men like CLR James, Neville Cardus, EW Swanton just to mention a few authors who wrote and gave their reasons why they love cricket. And for Holding, a great West Indian cricketer, to even suggest a second division in international cricket is his opinion to which he’s entitled. However, the reasons WI never played against Sri Lanka in Holding’s day was strictly because of financial restraints. It was never because WI was too superior!
By the way all three days in the first Test were sold out. At the time of writing on the third day of the second Test (August 25–29) at Leeds, there have been huge crowds. And the WI has improved! Win or lose they have shown they have the ability to compete!