Can West Indies' young crop of pacers help regain lost glory?

In 2012, Jason Holder (left) teamed up with Delorn Johnson to give plenty of headaches to India A’s much-vaunted batting line-up at West Indies. West Indies won the series 2-1, largely on the back of some incisive spells bowled by Holder and Johnson © Getty Images

By Bharath Ramaraj

Over the years, fast bowlers from the Caribbean have been revered and feted for playing a Calypso brand of cricket. With sheer dedication and devotion to fast bowling, crackerjack pacers like Wes Hall, Gary Sobers, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, and Curtly Ambrose touched the outer limits of excellence.
Even during the early part of the 19th century, bowlers of the calibre of Herman Griffith, Manny Martindale, Learie Constantine and George Francis used to pepper the unsuspecting batsman with chin music. Interestingly, in the year 1933 in England, Constantine and Martindale with their well thought-out stratagem of bodyline tactics tried to unsettle the cricketer who used it successfully to curtail Don Bradman’s phenomenal run-scoring efforts in Douglas Jardine. Jardine to his credit handled fast and furious pace bowling of Constantine and Martindale with aplomb and made a gritty century at Old Trafford.

During the golden era of West Indies cricket in 1970s and 1980s, they had a surfeit of outstanding pacers. It resulted in some very good bowlers like Sylvester Clarke, Ezra Moseley, Milton Small, Winston Davis and Tony Gray finding themselves in the lonely world of wilderness for most part of their respective careers. It is mind-blogging to even imagine that the likes of Clarke, Davis and Gray who could terrorise and raid opposition ranks into submission played only a handful of games for West Indies.
Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. Ever since the retirement of Ambrose and Walsh at the dawn of the new century, only Fidel Edwards and Mervyn Dillon have taken over 100 Test wickets for West Indies. With due respect to both of them, it has to be said that neither Edwards, nor Dillon, are half as good as even the second string of West Indies’ pace-battery of yore.
Actually, if we look back at West Indies cricket in the last two decades, a string of pacers have showcased flashes of brilliance, but at the same time were excruciatingly inconsistent. Franklyn Rose, Reon King, Vasbert Drakes, Ottis Gibson, Hamish Anthony, Hendy Bryan, Nixon McLean, Adam Sanford, Patterson Thompson, Mervyn Dillon, Fidel Edwards, Corey Collymore, Gavin Tonge, Marlon Black, Jerome Taylor, Jermaine Lawson, Nelon Pascal, Daren Powell, Rayad Emrit, Colin Stuart, Ryan Nurse, Dwight Washington, Pedro Collins, Andrew Richardson and many more have flattered to deceive.

But the hope springs eternal, as a young crop of pacers from the Caribbean are making their presence felt in the domestic circuit. So, with a bird’s eye-view, this article intends to look at upcoming pacers from the Caribbean.

Jason Holder

The 21-year old right-arm pacer, Jason Holder, is a bright prospect from the wonderful Island of Barbados. Holder, built like a giant edifice, shot into prominence by taking 23 wickets at the cost of just 18.17 in their regional four-day competition, during the season of 2011-12.
In that season, he shone like a beacon in Barbados’ game against Jamaica by taking five for 58. The Jamaican batting line-up which had Test-class batsmen like Marlon Samuels, Wavell Hinds and Brendan Nash crumbled when facing up to Jason Holder. It was a gut-busting effort by the young prodigy from Barbados.
In 2012, Holder teamed up with another fast bowler of burgeoning potential in Delorn Johnson to give plenty of headaches to India A‘s much-vaunted batting line-up at home. The series was won by West Indies 2-1, largely on the back of some incisive spells bowled by the pace troika of Holder, Johnson and Kevin McLean. Even in his short international career, Holder has already left an indelible mark on cricket cognoscenti with a four-wicket haul in the recently concluded one-day series against Pakistan. 
With an economical run-up, Holder can extract disconcerting bounce out of most surfaces. The general inkling though, is that the towering giant Holder bowls a touch too short. Just envisage the kind of sustainable threat that Holder can pose to batsmen, if he can consistently hit the good length spot and produce awkward bounce. On a long-term basis, Holder perhaps also needs that extra yard of pace to survive in the harsh world of international cricket.
In many ways, Holder reminds the writer of another Barbadian in Ryan Nurse. Just like Holder, Nurse came through the ranks and played in the Under-19 World Cup held in New Zealand. In the 2001-02 Under-19 World Cup, Nurse too generated disconcerting bounce from a length. It almost seemed like he was a giant surrounded by lilliputs in the World Cup. Unfortunately, just like many other young promising cricketers from the Caribbean Islands, he soon disappeared into oblivion. Hopefully, something similar won’t happen with Holder.

Delorn Johnson
The 25-year-old left-arm quick, Delorn Johnson, was Holder’s partner in-crime when the deadly duo combined together to send India A to some embarrassing defeats in 2012. In the second match against India A at Jamaica, he is said to have bowled with a marvellous spirit of zest and verve to take six wickets in the second innings.

Johnson is still largely an unknown quantity. But those few who have seen Johnson bowl reckon that he swings it prodigiously at pace. The left-arm pacer is also a useful lower-order batsman.

Johnson, who plays for Windward Islands, propelled into the limelight with a fine spell of four for 34 against a strong Trinidad and Tobago batting line-up in the 2010-11 First-Class season. Opposition ranks consisted of batsmen like Lendl Simmons, Runako Morton, Sherwin Ganga, Darren Ganga and Denesh Ramdin, but with an unflinching desire to succeed, Johnson ripped open their batting line-up.
Curiously, in spite of performing well for Windward Islands in the 2012-13 regional four-day competition, Johnson couldn’t find a place in the West Indies A squad that recently played an unofficial Test series against Sri Lanka A. It is sometimes hard to fathom the haphazard selection policies of West Indies.

Shannon Gabriel
The 25-year-old Shannon Gabriel from Trinidad and Tobago hit the headlines by taking 30 wickets at an impressive average of 25.56 in their First-Class competition in 2011-12. It helped him to clinch a spot in West Indies’ squad to tour the Old Blighty in 2012.
In his debut Test at the well-manicured, lush green, hallowed cricket ground of Lord’s, he impressed one-and-all by bowling at brisk pace and keeping the formidable English batsmen on their toes. He snared four wickets in that match, albeit in a losing cause. Gabriel’s ability to surprise the batsman with lively pace in some ways reminds keen cricket observers of the younger version of underrated South African seamer — Garnett Kruger.
The grossly inexperienced seamer, Gabriel, though is prone to bowling wayward spells. Only time will tell whether he can survive daunting barriers akin to ferocious tidal waves that can come in his way and stop him from fulfilling his potential.

Miguel Cummins
The right-arm fast bowler from Barbados, Miguel Cummins, made everyone sit up and take notice of his burgeoning potential with 35 wickets next to his name at an awe-inspiring average of 14.77 in the 2012-13 Caribbean First-Class season.
In the final of that competition against Trinidad and Tobago, he bowled with an intensity of purpose and scythed through their batting line-up. His sterling performances in his very first season of First-Class cricket didn’t go unnoticed, as selectors plumped for Cummins to play for West Indies A against Sri Lanka A in 2013. He is just 22 and definitely a bright prospect to watch out for.

Sheldon Cotterall from Jamaica and Kevin McLean from Barbados are two more promising quicks who are making positive waves in West Indies’s domestic circuit.

In fact, with West Indies continuing to plumb the depths in Test cricket, it is crystal clear that they are in dire need of a pacer who can support the lynchpin of the pace attack — Kemar Roach. Ravi Rampaul, at best, is a diligent workhorse in the team. Tino Best can bowl some lightning quick spells, but is too erratic.
Now, Holder, Gabriel, Johnson, Cummins and Co. may not magically transport West Indies to the golden era when intimidating blood-thirsty fast bowlers sent shivers down the spine of a batsman. However, with the right kind of guidance and a selection policy that believes in giving young cricketers a decent run in the side can help them to successfully chase their vehicle of dreams.
For too long we have seen the decline of what can be termed as an erstwhile colossal empire of world cricket. The lost glory of the West Indies’ cricket empire can be regained only by backing youngsters to the hilt.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)