This new year is supposed to make all sorts of things “new and improved”. For international cricket in the Caribbean, it brings a phenomenon that is new to the region: a triangular (three-way) one-day cricket tournament. The featured teams are the colourful Zimbabwe side, touring the Caribbean for the first time; the highly talented — but also highly unpredictable — Pakistanis; and, last but not least, the hosts: the recovering and still rebuilding West Indies.
This is an important period for West Indies cricket for several reasons. The triangular tournament will serve as something of a mini rehearsal for the Cricket World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in the Caribbean and the Americas in 2007. It would be an excellent opportunity for the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), which governs cricket in North America as well as the Caribbean, to experiment with some of the factors — communications, ground and air transportation etc. — which could affect this prestigious event. The response by the West Indian public to this cricket treat could also serve as an important gauge of the level of regional interest — especially after the West Indies senior cricket team’s lacklustre performance in recent times.
During the 2000 Caribbean international cricket season, Zimbabwe will play at least eight games, including two Tests against the hosts. Pakistan will contest at least nine games, including three Tests against the West Indies. (This count doesn’t include the three final games of the one-day series.) The extent to which the public supports these games, especially those featuring Zimbabwe against Pakistan, could give the WICB some idea of what to expect in 2007.
The West Indies cricket team should be grateful for the opportunity to play plenty of high-level cricket this early in the year. 1999 was a year they would perhaps want to erase from memory, and 2000 didn’t start gloriously either.
In Tests, the West Indies were destroyed 5-0 by South Africa, then bounced back to draw against Australia, before going to New Zealand to face further decimation (2-0) at the end of the year. They also managed very poorly in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). They were beaten 6-1 by South Africa, recuperated well against Australia, disappointed everyone at the 1999 Cricket World Cup, then won only two of the four minor one-day tournaments played later in the year before suffering a 5-0 whitewash at the hands of the Kiwis.
The new season is perhaps the best opportunity to date for the present senior team captain, Brian Lara, to consolidate his very young, somewhat inexperienced players. Five Test matches and at least four ODIs (not including the finals of the ODI tournament) are only the start of a year that will also include a full tour of the United Kingdom, a one-day series in Kenya and another full tour of Australia. Opportunities abound for those willing to work hard.
The Zimbabweans and the Pakistanis are exciting cricket teams, especially in the ODIs (remember that both qualified for the later rounds of the World Cup.) Lara, Jimmy Adams, Sherwin Campbell, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ridley Jacobs, along with the younger Ricardo Powell, Wavell Hinds, Pedro Collins and others, will have their work cut out for them as this new season opens. Survival and productivity will be vital.
Whatever happens, this should be exciting cricket. And it is as good a time as any for West Indies fans to continue the trend started during the Australia series last year, and “Rally Around the West Indies.”