Denesh Ramdin actually means it and you need only consider what lies ahead for West Indies to see why. 2015 and beyond is an important period for their cricket as it tries to move out of another crisis and into a clear dawn. Apart from the World Cup, the latest FTP has West Indies scheduled to play 14 Tests between March 2015 and July 2016, against England (three home), Australia (two home, three away), Sri Lanka (two away) and India (four home) and they hope to kickstart a full schedule with the lessons they have learnt on this tour.
“We are learning and we are playing against the No.1 team in the world. If we can do some of the things South Africa are doing, we can try to move up the rankings,” Ramdin said.
In watching the South Africa side, Ramdin has identified two areas which he wants his own men to emulate. “They don’t bowl a lot of bad balls. Our bowlers bowl too many bad balls an over,” he said. “And sometimes we play too freely. They score big hundreds. When one of players gets a hundred, he needs to go on as well.”
Clive Lloyd, West Indies chief selector, believes they have already started to do the first of those but need to show more consistency. “Our bowlers are getting their rhythm right, getting their line right. That’s why we restricted them on the first day in Port Elizabeth; that’s why they didn’t get away on the second and third day. We contained them,” he said. “We need to bowl more line-and-length balls than trying different things. This is a Test match, we can’t give people Test runs, they have to work for it.”
Sustaining the challenge with the bat has been more difficult for West Indies, but they are starting to find some answers. Kraigg Brathwaite capped off a successful 2014 with a first century away from home and Marlon Samuels provided what Lloyd called “maturity” in the middle-order.
“People realise now we have young players who want to do well in Test cricket, and not only thinking of T20. Brathwaite is very mature for his age, and he’s getting better with every game. He’s a good thinker, you can see from interviews, his answers are very intelligent,” Lloyd said. “Where Marlon is concerned, he’s shown maturity, he’s batted well in one-dayers, he’s batted well in Test matches.” Now the other pieces need to fall into place. “We’re just trying to form that middle. We need another two batsmen in the middle who can fight through situations and give us a total for our bowlers to bowl to,” Lloyd said.
Ramdin has an idea of where that may come from. “We had a slow start to the tour and myself and Shiv didn’t get any runs,” he said. While Ramdin’s record in South Africa may excuse him, Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s ability has yet to appear on this trip and, if it his last tour to these shores, he needs no other reason to put it on display.
“I’m sure he wants to get a big one in this game. He was a bit annoyed with how he was dismissed in Centurion. He is going to come good in this game,” Ramdin insisted, although he confirmed Chanderpaul had no indication he has had enough just yet. “He might go on until he’s 50. He’s enjoying his cricket still.”
Anyone who has watched West Indies train over the last two weeks will know that Chanderpaul is not the only one enjoying the tour. Despite their obvious underdog tag and the troubles which shadowed them in the lead-up to this tour, West Indies look happy. They practice seriously but find time for smiles and share a joke or two.
They do not wear the body language of a Test side who has only won three of their last 10 games or of an outfit which is missing some of its most noticeable, classy and dangerous names in Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo and Kemar Roach. They are even willing to front up first if needs be in 2015. “The pitch looks green and hard. If we get the opportunity to bat first, we could do that,” Ramdin said.
After choosing to bowl in the last two matches – which was actually just another way of refusing to bat – that statement alone represents progress and may even be a glimpse into how they want to play their cricket going forward. Lloyd summed it up when he said: “I think we’re getting there, we’re not there quite yet.”