It’s 4pm and my TV screen is swarming with cricketers from the Caribbean. Two of them are in red. Two in purple. They all look happy. But I scowl because neither red nor purple is maroon. One of those in red used to play for the purple side and has “333” printed on the back of his jersey. It used to be his highest score for the West Indies in Test cricket. He should’ve been part of the Indies’ playing 11 in the Test match against England but he says he has a sore back. Never too sore for the IPL, though.
It’s 8pm and my TV screen is swarming with a few more cricketers from the Caribbean. Two in yellow. Two in blue. Both the yellows were formerly blues. All of them have officially retired from whites. Whites don’t get you money, but mix blue and yellow and you get wads of green. Again, they smile, I scowl. So I change the channel and am greeted by 11 colourless, numberless, nameless flannels.
We’re in Antigua now. Forget the West Indies of yore, this team isn’t even the West Indies of yesterday. The captain (Denesh Ramdin) is best known for belittling Vivian Richards — after scoring a century in England, he held up a scribbled message in celebration which said “Yeh Viv talk nah”. Their openers are a green 22-year-old (Kraigg Brathwaite) and a 33-year old reject who last played a full Test series in 2009 (Devon Smith). Their number three (Darren Bravo) has the bittersweet curse of batting just like a prince named Brian Lara.
More square pegs, round holes: their number four (Marlon Samuels) is a social pariah, a man who spent time away on charges of match-fixing. Their number five (Shiv Chanderpaul) is the only Test player around from the 1990s. Looking through their team sheet, England’s director of cricket elect, Colin Graves, chuckles and uses the word “mediocre”. The word hangs in the air right through the series, thick like lubricant. But lubricant makes odd-shaped pegs fit into odd-shaped holes.
The oddest of them, Jason Holder, a fast bowler with a growing reputation for batting (when was the last time you heard that?), saves a lost Test with a century. In the second innings. On the final day. Few can lay claim to a feat like that. Not even Number 333, currently DJ-ing at a nightclub in Gurgaon. And surely not the former West Indies captain in yellow, currently attending the music launch of his first
The self-confessed guardians of the game, England, come roaring back in the second Test at Grenada. One bad session and the misfits lose by nine wickets. Then, one bad session balloons into two on a sticky wicket in Barbados, the venue for the third and final Test, and the West Indies have conceded a sizable first innings lead. But matches are won and lost in the second innings and misfits usually have little to lose.
Three bowlers take three wickets each and England are bundled out for cheap. Just a few runs away from history (West Indies last beat England in a Test match in 2009), the hour of the misfits is now. But England’s bowlers dismiss nearly half the side for a third of the score. To win, West Indies need nothing short of a Laraesque innings.
So they get one. Bravo plays the innings of his career. At the other end, a five-foot something novice (Jermaine Blackwood) shows that he can leave as well as he can lash. The match is over and Barbados rages headlong into a reggae and rum festival.
Over the din, former England captain, Nasser Hussain, chooses his words wisely. “Unlike West Indies teams of the recent past, these players look hungry. They look like they’d rather be here than anywhere else in the world. And with that hunger and the right tutelage, they won’t just be replacements to superstars, but superstars themselves.” “Yes,” adds another former England captain, Michael Atherton.
“And once they are superstars, which will be soon, they will catch the eye of the franchises in India. And then what?”
Then what? Then more misfits to fit in, more contracts to be rejected, more songs to be cut, more DJ-ing, more cricketers from the Caribbean on my TV screen. In blue, yellow, red and purple. Anything but maroon. Definitely not white.