A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

The World Cup was stage managed hitting, and it could be the death of ODI

The World Cup was a desperate attempt to be something it isn’t, with a horribly stage managed display of industrially produced six hitting. If One Day cricket is to survive, it must start to carve out a niche, and recognise its place within the rhythm of the cricketing calendar. 

The ICC praised the glorious 2015 World Cup with a headline on an article on their website that Peter Moores would have been proud of:


The article says that ‘After the 42 group games, the average run rate for the competition looks set to average more than five runs per over for the first time in the history of the competition. 

“So far runs have been scored at 5.07 runs per over, at an average of 28.43 runs per wicket, beating the previous best of 4.95 in 2007.’.

By the end of the tournament, the overall run rate was 5.6 runs per over. 

But, this was man made carnage. 

This World Cup had a number of crucial elements fixed, which created a concoction of chaos for bowlers.

There were of course shorter boundaries, allowing for quick constant runs. There were two new kookaburra balls, meaning both less swing for the quick bowlers.  

In terms of fielding restrictions, a change was made in 2012, whereby a maximum of four fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle for the majority of the innings.

Oh, and instead of three blocks of power plays, there were two blocks: the first in the opening ten overs, when only two fielders are allowed outside the ring;  and the second, a five-over block taken by the batting side before the 40th over, restricting the number to three outside the ring.[ESPN Cricinfo].

In other words, it was a rigged game. 

Someone decided to throw out of the window tactics and subtlety, and put it on to the ‘crash bang wallop’ setting.

Like a stage production, It went to a script. 

The Associates had fun, but got nowhere. But sixes were hit. England flopped. A few sixes were hit [against them]. Pakistan and the West Indies fought hard and fell short. But sixes were hit. Sri Lanka were underestimated. But sixes were hit. South Africa got a Semi-Final. But Ab de Villiers hit lots of sixes on beast mode. Australia (the villain) beat their co-Hosts New Zealand in the final, then the Channel 9 team was let loose.

“It was the greatest World Cup ever”, and a thousand other cliches.

It wasn’t ‘boring‘, but after the 400th six, it did get a bit tedious. Oh, he’s scored a double hundred again.. someone wake me up when he breaks Lara’s 400. 

It was microcosmic of fifty over cricket as a whole; trying to be something it wasn’t.

Unlike the IPL which has genuine raw support and appeals to people as a a short sharp burst of drama, this was dragged out. It was mass produced six hitting forced down people’s throats.

The World Cup in 2015 World Cup saw a staggering 38 hundreds, compared to 24 in 2011 and 20  in 2007. Even before the quarter and semi final stage, there had been more centuries and scores of over 300 than any other previous World Cup. 

The next World Cup organisers should do the humanitarian thing, and replace bowlers with bowling machines. 

If 50 over cricket wants to survive, perhaps it should look back to 2003. 

Run rates were steady. Around one, with Australia narrowly pointing their noses over two.

It was exciting and engaging cricket, because it was unique and had character.

There were plots and sub plots.

Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee were genuinely hostile. Andy Flower’s black armband. Muttiah Muralitharan versus Shane Warne. The legendary Kenyan upset, a host of other things. It wasn’t just crash bang wallop, because it didn’t need to be. It was 50 over cricket with a unique flavour.

Admittedly T20 was not a dominant force at the time, but nevertheless, there was still an appetite for this brand of aggressive must thinking cricket. 

One day cricket must start to distinguish itself from T20 cricket, and not try to become like it. 

If it tries to emulate something which is hugely popular for two key specific reasons, it’s time frame and intensity, then it will fail. 50 over cricket will be like the embarrassing dad wearing Topman skinny jeans and red converse in front of their T20 son. 

One Day cricket needs to do some soul searching and recognise that it will not survive unless it is itself. It has had success when it has been itself. When it has embraced a balance between bat an ball, and between the pace of Test cricket and T20. 

This World Cup will be remembered as the World Cup that everyone knew the result of before it started. It was like watching a film that you have seen a thousand times before. It was enjoyable, but it wouldn’t hurt to see something different. 

One Day cricket is huge in the sub continent especially, and it a perfect stepping stone for the associate and Test playing nations. 

It needs to exist, and without it, there would be no middle ground between the oldest and newest forms of the game.

If 50 over cricket turns into 20 over cricket, it will die, and with it, cricket will lose all of its subtlety. It will become a sport of two extremes. 

The witch hunt against spinners reflects insecurity in T20

Over the last few years, there has been an ongoing witch hunt against spinners with suspect actions, and its time some consideration was given to the agenda that drives it.

The official party line is that the ICC are cracking down on bowlers with suspect actions because it is part of the rules of the game. They are just doing their job. Just following orders.

Cricket has now got three raging formats, the newest of which being Twenty20 (T20).

It is the double expresso, to the steady Americano, Test cricket.

When it first emerged, many saw the big bats, short boundaries and high intensity, and thought that it would simply destroy spin.

Nobody really considered that it may become a format where slower bowlers could thrive. Looking back, it is amazing it took almost a decade for mystery spinners, and fast bowlers that variate well, to really excel.

The T20 machine that is projected onto the global audience is one of being a batsman’s game, undoubtably.

The hard hats, the six cards, the crowd catching rewards. It’s all the batsman.

Yet, today, International cricket has many spinners that have had incredible success in T20. They  get attention, sure. But why are they now getting the ICC’s attention, for their actions? Many of these bowlers have been around for 10 or 15 years, and have had nothing.

The current ICC T20 International bowling rankings prove that the plan hasn’t quite worked.

Seven spinners in the top 10. Eight of the current ICC ranked bowlers between 10-20 are also spinners.

It’s flooded.  Saturated with slow bowlers.

Screenshot 2014-11-07 22.58.23

But it isn’t even just International cricket. Even in the IPL, three of the five highest wicket takers to date are spinners too. 

Screenshot 2014-11-08 15.02.40

The cynical traditional cricket fan inside says that this was never the intention for T20. The even more pessimistic and doubtful voice says that the ICC are now trying to put brakes on the situation.

The rules of the game outline that bowlers are allowed a 15 degree flex of permissible straightening of the elbow joint for all bowlers in international cricket.

Spinners with questionable actions, i.e. those that flex more than 15 degrees, can generate huge amounts of turn, both ways. It allows variation, but more importantly, pressure.

In 2013, the ICC released an 18 page document called ‘ICC Regulations for the Review of Bowlers Reported with Suspected Illegal Bowling Actions‘. It goes into great detail with regards to the process for reporting suspect bowlers. Although it outlines that umpires still have access to the right to call illegal actions; now it will be much more official. There will be greater ICC involvement and more use of technology, to really snuff out those responsible.

The ICC, currently chaired by former BCCI chairman N. Srinivasan, is the same ICC that failed to achieve consensus regarding the use of Umpire’s Decision Review System due to opposition by BCCI on grounds of a lack of faith in technology.

But of course, when it comes to suspect actions, technology is a must. Anything to ensure that T20 remains a game in their control.

It may be less humiliating for bowlers to be probed in a lab for a suspect action than to be called on the field in front of thousands,  but in terms of effectiveness, it is far potent.

As bowlers are now less likely to be called on field, they will be more thoroughly checked off it. It is going to be more rigorous and official process, enforced without time limits, or the possibility of having an impact on the game that it allegedly occurs in.

Whereas nobody questions the 15 degree rule as long as it is in place;, it is arguably the case that there is an agenda behind this witch hunt.

In International cricket, even bowlers with an illegal action are still massively under pressure in a batsmen dominated game.

In limited overs cricket T20 cricket, the bats are bigger than ever, the boundaries are in, the field restrictions are on, even the ball is now harder than before, because there are two new cherries from each end.

Every element of the game is geared towards big hits, and big totals.

A world class spinner would go and ruin that.

Whether its a big time bowler like Saeed Ajmal or a part timer like Kane Williamson, there is a clear new discourse.

There is nowhere to hide. It doesn’t matter if you are a big spinner or a small spinner. You are a suspect. Spinning as a art, is now suspect.

As skilful as mystery spin is to watch on TV, it has the potential to remove the entertainment factor of T20 that the administrators crave.

The big hitting.

If it can be sufficiently stigmatised and criticised, then the onslaught against mystery spin may be able to embed a high sense of insecurity for spinners in the International game.

Sooner or later, orthodoxy may reign once more, for the sake of T20.


Point-to-prove XI for 2014

Reflection of the previous year often aids with informing the expectations of the season to come. As we recover from a year of retirements and the changing the guard, we can look into a crystal ball, and see who will be looking to have a more productive 2014. Not all in this list have had a disappointing 2013, but, all will be looking to have a purposeful year ahead, and really prove something.

*2013 statistics are amalgamated from all formats of International cricket.

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1. Jesse Ryder [New Zealand] – 2013:

Batting: 1 innings – 0 runs. Average 0 |

Jesse Ryder is a special talent, but certainly not a fulfilled one. His staggered career has developed at an uneven rate, which has given rise to the fact that at 29 years old, he has played just 18 Test matches, and only 41 ODIs. He’s better than that, but it needs consistency, and discipline on and off the field. Combining the two could allow Ryder to explode back onto the scene, which may be important with T20 contracts up for grabs. A century on the first day of 2014 is a good sign, but with Ryder, it is never far away from something unexpected.

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2. Murali Vijay [India] – 2013:

Batting: 14 innings – 704 runs – Average – 48.82 | Bowling: Overs 1 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

After having made his debut in 2008, Vijay’s chance for Test cricket has been stifled by the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the top. They have since been put to one side, and Vijay’s chance has finally emerged. 647 Test runs at an average of 46.76 in 2013 was a good grounded response to continued selection. But, with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara for company in the batting order, he must stay relevant, and not be a passenger. In order to not be buried in the drama of Indian cricket, and the high octane performances of others, he must push the boundaries, and really build a reputation.

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3. Azhar Ali [Pakistan] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 272 runs – Average: 31.77 | Bowling: Overs: 7 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

Pakistan are about to go through a turbulent period, with Misbah Ul Haq at the ripe age of 39, and Younis Khan at 36, spare parts are desperately needed. Azhar Ali was steady for a number of years for Pakistan at number three, but severely fell away in 2013, with just two fifties, and averaging under 20 in Tests. 270 runs in 14 Test innings is not good enough, when in the previous year, he scored more than double that in less matches. There is lots to work on, and lots to like about Ali, but he really must show he has a future for Pakistan, post Misbah and Younis, by seizing number three by the horns, and not letting go. Pakistan cricket is a roller coaster ride sometimes, and a solid, steady number three is what is needed. Step up Azhar.

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4. Joe Root [England] – 2013:

Batting: 48 innings – 1579 runs – average: 38.51 | Bowling: Overs: 118.0 – Wickets: 8 – Average: 69. 87

The golden boy of English cricket is finding out the hard way that top level cricket is very difficult. Averaging 34.48 in Tests last year, he has been moved up and down the order perpetually, not being allowed to settle. He has been worked over by Australia’s quicks, exposed horribly, and although having played the short ball well, he has not been the defensive rock that England had hoped for at the top of the order. Whereas some will attribute this to him being unsettled due to constant change, it must also be recognised that he has not made any of the positions his own. He is only young of course, but the sooner he consolidates a position, the better, and that is the task for the year in all formats.

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5. JP Duminy [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 32 innings – 948 runs – average 35.11 | Bowling: Overs: 177.4 – Wickets: 20 – Average: 36.90

The left hander has gained a reputation as a One Day specialist, which is something he will be keen to repute. He has only played 21 Tests in his career, and has always been placed in the lower middle order, coming in to bat after a flurry of world class batsmen such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers. Nobody doubts his One Day credentials, but his First Class average of nearly 50, simply does not translate in Test cricket, where he averages a meager 32.88. He will be looking to assert himself, and prove he is not just a One Day specialist.

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6. Angelo Mathews [Sri Lanka] – 2013:

Batting: 34 innings – 935 runs – average: 34.62 | Bowling: Overs: 200.4- Wickets: 23- Average: 40.34

As a player, and as a captain, Angelo Mathews has struggled to form a cohesive Test side. He played in 28 limited overs games, whilst having only three full Tests in 2013, which outlines the difficulty of long term planning. A general depression in form in Tests, has been contrasted by a strong-ish year in coloured kits. In Tests, scoring under a hundred runs in the year, and taking not a single wicket showed his ineptitude, yet in ODIs, his 585 runs and 19 wickets helped build his character as a leader. 2014 needs to be the year in which the Sri Lankan captain strengthens his place as the leader, and transfers limited overs contributions to Tests, because if he doesn’t Sri Lanka will be far too heavily reliant on the old guard.

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7. Quinton De Kock [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 23 innings – 928 runs – average: 42.18 | Wicketkeeping: Catches: 33 Stumpings: 4

With the retirement of Jacques Kallis, a position in the batting order has opened up. Quinton De Kock has had a fantastic year in limited overs cricket for South Africa, the only format he was afforded selection with 928 runs, including four centuries. He is the obvious player to come into the Test side, and as a wicketkeeper, he has an added string to his bow. Some will say at 21 he is too young to fill Kallis’s enormous hole, but  someone has to, and in spite of his inexperience, De Kock has shown considerable ticker in his performances so far.

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8. Darren Sammy [The West Indies] – 2013:

Batting: 35 innings – 709 runs – average 26.25 | Bowling: Overs: 260.1 – Wickets: 21 – Average: 50.04 | Fielding: Catches: 30

The West Indies beleaguered captain is chronically unable to lead from the front, and must show some more substance. His toothless bowling produced eight Test wickets in nine innings in 2013, and his Test batting average of just 21 is not exactly electric dynamite. He is economical and steady, but he is clearly picked as a and captain in Tests. After having been relinquished of the role in 50 over cricket, it’s surely only a matter of time before a new captain of any degree of competence emerges, which could render Sammy obsolete. He continues to be a solid limited overs performers, but especially for Test cricket, he needs to start showing his worth. 2014 must be the year of Sammy, where he shows his value to the team not just as a captain.

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9. Ravichandran Ashwin [India] – 2013:

Batting: 24 innings – 359 runs – average: 17.95 | Bowling: Overs: 617.1 – Wickets: 81 – Average: 28.60

Disposed of for the second Test in South Africa, India’s spinner seems to be inept outside of the sub continent. 95 of his 104 Test wickets have been in Asia, which does not take away from his achievements, but it suggest he is a one dimensional and inexperienced performer outside of India. When his side plays England in five Tests in 2014, he will be desperate to be in that side ahead of Pragyan Ojha, the genuine spinner, or Ravi Jadeja, the genuine allrounder. He must break out of his Sub-continental mould, and really secure his spot in the side by developing a stock ball, and learning to use variations more intelligently. Until he does that, he will never have success where there is less spin to be had.

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10. Steven Finn [England] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 142 runs – average: 10.92 | Bowling: Overs: 324.5 – Wickets: 44 – Average: 32.63

In 2011, Steven Finn became England’s youngest bowler to 50 wickets, at the age 22 years and 63 days. The tall seamer was set to be ‘the next big thing’, but failed. Struggling with control, even when he got wickets, they were expensive, and he has spluttered and coughed his way through his career since being dropped in 2011. 2014 simply must be the year for Finn to settle his action, and lead. Whatever format, ‘If’ he has a serious future, and ‘If’ he wants to carry the legacy on that was laid out in 2011, this year has got to be the turning point. He is clearly a good bowler, and has performed spectacularly well especially in limited overs cricket, but without consistency, he will always simply be remembered as the bowler that occasionally performed well. Getting a consistent reliable action is his task for the year. If he does, success will come his way.

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11. Ishant Sharma [India] –

Batting: 17 innings – 34 runs – average: 3.77 | Bowling: Overs: 367.2 – Wickets: 47 – Average: 34.53

How do you solve a problem like Ishant Sharma? A tall, gangly fast bowler, that is robotic. His bowling lacks the emotion that a fast bowler should have, sometimes more stiff and unimaginative than a bowling machine. 12 Test wickets at an average of 48.16 in 2013 has reinforced his dire 2012 performance which produced just seven Test wickets at an average of 75.57. He is only 25 years old, despite having been around since 2008; but time is running out regardless of his age. Only for so long can India continuously pick this uninspiring and ineffective bag of unfulfilled potential. 2014 might be Sharma’s last chance to prove everyone wrong before he is dumped on the scrapheap once and for all.

Other contenders: Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon.

Captain Sammy – Part of the solution or the problem?

Darren Sammy has plugged the West Indies problems as a captain for some time. Whereas he has been relinquished from his limited overs captaincy, his captaincy at Test level has stabilised the West Indies side much like Misbah Ul Haq’s has for Pakistan, but unlike Misbah; Sammy’s role is not worth the drama it causes. He is not there on merit and it’s time the West Indies stopped wasting a place in their side, and gracefully said thank you, and progressed on in Test Cricket.

Turning back the clocks, the appointment of Darren Sammy as captain came after a host of catastrophes. West Indies captains came and went almost as often as Australian off spinners, as both board troubles and internal disputes meant that the likes of Chris Gayle, Ramranesh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and others, had short unsuccessful stints as captains. Sammy has won nearly a third of his Tests, despite a thoroughly mediocre individual record, but undoubtably, the fact that he was barely selected before captaincy, indicates why he is in this side.

Selection to captain is a dangerous and wasteful tactic. Mike Brearley is the obvious case, whereby the team recognised his value as a captain, regardless of his ineptitude at Test level as a batsman. But, he was successful, captaining England in 31 of his 39 Test matches, winning 17 and losing only 4. Because he had a clear role, and excelled, the team was willing to carry him.

Sammy has had remarkably little impact with bat or ball, and is unable to lead from the front, yet, out of his 35 Tests, 29 have been as captain, and there have been eight wins within those nine, which is considerable bearing in mind the West Indies terminal decline in recent years. His tenure has included a T20 World cup win also, which crowned the West Indies resurgence. He is a significant part of recent success in limited overs cricket, and certainly represents a scrappy and hardworking attitude, but he is certainly not selection on merit for Test cricket. Nobody doubts his limited overs use.

With the bat, an average of just 21.96 is entirely pedestrian, even at number eight. His first class average of just 23.95, suggests that this Test average is not doing him a dis-service; as he is not a genuine allrounder. Out of his one Test century and five fifties, four fifties have come against Bangladesh Zimbabwe and New Zealand, which are lower ranked sides.

With the ball, his meagre average of 36.01 highlights his mediocrity. Nibbly medium pace, gives the same impression as with the bat; that his position as an ‘allrounder’ encompasses minimal on field value. He barely breaks the 80 miles an hour barrier; which although at times has been ‘steady’, is impotent.

Sammy acknowledges “that my role is to build pressure and be the workhorse of the team”, according to ESPN Cricinfo. The West Indies have so many options, and wicket taking options at that, that it feels like such a waste to continuously select a workhorse, when a bowler that bowls upwards of 90mph, or a recognised world class spinner is forgone. Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel, and Sunil Narine sit on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity, whilst Sammy impotently probes.

He has done a stellar job given the enormity of the challenge that encompasses the West Indies captaincy. But, he prevents penetrative bowling in the present, and prevents development and gelling of the team in the long term, because realistically, he is holding the job until a more permanent fixture emerges.

His ordinariness as a cricketer does not compensate for his full heart, nor his steady captaincy or workhorse-like attitude. He is not Misbah, because he is not time and time again saving his team. He is perpetuating its insecurity, and it can’t go on like this If the West Indies are a serious Test team.

But is there a better option to captain?

Surely the West Indies have a potential captain that could contribute to the team, and maintain some degree of stability. The West Indies has a number of potential captains, although none of them tactically as strong as Sammy. The obvious options that spring to mind would be senior or established players such as; Dwayne Bravo, who is now the ODI captain. Perhaps Marlon Samuels, although he has been known to have an uncontrollable and often overconfident attitude, which may be a liability. Or Denesh Ramdin, who is the wicketkeeper, and captain of Trinidad and Tobago.

Alternatively, The West Indies could adopt an entirely new captain, such as Kieron Pollard who has recently snuck into the Test squad against New Zealand, after a period of being a limited overs specialist.

It is clear that there are relatively limited stocks of captaincy talent within the West Indies domestic competition, as captaincy in the day four format, is dominated by very experienced, such as Ryan Hinds (Barbados) and Assad Fudadin (Guyana), the weak, such as Jamaica’s Tamar Lambert, or the numerous aforementioned National players who also captain their domestic side.

There is an exhaustion of options, and it would seam a potential new captain would be Dwayne Bravo or wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, as both are permanent fixtures in the side, and have captaincy pedigree.

Yes, he has captained well, and has been a part of the solution to a greater problem, but he seems to be a part of the problem, far more so than the solution. He encapsulates the West Indies.

Fighting with themselves before they can fight the opposition. Whilst the removal of Sammy may prove difficult in terms of captaincy, having a complete team, with nobody being carried will surely aid long term success in the Test Format.