Kraigg Brathwaite will lead West Indies out for his first home series as permanent Test captain on Sunday, “privileged” in his own words to be in the post, but knowing that his appointment has not won universal acclaim, particularly from close to home.
Brathwaite took charge of the team in Bangladesh after Jason Holder pulled out because of Covid concerns after an extended period in bio-secure bubbles and led an inexperienced side to a remarkable 2-0 win, as new caps Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner excelled.
With Clive Lloyd and Deryck Murray among those suggesting that Holder, the world’s leading all-rounder, would benefit without the burden of the job, the clamour grew for Brathwaite to retain it for this series and the immediate future, a clamour that was answered a week ago.
But the move has outraged some, with claims that the decision was hurried and failed to take account of how well, relatively speaking, Holder had performed as skipper.
That is the view of Ezra Stuart, the sports editor of the Daily Nation in Barbados, one of the Caribbean’s most influential newspapers, who paraded before his readers a double-page spread outlining the case for retaining the 6ft 7in 29-year-old. Other journalists and at least one former player have supported his stance – at least in part.
And much as you could generally dismiss this sort of disagreement in the Caribbean as inter-island rivalry, that does not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny here as both incumbent and predecessor hail from Barbados.
Stuart’s argument focused on win percentages of recent West Indies captains, while also pointing to the inexperience of the XIs Holder had been left to lead and highlighting important absentees.
He emphasised that Holder’s win percentage of 29.72 from 37 Tests was better than many of those who had preceded him, notably Brian Lara, one of the greatest batsmen of all time, whose own success rate was just 21.27 per cent – coupled with the most Test defeats of any West Indies captain.
Darren Sammy achieved a win percentage of 26.66 from a smaller sample – 20 Tests – while Chris Gayle, with three wins in 20 Tests, managed only 15 per cent. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the second-highest run scorer in West Indies history, ranks as the worst of the bunch, with just one win in 14 matches at the helm.
Of course, none of these compare with the men that came immediately before them: Sir Viv Richards, who never lost a Test series, had a success rate of 54 per cent, Lloyd a win percentage of 48.64, and Sir Richie Richardson one of 45.83. But these men presided over a golden era for West Indies cricket starting in the mid 1970s and lasting arguably until Courtney Walsh took over full-time in 1995-96.
Stuart also wrote: “Significantly, under Jason Holder’s five-year tenure, neither Chris Gayle nor Shivnarine Chanderpaul played a single Test, while then key batsman Darren Bravo was out in the wilderness throughout 2017 and 2018.”
He pointed out a “whopping 16 young cricketers made their debuts under Holder’s leadership” and two more when Brathwaite deputised for Holder for one Test in each series away to India and New Zealand in 2017-18 – both matches which the West Indies lost heavily.
And between 2018 and 2020, Stuart showed, Holder enjoyed his most successful period, winning six Tests, three of them against England, “while winning three of his last seven series”.
Anmar Goodridge Boyce, another journalist with the Nation, largely backed up Stuart’s view, telling the Jamaica Gleaner: “I don’t agree with appointing Kraigg solely based on his exploits in Bangladesh because, if we are being honest, Bangladesh is not high on the ICC rankings and had not played cricket for an entire year.”
And corroboration of the opinion that the decision might be something of a panic move would come from apparently contradictory statements by Roger Harper, the chief selector.
It is only a few months ago, just before the start of the series in New Zealand where the West Indies lost both Tests by an innings under Holder, that he removed Brathwaite as vice-captain so that he could focus on his batting, enrolling Roston Chase in his stead. (Chase can’t even get in the squad for Sri Lanka).
He has uttered similar platitudes this time round saying Holder would be able to “take his game to higher levels” without the responsibility of leadership.
Forced to explain his pretty much 360-degree swivel on Brathwaite, he said: “Sometimes a few months can be a very long time. Bangladesh opened our eyes to a number of things. What we saw was a team playing with passion, determination, rallying round each other and showing a great desire to succeed. Kraigg played a major part in that.
“We also saw Kraigg’s batting returning to the sort of form that we expect [with scores of 76, 20, 47 and 6 he averaged five more than his cumulative batting average of 32]. He handled the responsibility very well and I expect big scores to come from Kraigg in the very near future.”
Not that Brathwaite, who first captained his island at 21, seems bothered by any controversy.
He told Cricinfo: “Captaining Barbados for the first time at a young age was a challenge and I look forward to challenges. As an opener, I always see myself as a leader. When I go out to bat I’m a batsman not a captain, but I will continue to lead. It will help me to dig deeper.
“It’s just a continuing of what we did in Bangladesh. I thought the attitude we showed in practice sessions and on the field was key so for me as a leader, I want to lead from the front and for us to keep the same attitude.”
Holder, of course, won plaudits for leading his players in the first series played under Covid-19 protocols, in England last summer, even as those players were being asked to take a 50 per cent pay cut and Brathwaite acknowledged that his fellow Barbadian had done “a brilliant job”.
He added: “We had a chat. I have known Jason from age 10, so we go way back, and I don’t think anything is going to change. He has my full support and I have his full support.”
He should hope so. Having Holder nursing feelings, like some of his supporters in the Caribbean media, of having been treated shoddily, would be the worst thing that could happen to West Indies cricket as it tries to build on recent gains.
Jingle by Richard Peel