Earlier this month, the West Indies pulled off an improbable victory over India in the final of the ICC Under-19 World Cup tournament. The team’s triumph over the pre-tournament favourites propelled them one rung further up the ladder than their forerunners from 2004, who were felled in the grand finale by Pakistan. As was the case with that team, the exploits of this aggregation has once again raised hope of an imminent regional cricketing resurgence. History, however, provides precious little succour for anything but very heavily guarded optimism.
Where are they now?
The final placing of the 2004 U-19 World Cup squad just about did justice to their relative ability. (If anything, they could possibly have gone one better than they eventually did.) Sadly, as has too frequently been the case during our near two decade-long trek through the wilderness, the players comprising that talented team generally failed to successfully transition to the senior level.
Of the lot, captain Denesh Ramdin has probably had the most ‘distinguished’ career with the senior team. The former skipper has been a consistently solid performer behind the stumps over the years. However, a batting average of just under 26 in Tests and a smidge shy of 25 in ODIs eloquently speaks to underachievement in front of them. Pacer Ravi Rampaul, who actually debuted for the senior team ahead of his U-19 swan song, has enjoyed reasonable success whenever he’s been fit enough to take the field. Unfortunately, protracted periods of that nature have been very few and very far between.
Lendl Simmons has probably done more for the myriad T20 franchises he’s suited up for across the world than the West Indies. Meanwhile, the prodigiously gifted and highly rated Xavier Marshall, arguably the most talented of the batsmen in that team, has too frequently let himself down with off-the-field indiscretions during a frustratingly stop-start career. As for Assad Fudadin, he can probably consider himself unlucky to have only played a handful of Tests in this era of regional batting mediocrity. However, as he’s on the ‘wrong’ side of 30, it seems unlikely that an extended run in the senior team is yet in the offing.
Of the others who played in the final, the reliable medium pacer Mervyn Matthew continues to put up some pretty impressive stats for the Windward Islands at the regional level. As for his senior team prospects? Please read what has hitherto been written about Fudadin. His countryman Liam Sebastian, another faithful servant of Windward Islands cricket, also continues to do the same. However, his prospects of a senior team career are decidedly dimmer than even Matthew’s.
Last I heard, Marshall’s former opening partner Tishan Maraj was pursuing a career in medicine. And good for him! After all, one can’t play cricket all the days of one’s life. According to ESPNcricinfo’s website, the hard-hitting Jonathan Augustus last suited up for Trinidad and Tobago in April 2014. That’s still almost six years later than when off-spinner Rishi Bachan made his third and final – at this juncture – first-class appearance for the twin island republic. Meanwhile, allrounder Zamal Khan looks infinitely closer to forging a senior international career with either Canada or the United States than the West Indies.
Bajan middle order batsman Kirk Edwards, Montserratian pacer Lionel Baker, and Barrington Yearwood were the other members of the squad. Edwards cobbled together a decent Test record before hitting a pothole – that quickly morphed into a Grand Canyon-sized chasm. He might be able to clamber out of it one day. Then again, he might not. The smooth-actioned Lionel Baker did decidedly less well in his five Tests and 10 ODIs, but continues to turn out for the Leeward Islands when selected. Meanwhile, it appears that Yearwood may only be making the rounds on the ‘curry goat’ cricket circuit these days.
The faces of the future?
As far as ‘can’t miss’ prospects go, there haven’t been many who’ve come along in recent memory with as seemingly tight a laser-lock on the bowling bull’s eye than Antiguan fastbowler Alzarri Joseph. The six foot-plenty 19 year-old’s arsenal features all the munitions required to make life very uncomfortable for batsmen at the next level. Searing yorker? Check! Deadly bouncer? Check! He even demonstrated a greater mastery of his lines and lengths than most we’ve seen don the senior maroons of late. Joseph’s partner in crime Chemar Holder, Gidron Pope, Tevin Imlach, Shimron Hetmeyer, Shamar Springer, and Keemo Paul all look like they could be knocking on the door to senior team selection relatively soon.
It’s critical that the powers that be devise a strategy to effectively facilitate and support the continued development of these talented youngsters. As things stand, we really can’t afford to lose yet another generation of potential senior world-beaters. Beyond that, one can only hope that these guys stay fit and focused on the monumental mission ahead. The future of West Indies cricket could well depend on it.