Cherish West Indies’ remarkable Test win in Australia – but be angry about it too | West Indies cricket team
For me, Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. For me, Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. Test cricket – for me – will always be the pinnacle. The more you say it, the truer it becomes. That’s how it works. Try it for yourself. For me, Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. For me, Windows XP will always be the operating system of choice. For me, the territorial status of Ukraine will always be “uninvaded”. For me, the mullet will always be in fashion.
This is a safe space, after all: a dwindling and a besieged space, but a safe space all the same. Here you can whisper your wishes into the conch, and receive only likes, warming affirmations and sage nods in return. Reality need never impinge on your immaculate vision. You will never be challenged or asked to show your working, or be made to explain exactly how you’re going to maintain the primacy of a protracted and commercially stunted sporting format in the jaws of a ravenous and lucrative alternative. If pushed on the detail, you can simply declare that “the game’s administrators must do more”, and again nobody will ever seriously disagree with you.
Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. Everyone says this, all the time, to the point where it becomes a form of wish fulfilment in its own right: empty invocation masquerading as meaningful activism. You see it in the surreal nonsense-trolling of Cricket South Africa in its assertion that “CSA has the utmost respect for the Test format as the pinnacle of the game”, in a statement explaining why it’s sending a third-string side to play a Test series in New Zealand. But you see it most distinctly in the aftermath of a great Test match, such as the ones that concluded in Brisbane and Hyderabad on Sunday.
These days still come around every so often: days of vindication and hope, days of tension and unimaginable entertainment, days when the fates align and for a few sunlit hours it feels like everything’s going to be OK. The remarkable Shamar Joseph declares after his match-winning, injury-defying seven-wicket haul against Australia that whatever the paycheck on offer he will always be available to play for West Indies, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Even the defeated captain Pat Cummins, declares – with a magnanimity bordering on sacrilege – that “as a Test match cricket fan, there’s a part of me that was happy”.
And of course these moments need to be treasured, cherished, celebrated. West Indies’ eight-run win was their first on Australian soil since 1997, a performance of skill and character and nerve under pressure that belied their relative inexperience in the format. But there should also be a certain anger here, a certain dismay too, that an achievement such as this should have become so unlikely. That this team should have had to overcome such formidable odds in the first place: the absence of key players, a slew of hasty two-Test series, a financial model essentially designed to keep them subservient to the big franchise leagues and the boards who run them.
Certainly Kraigg Brathwaite and his team will find it hard to build on their momentum in the short-term, given that their next assignment – and their only three-match series in the current World Championship cycle – is not until Lord’s in July. In the meantime many of their best players will be playing exclusively short-form cricket – including Joseph, who now heads to Dubai Capitals in the International League T20 before joining up with Peshawar Zalmi in the Pakistan Super League. Different skills, different dressing rooms, a different kind of fitness and conditioning. Still, Test cricket is the pinnacle, so presumably none of that will matter very much.
Of course this is simply the market economy of cricket at work, a point frequently ignored by the many pundits and observers whose treatment of teams such as the West Indies swerves between derision and condescension. Their absent players are invariably described as mercenaries lacking the pride or passion to represent their country. The players who do take the field are scorned as incompetent makeweights unworthy of the shirt. Last time the West Indies visited Australia the former Test batter Rob Quiney reckoned they “weren’t trying hard enough” and “looked a bit laid-back”. And to be fair, Quiney did look like he was trying extremely hard when he scored his nine Test runs in three innings.
When they win, on the other hand, they are showered in bromides and pats on the head: their success repackaged as a triumph for the sport itself, rather than of one team over the egregious unfairness of that sport. In part you wonder whether this is because those in charge of cricket are happy to celebrate these moments as feelgood one-offs, the glorious exception that somehow sustains the rule. Certainly it’s a lot easier than – say – challenging Cricket Australia on why they haven’t bothered playing a Test match in the Caribbean since 2015.
The administrative neglect of decades will only be undone over decades. Creating an economy that works for everyone will require careful advocacy by fans and the media, organised pressure on national boards and franchise owners, support for the game’s smaller nations rather than a pile-on every time they get rolled by an innings. Alternatively, we can simply keep telling ourselves that Test cricket is the pinnacle. Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. Trouble is over time, the more you repeat something, the more absurd it begins to sound.