West Indies' home test series with South Africa kicks off today at Port of Spain with the hosts in utter disarray after a dismal World T20 and then seven straight defeats to today's opponents in the recent Twenty 20 and one day internationals.
Rarely can the once great West Indies side have been in such a negative mind set with captain Chris Gayle admitting that "Losing has become a habit, but we have to put that behind us and look forward to the Test series." It will be a major surprise should they even draw the series with Graeme Smith's side and for people like us who grew up with the dominant West Indian team of the 1980s, that is still quite hard to get used to.
We believe that a strong West Indies side is important for the world game and the brand of cricket they play is always one that is good on the eye, so in the vain hope that it may inspire Chris Gayle and his troops here is our all-time West Indies test XI. Unsurprisingly, none of the current team were even close to making it, and when you consider that the likes of Sir Frank Worrell, Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Richie Richardson and Rohan Kanhai also didn't make the final cut, then the rich heritage of Caribbean cricket is abundantly clear. And that was just the batsmen. Jeff Dujon, Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh, Andy Roberts, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Learie Constantine, Lance Gibbs and Alf Valentine were also regretfully ruled out.
1. Gordon Greenidge (108 tests, 19 hundreds, average 44.72)- A vivid memory from our childhood was Greenidge's brutal unbeaten 214 at Lord's in 1984 against England to make mincemeat of a victory target of 344. Immensely powerful and destructive, Greenidge was the template for the modern breed of attacking openers like Sehwag and Dilshan, but this West Indian was better than them all. Formed two of the greatest opening partnerships of all time with Desmond Haynes for the Windies and Barry Richards for Hampshire.
2. George Headley (22 tests, 10 hundreds, average 60.83) -The 'Black Bradman' (or was Bradman the 'White Headley'?) has a claim to be the Windies best batsman ever. Despite single-handedly being the West Indian batting line-up on his own, Headley still scored an astonishing ten centuries in his 22 tests. Normally batted at three, but is picked as an opener here as no doubt his supreme brilliance could have easily be transferred to this role.
3. Sir Viv Richards (Captain, 121 tests, 24 hundreds, average 50.23) - Regarded by cricket aficionados as probably the most devastating batsman in the history of the game, King Viv was absolutely unstoppable on his day. His style was a mixture of swagger and intimidation and most bowlers seemed to visibly cower when faced with an on-song Richards. It is befitting that he is the scorer of the fastest-ever Test century, from just 56 balls against England on his home island of Antiguaduring the 1986 tour. With Worrell and Lloyd not making the cut, Richards also captain's our all-conquering Caribbean XI.
4. Brian Lara (131 tests, 34 hundreds, average 52.88) - The man with the highest Test and First Class scores of 400 not out and 501 not out respectively. When he started his career, West Indies' era of dominance was on the wane. By the time he finished it, his side was in the doldrums and as a result he spent most of his time trying to keep the side afloat making his record even more impressive. Perhaps his best achievement was in 1999 in the home series against Australia, when he single-handedly won the second and third tests with scores of 213 and 153 not out after his side had been obliterated in the first test. He scored a century too in the fourth and final test, but couldn’t prevent Australia squaring the series.
5. Everton Weekes (48 tests, 15 hundreds, average 58.61) - One of the immortal 'three Ws', Walcott believed that Weekes was the best all-round batsman of the three. An attacking cricketer with a vast array of strokes, Weekes made an electric start to his test career reaching 1,000 runs in only his 12th innings; one fewer than Bradman. During this run he also scored five centuries in consecutive innings against England and India - still a test record.
6. Sir Gary Sobers (93 tests, 26 hundreds, average 57.78, 235 wickets at 34.03) - Widely regarded as Cricket’s greatest all-rounder. With the bat, Sobers mixed elegance with power and for a long time held the record for the highest Test score until he was usurped by his fellow West Indian Brian Lara. Perhaps his best innings though came for the Rest of the World against Australiain 1972 when Sobers played an innings of 254 which was described by Bradman as "probably the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia". But batting wasn't his only talent. Indeed, he could bowl left arm fast medium as well as both orthodox and leg spin.
7. Sir Clyde Walcott (44 tests, 15 hundreds, average 56.68, 53 catches, 11 stumpings) - Ok, Walcott wasn't as good a keeper as Dujon and even had to relinquish the gloves following back trouble, but how can you leave out someone this good? Walcott played an instrumental role in the first West Indian victory on English soil at Lord’s in 1950 scoring 168 not out. Along with Weekes, he was arguably the best batsman in the World during the mid-1950s reaching his peak with an incredible five hundreds and 827 runs during Australia’s first Test series in the Caribbean. This team bats deep!
8. Malcolm Marshall (81 tests, 376 wickets at 20.94) - If picking the batsmen was hard, whittling down a long line of brilliant West Indies fast bowlers is even harder. The decision to include Marshall though wasn't difficult as he is arguably the best of the lot. Fearsomely fast and with the ability to swing the ball both ways, Marshall was often unplayable and England in particular were frequent victims. His strike rate of 46.22 was as phenomenal as his premature death at the age of 41 was tragic. No doubt, Marshall has reduced Bradman's average of 99.94 since he joined the heavenly all-time greats.
9. Curtly Ambrose (98 tests, 405 wickets at 20.99) - It was a split decision with big bird Joel Garner, but it's the equally large Ambrose who just sneaks our vote. Once took seven wickets for one run in the most devastating of spells against Australia, but as England fans we remember him hustling out Mike Atherton's side for 46 in Port of Spain more.
10. Michael Holding (60 tests, 249 wickets at 23.68) - It could have been Roberts, Hall, Walsh or even the pioneer Constantine, but we settle for Whispering Death as our third quick. Could well be the fastest bowler in history and he certainly had the longest run-up. His run-up and delivery were poetry in motion for all who watched except for the terrified batsman at the other end. Now an erudite and forthright commentator, Holding is perhaps best remembered for his 14 for 149 at The Oval in 1976.
11. Sonny Ramadhin (43 tests, 158 wickets at 28.98) - Wins a toss-up with Lance Gibbs, although we never saw either of them bowl live in the flesh. Ramadhin could spin the ball both ways and bowl off and leg breaks and it is this versatility that tipped the scales in his favour. Was the hero when West Indies won their first test at Lord's with 11 for 152 in 1950.