A must-win series for West Indies
It's hardly surprising that even sports-loving Jamaicans are paying only negligible attention to the West Indies versus New Zealand two-Test cricket series which opens tomorrow in Antigua.
Most of us are too focused on the Summer Olympics in London and the anticipated gold-medal performances from Jamaican athletes at the peak of the nation's 50th anniversary celebrations to take in much else in sport at this time.
And yet the next two weeks are of the greatest importance for West Indies cricket. Since 2009, when they shocked the world by beating England 1-0 in the Caribbean, the West Indies have only conquered lowly Bangladesh in a Test series. And it's been many, many years since the West Indies — often beleaguered by off-field quarrels — have found themselves favoured to beat anyone outside of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
After their convincing triumphs in the Twenty20 and 50-overs series, Mr Darren Sammy's West Indies team will enter tomorrow's first Test as overwhelming favourites against what's considered a weak New Zealand team.
In stark terms, all things being equal including the weather, it would be a catastrophe for Caribbean cricket if West Indies do not win this two-Test series.
Bear in mind that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is now in the process of negotiating a new sponsorship deal. The current five-year multimillion-US dollar sponsorship arrangement with cellphone provider Digicel ends in September. In such business-based circumstances, success on the field is vital.
At another level, most genuine cricket fans, and more particularly Jamaicans, are especially pleased that Mr Chris Gayle is back in the fold after his protracted absence because of rows with the WICB and the team management. That Mr Gayle spoke loudly with his bat in the Twenty20 series and in the first two of the five-match ODI series would have been particularly gratifying for his fans.
Just as pleasing for those of us looking on from the outside is the perception that Mr Gayle has been embraced by the team — this in the context of fears that there may have been unease and tension.
Among the die-hard Jamaican cricket fans who may opt to leave the comfort of their living rooms and television coverage of the Olympics to watch the second Digicel Test at Sabina Park next week, will be a few who watched the West Indies team of 1962 — Jamaica's year of Independence from Britain.
Back then the West Indies team, led by the legendary Sir Frank Worrell, was the talk of the cricketing world.
In mid-April of that year, the West Indies defeated India by 123 runs to complete a 5-0 series victory. A Jamaican debutant, pace bowler Mr Lester King, took 5-46 in the first innings and completed a match haul of seven wickets to make Jamaicans very proud. In the second Test of that series, another Jamaican, Mr Easton McMorris, made his countrymen equally proud with a century (125).
How delightful it would be, if come next week, the West Indies not only complete a series win over New Zealand at Sabina Park, but Jamaicans Mr Gayle and Mr Marlon Samuels also excel before their home crowd — as they did in the recent ODI series — at the height of the nation's anniversary celebrations.