Over the course of past half a decade, the kind of cricket the West Indies have played resembles all seasons in a year. They have been made to look like stowaways by touring Indians last year who simply didn’t let their batsmen peak, save Roston Chase.
Against Pakistan, West Indies produced quite a hailstorm of runs- Chase once again joining chorus with Hope and Braithwaite leading the way. Against England, save the margin of a solitary albeit memorable victory, the West Indies’ batsmen floundered in ODIs like leaves falling from trees in autumn. At all this time- Evin Lewis, Gayle- when given a chance, Hope and Holder- powered their opponents- Pakistan and England most noticeably akin to lightening in a desert storm.
But even to the harshest critic who doesn’t quite mind chewing away West Indian progress long after breakfast is served would take note of a thing. Even as the vastly inexperienced unit has begun showing signs of continued consistency where batting is concerned, the old Caribbean flavour has returned.
Where Shai Hope and Roston Chase are concerned, the West Indies have found, after a decade of wallowing, formidable frontline batsmen. Their techniques speak of strong confidence and handsome strokes on either sides hint at a resurgence that has been evidently suggested by the mightily fought draw against India (in Jamaica, 2016), the win over Pakistan in Barbados (2017) and, the memorable triumph at Headingly a few months earlier.
But what about those ball smashers? What about those who walloped the sheen off the cherry, only to trudge back to the crease as if nothing happened? Well, if you have, even for a few minutes, followed Jermaine Blackwood, you’d be reminded of a potent little weapon lying in the cusp of West Indies’ lower order.
Jermaine Blackwood, who has just turned 26, is neither a giant boasting of a burly frame. He isn’t a Poseidon-esque hammerer of the cricket ball who instantly sends bowlers into oblivion.
Neither is Blackwood an experienced campaigner who can command a game by sheer weight of runs having played no more than 27 Tests; effectively, shy of 50 innings. But what the Jamaican does have, on offer, is a vital component that lends temerity to the Jason Holder-led outfit.
An absolute disregard for pressure. A natural keenness to go after bowlers.
Ever since Blackwood burst on the international scene, debuting in a rare moment of triumph as his West Indies thudded New Zealand in a 10-wicket win at Port of Spain, his bat knew how to create some noise.
Contributing to the vital hundreds struck by seniors- Brathwaite and Darren Bravo- for some reason the lone absentee in a squad that beckons his presence- Blackwood arrived with a gritty 63. Ish Sodhi and Jimmy Neesham understood at once that confronting them was a force of some reckoning.
But that was 2014.
It’s been 3 years since Blackwood first forayed into Test Cricket, where even though he’s struck 1 hundred and amassed 10 fifties- he’s yet to convert breezy starts into sizeable contributions.
But as Sir Viv himself quoted earlier this year, “the intent is there with Blackwood”.
It wasn’t long before stalwarts like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad got to experience the thick sound of his Blackwood’s blade, in their own turf as the right-hander bludgeoned a 76 ball 79.
Even as top draws like Hope and Brathwaite faltered on a turning track at Birmingham that assisted Anderson in a manner where clairvoyance guides a future-teller, Blackwood wasn’t overly challenged by the pacer. Blackwood would free his arms and launch into a hefty drive over extra cover as Root and company devised plans to uproot his stumps.
Equally unsparing were he on Stuart Broad as Blackwood lifted the tall seamer down the track requiring no more an effort that one takes to remove a fly from one’s path.
It was easy. It was effortless even as it lacked grace.
Rewind the clocks back to UAE 2016-17, where despite a series loss, the West Indies garnered another Test win, Blackwood moved heads in immense appreciation of his power-hitting at Abu Dhabi. Producing a clean-striking 95 off 127, Blackwood, upped the scoring ante when all seemed lost. There was Yasir Shah. There was Mohd. Amir but how did that matter to Blackwood?
Not the swankiest of pullers in the game but never unafraid to launch into a muscular heave, Blackwood, one argues, would do well to hone the finer aspect of the 5-day contest: the ability to weave partnerships with a Holder or Chase, Dowrich and who knows- even Bishoo, given that the pint-sized leggie’s defence isn’t the worst in the game.
To bat session upon session and in effect, to hold onto an end as batsmen at the other end continue to score would tantamount to a unique contribution that Blackwood’s unflustered blade can offer the West Indies.
This is critical, considering a newly structured side, one keen to balance its talent over its dearth of experience- akin to a dazzling dance troupe of newly-formed street artists on a globetrotting mission- align to resuscitate cricket in the Caribbean.