Roston Chase
Source: Twitter (ICC)

Let’s eschew real life for a bit. Let’s jump onto a thoughtwagon. Suppose there was this strange, very-mired-in-fantasy scenario wherein one could phone one’s younger self, then think of things Roston Chase may have said to himself?

Maybe, the Roston Chase of today, 30, would likely have said the following to his 24-year-old self who was staring out back then-

“Hi, it’s me, Roston. Listen, you are a great guy and you’ve got a promising career ahead. It’ll be a fascinating career where you’ll hit hundreds against tough Test opponents and would even manage a century in India, a place they call the final frontier. They’ll hold high hopes of you. Some will consider you to be a right-handed Chanderpaul. But remember to be consistent. You hear me? Be consistent. Fight hard. Don’t take anything for granted. Alright?”

Frankly, if wishes were horses, then anyone would ride on and travel anywhere. In similar vein, if the Roston Chase we saw debuting several years ago had a chance to hear from his future self, then perhaps his journey would have panned out differently.

Or let’s say, a career that seems to have hit a dead end would have likely progressed.

But this is Cricket. It has no space for fantasy. There’s no luxury of rewinding the clocks. Your career is akin to a remote where basis your performances, the selectors hold the power to hit the pause or stop button.

Where it stands today, those who call the shots in Caribbean Cricket have made a decision regarding Roston Chase.

To some, it may make sense. To the others, it would seem unfair. Though in truth, that youngster who hit a commendable, headline-making, very inspiring 137 in 2016 in the West Indies isn’t any longer a part of the West Indies cricket team.

Fans of white-ball cricket may hold a different version of things. To them, that Roston Chase, who had a bumper CPL season, finds himself playing ODIs is a sign of progress. Yet, one is compelled to ask, if it actually is?

Upon gazing at statistics, it appears the right-hander has scored 553 runs from 26 ODI outings. With 2 fifties and an average that’s touching 25, it leaves a lot to be desired. Plus, you needn’t be a refined cricketing brain like a Kimber or Dobell to assess that at a time where the white-ball game compels batters to go big and press on, Roston Chase’s strike rate of 73 doesn’t quite look imposing.

But hey, had he not been something special, why would Pollard and Simmons have travelled with him to 2021’s mega fiesta, the T20 World Cup?

Sadly, even there it doesn’t seem impressive that the very Roston Chase who’d managed 446 CPL runs at an outstanding average touching 50 in was only able to score 48 runs from 3 games (avg of 16).

What we gauge when we look at the gentle Barbadian are twin narratives, both compelling, but punctuated by a hint of sadness.

First, we see a blossoming Test career turning into a sorry tale that doesn’t pack a punch anymore. In just two years of playing Test cricket, Chase fired 3 of his 5 centuries. Then came the downslide- 2020 and 2021 yielding batting averages of 17 and 12, respectively, in a format where we all thought he belonged.

Next, we see an ODI career that began on a promising note with a fantastic 94 in 2019 (still, a career-best knock vs Afghanistan) ultimately turning pale; the last that Chase hit a fifty was almost two and a half years ago when Rashid Khan and team were in India. To give a clearer picture, in 2020, Chase featured in five full games from which he’d collect only 82 runs.

In the middle of all this we saw the “let’s-play-Chase-in-T20Is- idea” that still doesn’t seem any more convincing as having a frequently injured Shannon Gabriel wield Test match duties. A clear evidence of this was Chase’s recent outing in India.

Yes, it’s a bit hard to hit runs there. Even more so when you are confronted by a lethal combination of proper spin and brute pace, when there’s a Chahal or Yadav firing in tandem with a Bumrah. But guess what? India didn’t even require Bumrah to run down a West Indies that comfortably withered away.

It seemed Harshal Patel, clearly a newcomer to white-ball duties, was enough to tame the touring side. Chase’s returns with the bat were underwhelming at best with a top score of 12.

Yet, in all of this and what we’ve stumbled upon is a litany of unimpressive performances, a thing clearly stood out.

You wouldn’t have to call Gideon Haigh for that.

While his bat failed much too often to create any sound worth remembering, one witnessed the rise of Roston Chase, the useful off-spinner. And frankly, it’s a skill that mustn’t be doubted and cannot be shoved under the carpet.

To anyone for whom the magical 8 for 60 that stung Joe Root’s 2019 England like a bee would’ve seemed a fluke, Chase’s 2022 white-ball heroics in the T20s in India offered evidence of rich potential.

In February’s opening T20I at Kolkata, Chase made headlines in the ‘city of joy’ with a Calypsonian tune of 2 for 14 off 4 full overs. He single-handedly removed India’s top order, one that featured the ‘Hitman.’

Better things were on their way; a 3 for 25 in the Second game, including a mesmerising display of spin that bamboozled Kohli. It would be followed by another disciplined show in the final game. It was clear that Roston Chase made up for a no-show with the bat by clinching most wickets that a Windies spinner claimed in that series.

He’s got the flight, the drift, if only on occasions, and moreover, isn’t afraid to toss up the ball. Some late spin in the air aids his craft.

But for how long can Chase hide under the tag of bowling well in white-ball cricket? Isn’t he drafted in any playing eleven as an all-rounder?

What endeared him to the fans was the will to fight. Today, that very element in his game has vanished.

Anyone seen the batsman who eclipsed the much-hyped Misbah-Younis’ swansong series (2017) by hitting more hundreds than the legendary duo?

Moreover, what became of the boy who announced himself during Cricket’s favourite template by rubbing shoulders with greats in Dhoni, Kohli and Pujara during his memorable 137?

Where’s that fella gone?

What’s become of the love for batting long, something so profoundly felt in those early days, a saga that continued until 2018, when at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Chase hit a 106, arguably his most valiant Test knock yet? And lastly, when can he redeem himself in Test match cricket, the format that gave him his identity, one he’d taken to reassuringly much like a Chanderpaul taking guard against his favourite prey- India.

And isn’t that the dilemma regarding a truly fine cricketer that at that stage where at the back of promising starts, Chase should really have been busy constructing higher floors in his skyscraper, he’s expected to begin all over again?

It was utterly disappointing to note that during his last assignment, circa Sri Lanka 2021, when the likes of Bonner, Brathwaite and Karunaratne were busy defying bowlers, all that Chase lasted for were 65 odd deliveries and that too, from 4 Test innings.

Typically, for a team that still wields a semi-permanent Test template, where the most settled and frequently appearing faces are those of Brathwaite, Holder and Bonner- making it back shouldn’t be that difficult for Roston Chase. Ditto for Hope.

But ask the intrepid Caribbean fan what hurts him most today?

Is it vague ‘comeback’ theories that spring to life at the back of solitary wins, such as 2020’s opening Test in England? Or is the fact that neither Roston Chase nor Shai Hope, both of whom were expected to guide the next generation of talents- think Da Silva, Joseph, Bonner- are no longer part of five-day cricket?

And in that desperate but so obvious an answer rests the somewhat sluggish and painfully modest journey of a man who was expected to usher West Indian batting to its next bright chapter.


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