The Courtney Browne Dilemma

Wed, Jun 8, '05

by PETER CLARKE

Commentary

'Catches win matches' is a dearly held cricket maxim. Conversely, it can be opined that dropped catches lose matches. Let's test the latter for its veracity.

Poor Courtney Brown has compounded his place most unfavorably in the annals of West Indies cricket when he dropped the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq on nought. The Pakistan skipper went on to make 117 not out, a major contribution to his team's total of 308.

For many cricket fans, this dropped catch sorely brought back memories of another dropped catch by Browne on the same venue in 1995, when Brown dropped Steve Waugh, then on 42, off Kenny Benjamin at 173/3. Waugh went on to add a further 158 runs in Australia's total of 531.

Many West Indian fans to this day believe that Courtney Browne was, (and even is) the reason why the Sir Frank Worrell trophy is not held by the West Indies. With the subsequent demise of West Indies cricket, he's a convenient scapegoat for our present predicament.

Fast forward to 2005, another 10 years on, at the same ground with the West Indies leading a series, and in a position to win a Test series against a higher ranked Test team. The prospect of getting the monkey off our backs was too exciting, we could almost taste victory after playing on par with a stronger Pakistan team, if not excelling up to the point where we had Pakistan at 119/3 in their 2nd innings. The scalp of their best batman would have made it 119/4.

Courtney -- for many West Indian fans, with you, if not because of you, we lost something dear to our hearts in 1995; without you, we could have achieved something, be in the ascendancy again with a series win in 2005.

But let's look at the facts; they don't lie. Let's get into the mind of how an irrational West Indian cricket supporter would think rather illogically.

In 1995, Steve Waugh added another 158 runs after his second life at 42. Take that amount from Australia's total of 531 (make that 373). Substract that amount from the West Indies 1st innings total of 265 (they had batted first), giving Australia a lead of 108. In the West Indies 2nd time at bat they made 215, giving Australia in this hypothetical scenario a victory target of 106 to win.

Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties (another maxim), but it's debatable whether an Australia comprising of Taylor, Slater, Boon, the Waugh brothers, and Greg Blewett, just to name their top-order, could not have reached that total against the likes of Ambrose, Walsh and the Benjamins, even given Australia's then notorious image of being bad chasers.

Now to the more recent attribution to Courtney Browne. The West Indies first innings lead in this latest match was 30 runs. Subtracting Inzamam-ul-Haq's 117 from his team total of 309 would have left the West Indies with a winning target of 193 for their first series win this year. Unfortunately, the West Indies succumbed for 143. Logically, for a rational fan, was Courtney Brown dropped catch the reason for the lost Test? Noooooooooooooo!!!

Courtney Browne's dropped catch did not cause us to lose this match.

Now, as in 1995, neither crucial dropped catches were responsible for our loss, but Browne remains a convenient scapegoat upon which to unload our burdens.

But cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, except where it comes to critics of Courtney Browne; there's no uncertainty.

A case for the retention of Browne:

First of all, let me state that Courtney made a serious blunder in going for the Inzamam-ul-Haq chance. He got caught up in the moment of a good spell from his fellow Bajan Collymore. His eyes lit up at the sight of the snick by Inzamam-ul-Haq. He dove with both hand, instead of one which I thought was a better option for a ball travelling at that speed, and going away from the body. But most importantly, his instinct should have been to leave the ball to the first slip. The ball was heading straight into the lap of Chris Gayle.

Like his critics, Browne seems incapable of overcoming the dropped catch of Steve Waugh. His wicketkeeping for the most part has been pretty good for both recent series. Like any fielder, one can say he's likely to drop a chance or two in a series. I am less concerned about the missed chances here or there behind the stumps, than by his missed opportunities in front of the stumps. He's a better batsman than he has shown so far.

Whatever the other intangibles he brings to the side are, I believe a tour away from the spotlight of a West Indian crowd would give him a chance to reproduce his best, just as he did in the last ICC Championship.