Narsingh Deonarine is 30 years old and has played 14 Tests for West Indies. He was first picked when some of the regulars were out of the Test team because of a contract dispute in 2005. A batting average of under 30 in both Tests and One-Day Internationals suggests he is a couple of notches below gold class, but he has been an extremely consistent scorer on the domestic circuit in the Caribbean over the years to remain in the fray.
Veerasammy Permaul is six years younger than Deonarine and has played just two Tests, both against Bangladesh, where he picked up eight wickets, and is talked about as one of the more promising young West Indian spinners at the moment.
Both are from Guyana, they are friends as you can make out from their camaraderie, and are in India as part of the West Indies A team, hoping to do well enough to stay on for the upcoming Test series. Though somewhat reticent, they spoke to Wisden India on a variety of subjects, from their personal careers to the increasing number of Indian-origin cricketers making a name for themselves at the top level in the West Indies.
There were Rohan Kanhai and Sonny Ramadhin and Alvin Kallicharran to start with, but of late, every second West Indian cricketer seems to be of Indian origin. How do you explain that?
Veerasammy Permaul (VP): Basically, everybody knows that Indians love cricket. Most Indians in Trinidad and Guyana play cricket too. The times have changed. Young Indian-origin boys are taking cricket more seriously as a career option now. And more and more of us, especially from Trinidad and Guyana, are doing well.
Narsingh Deonarine (ND): People are encouraging their children to come out and play cricket now, and that's increased after Twenty20 became popular. Not only Indians, people from all cultures and races are encouraged to play sport, and cricket in particular. I think in terms of salaries, it's become more lucrative also, so that's a motivator. With kids of Indian origin, of course, it was always popular but it has become more serious now.
Maybe because the number of role models is increasing - Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan and others?
ND: Yes, but I think the bigger reason is Twenty20 cricket. That has made a big difference. Everyone wants to be involved with Twenty20 cricket now.
The World T20 win last year must have made a huge difference - it reminded us that West Indians still play cricket!
VP: Yeah, that really raised the eyebrows of people around the world. Like you said, it told everyone that we were still good enough. That was a big boost. We haven't forgotten to play cricket. It also led to the CPL (Caribbean Premier League). Our players are playing in other leagues around the world too, and that's really helped get attention. Chris Gayle is quite a hero and there are others that kids can look up to.
The popular perception, however, is that West Indies are a great T20 team but not good enough in other formats ...
ND: I think we are starting to handle all the formats pretty well now. There was a lull in West Indies cricket for a while, but it's changing. Veerasammy mentioned the CPL - we didn't have a tournament like that back home. There's Chris Gayle and there's Sunil Narine as well. Lot of players were waiting for an opportunity like this. That's helped Caribbean cricket in a larger sense as well.
Is Test cricket taken seriously enough?
ND: Yes, absolutely. All forms of the game are taken seriously and they are taken seriously in all the islands. Most of the players might be specialists in Twenty20 but guys coming up, like many of the boys in this (West Indies A) team, are taking all formats very seriously. It's a good sign.
Narsingh just mentioned this series - how much of what you guys do here will be with an eye on the Test series against India?
VP: Well, we are coming into this series after beating India A in the one-day series, so we are very confident. Right now, we are not looking too far ahead. Let's finish this first and then we will get to the Test series.
ND: Definitely players would like to step ahead and go to the senior level. We are trying to win this series of course, but I will be looking at this series as an opportunity to go to the higher level, to the highest level. That's what West Indies A is about.
Narsingh, your international career has been a stop-start affair. You have played 14 Tests, which is good, but your average is under 30, which isn't so good. How would you sum it up?
ND: I have been in and out of the West Indies squad. I've played a few good innings; I got a chance in Australia and made a few runs and then I scored some runs against South Africa as well. Yeah, I haven't done as well as I should have but in first-class cricket, I've been pretty consistent. It's not outstanding, but it's not bad. I've realised that the selectors have a job to do and you have to put the runs on the board if you want to be selected.
Also, it does seem like you are bracketed as a days' cricket specialist ...
ND: I am looked at as a Test cricketer but I look at myself as someone who can handle all forms of the game. I need some opportunities. Hopefully, when I get it, I will rise again and grab it with both hands and put the right scores on the board.
Veerasammy, with Narine and Shane Shillingford and you and some others, would you say spin bowling is becoming fashionable in the Caribbean now?
VP: Definitely. The pitches in the Caribbean are more conducive to spin bowling nowadays. That wasn't the case earlier, so we had more fast bowlers. In the eighties and nineties, West Indies was all about fast bowling. But now, in our domestic cricket, spinners are getting the bulk of the wickets. So we have some talent. We are in a good state right now.
One of you is a frontline spinner and the other, Narsingh, is a spinner too (with 19 Test wickets). When spinners come to India, there is always a fair bit to learn because of India's spin tradition. Any such plans?
VP: As a spinner, there are many tricks that you know and many, many more tricks that you can learn, especially from experienced people. There are so many great spinners in India, but I don't know if we will meet any of them on this tour. Maybe as the tour goes on ... there's always a lot to learn.
ND: I do take my bowling quite seriously and when I do get a chance, I always pick up wickets. I always look at the television when a great bowler is bowling and try to pick things from their finger and wrist actions. We all keep learning. When it comes to spin, you learn about variations and pace and flight ... let's see who we meet on this tour. But talking about Veerasammy, he likes to get his tips from Daniel Vettori.
Why Vettori specifically - Vettori has a much higher trajectory than Veerasammy?
ND: Both of them are left-arm spinners, and his action is very close to Daniel Vettori's. Yes, Vettori has a much higher trajectory; he is much taller. But there are similarities. And Veerasammy follows Vettori.
VP: Yeah, I watch him (Vettori) and try to pick things up.
Let's talk about 'A' cricket - the India A team has been playing a whole lot of cricket in recent times. West Indies could do with a more hectic 'A' schedule, couldn't they?
VP: Oh yes. It's something all countries could do with. Playing more competitive cricket always raises the standards. In the Caribbean, we don't play as much as they do in India. India has so many cricketers, and so many good cricketers. We have seen some of them but we hear about so many others. West Indies should look at it seriously - that's one way of raising the standard of the game in the country.
ND: I think, yeah ... the more you play, the more you improve. I am extremely happy to get back into the A side and hopefully this will help me get a chance in the Test series. As players, we certainly hope for this sort of thing and look forward to it. It's always good for the players. But it's different in the West Indies and in India.
And what do you expect to gain from this tour?
ND: I don't know - just play to the best of my ability and have a good time. Hope I do well.
VP: We are up against world-class cricketers. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in the next matches - they are among the best in the world. Hopefully things will go my way.