Curator promises high-quality pitch at Trelawny Stadium

… as fringe players push to impress selectors

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large, South Central Bureau

Saturday, October 07, 2017

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Players and spectators should expect a cricket pitch of the highest quality for the opening 'Test' between West Indies A and Sri Lanka A at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium starting Wednesday, says curator Michael Hylton.

He told the Jamaica Observer that ongoing pitch preparations should ensure that there is “even, consistent pace and bounce” allowing a fair contest between bat and ball.

Hylton, the curator of Sabina Park, headquarters of Jamaica's cricket, is on temporary assignment in Trelawny. That was also the case in April for a drawn three-day game between West Indies President's Eleven and visiting Pakistan which the hosts dominated.

Back in April, cricket watchers were impressed with the quality of the Trelawny pitch which allowed free-scoring stroke play as West Indies President's XI made 419 all out and 152-2. Vishal Singh 135, Shimron Hetmyer 97 and Kieron Powell 58 and 84 not out were the leading batsmen for the Caribbean side. Ahmed Shehzad and Sarfraz Ahmed scored half centuries for Pakistan back then.

Hylton told the Observer he expects the pitch for this week's game to be even better than that on offer in April.

“If you liked how the pitch played in April, then I can assure you that this one will be even better,” Hylton said. He expects it to be “quicker” which will encourage fast bowlers and stroke-playing batsmen. Late in the game, the Trelawny pitch should encourage spinners as natural wear and tear sets in, Hylton said.

This week's opening 'Test' (October 11-14) will be the first of two at Trelawny involving West Indies A and Sri Lanka A. The second 'Test' is scheduled for October 19-22.

A third 'Test' will be played at Sabina Park October 26-29. Sabina Park will also host two one-dayers on November 1 and 3, before the teams return to Trelawny for a final one-day game on November 5.

The series of A-team games form part of efforts by West Indies and Sri Lanka to prepare their second-string cricketers for higher duty.

With the regional selectors in search of genuinely quick fast bowlers — not just for Test matches but also for the 50-over format ahead of World Cup qualifiers next year — three Jamaican pacers, Sheldon Cottrell, Reynard Leveridge, Oshane Thomas and a Guyanese, Keon Joseph, will be under the microscope in Trelawny.

Cottrell, a 28 year-old soldier, and Guyanese batsman Vishal Singh are the only members of the West Indies A squad with Test match experience. The powerfully built left-arm Cottrell, played two Tests, 13 months apart in 2013 and '14, struggling for accuracy and consistency in both games. He has also played two One Day Internationals and six T20Is. Cottrell collected 20 wickets for the Trinidad and Tobago franchise in the last regional first-class season.

Joseph, 25, is a former West Indies Under-19 fast bowler who has been representing Guyana at the first-class level since 2010. Strong and aggressive, he has taken 70 wickets in 25 first-class matches at 25.48 each. Last season he took 24 wickets for Guyana at 18.37 each.

Well over six feet tall and blessed with searing pace, Leveridge, 27, is a latecomer to cricket having previously represented Jamaica at hockey. Seen in the nets by West Indies coaches, Leveridge who is a seaman with the Jamaica Defence Force was promptly drafted for a West Indies A tour of Sri Lanka last year. However, he broke down with a groin problem after just four overs in the first 'Test' of that series – his debut first class game. He recovered well to impress with his pace in last season's 4-day and 50-over regional competitions before another groin strain cut short his season.

Thomas, 20, grabbed the attention of cricket watchers last November when he took the wicket of former West Indies opener Devon Smith with his very first ball in first-class cricket — a swinging delivery at high pace which found the left-hander's edge for a keeper's catch. There was much excitement during the Caribbean Premier League in mid-year when the speed gun showed the big Jamaican bowling at 90 miles an hour plus.

In the spin department, Jamaican leg break/googly exponent Damion Jacobs and the massively built Antiguan offspinner Rahkeem Cornwall will be pressing their claims. Long in the shadow of Odean Brown, the 32 year-old Jacobs made his first-class debut in 2014 and has since claimed 141 wickets in 34 matches at 22.17 each. He was a standout against Pakistan in April taking 4-45 in 16 overs.

Cornwall, 25, was a spectacular success on the West Indies A tour of Sri Lanka last year. He has also done very well for the Leeward Islands in recent regional seasons. Cornwall has taken 141 first-class wickets in 30 games for an average of 24.99 each. As a batsman he is good enough to have scored a first class hundred and boasts a batting average of 22.50.

With West Indies Test match wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich yet to convincingly prove himself at the highest level, Jahmar Hamilton, 27, native of St Thomas in the Leeward Islands, will be closely watched not only for the quality of his work behind the stumps but also for his batting. In 57 matches, Hamilton has five centuries and a first-class average of 28.57.

Among the specialist batsmen, skipper Shamarh Brooks knows that at 29, he is running out of time to kick down the door to the West Indies senor team's middle order. In 46 first class matches he has managed three centuries and an average of 31.77.

Vice-captain Vishal Singh, 28, made the West Indies Test team on a high earlier this year following his wonderful century against Pakistani tourists in the warm-up match at Trelawny as well as consistent batting for Guyana in recent seasons and for West Indies A in Sri Lanka last year. But the left-hander faltered badly in the three-Test series against Pakistan in April/May and was dropped for the tour of England.

Vincentian Sunil Ambris, 24, is easily among the most talented young batsmen in the Caribbean, but like so many others, his inconsistency has been a source of great frustration. Last season gave reason for hope as Ambris scored 608 runs at an average of 43.42 and a top score of 231. His obvious composure in his only ODI during the tour of England recently was encouraging.

Anguillan opener Montcin Hodge, now 30 years old, found favour with the selectors after a solid 2016/17 first class season, scoring 616 runs for an average of 41. Even more so than Brooks and Singh, Hodge enters this A team series knowing that time is not on his side.

Trinidadian Yannic Cariah, 25, bloomed last season after years of frustrating his backers. A left-hander, he topped the regional four-day run scoring chart with 691 runs, a highest score of 196 and an average 0f 43.11 to force the hand of the selection panel. Over the course of his career, Cariah has also taken 32 wickets with his leg breaks.

Jamaican left-handed opener John Campbell, 24, has a habit of starting the first-class season well only to fall away. He did the same thing in 2016/17, ending up with 495 runs for an average of 29 when he had promised much more. He has often looked a better than competent off spinner boasting 35 first-class wickets. But it is with his batting that he will need to reward the faith of the selectors in this A team series.

West Indies A Squad — Shamarh Brooks (Captain), Vishal Singh (Vice-Captain), Sunil Ambris, John Campbell, Yannic Cariah, Rahkeem Cornwall, Sheldon Cottrell, Jahmar Hamilton, Montcin Hodge, Damion Jacobs, Keon Joseph, Reynard Leveridge, Oshane Thomas.

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