Playing fearlessly the best way for inexperienced WI
As West Indies take on Australia at Adelaide in the first of two Tests Tuesday evening (Caribbean time), it’s useful to consider that the full-strength team which toured down under just over a year ago — also for two Tests — was blown out of the water.
In the first Test, the home side won by an innings and 162 runs; in the second, they overwhelmed the visitors by 419 runs.
In all four innings the Australians declared with West Indian bowlers mostly innocuous.
Among the West Indies batters only skipper Kraigg Brathwaite who scored a century and half-century in the first Test and newly arrived Tagenarine Chanderpaul could hold their heads high.
West Indies fared better on a two-Test tour of Zimbabwe early last year, winning 1-0 with Chanderpaul’s unbeaten double century in the drawn second Test and fellow Guyanese, left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie — another newly arrived — with 13 wickets in the first, being standout performances.
However, West Indies then lost 0-2 to South Africa away and 0-1 at home to India in mid-year to close out a dismal 2023 in Test cricket.
Against that backdrop it would have been unrealistic for Desmond Haynes and his fellow selectors to merely stick with the old guard for the current tour.
The whole-hearted former Vice-Captain Jermaine Blackwood, who made just one Test match half-century last year — a typically combative 79 against South Africa — and others such as Shamarh Brooks and Nkrumah Bonner had to be overlooked.
At 32, Blackwood has a good chance of bouncing back with sheer weight of runs in the upcoming regional four-day tournament. For Brooks, Bonner and Darren Bravo — the latter having reportedly declined selection — now in their mid-30s, a comeback will probably be more difficult.
As it turned out, the big money being offered in Twenty20 leagues meant others such as Jason Holder, Kyle Mayers, Shai Hope and Brandon King — the latter yet to play Test cricket — all felt compelled to decline the current Test match tour. My suspicion is that one or two others may well have declined as well.
I will not condemn our players for seeking to secure their immediate future, given the money on offer in the burgeoning, cash-rich T20 leagues.
Nonetheless, they will know that while they all probably have ambitions of touring England for a three-Test tour in mid-year, those now in Australia — including seven players who are yet to play Test cricket — have the front seat.
And having watched (on Internet streaming) as West Indies A development teams toured Bangladesh and South Africa last year, I suspect some of us will be pleasantly surprised by some of the newbies.
Two 24-year-old Guyanese, the off-spinning all-rounder Kevin Sinclair and fast bowler Shamar Joseph, are for me the most exciting of the newcomers. It’s not just talent but their never-say-die attitude that has impressed me most.
I would be disappointed if Sinclair does not play both Test matches after his exploits with bat and ball in Bangladesh and South Africa.
Perhaps his most dazzling show came with the bat in the first four-day ‘Test’ against a powerful South Africa A side in November. With West Indies at 119-7 chasing 224 to win on the last day, the cause was surely lost. Not for Sinclair. He ended on 80 not out, having urged and cajoled the lower order to stay with him as the visitors won by one wicket.
Then in the final unofficial Test, even as South Africa A outplayed the visitors to eventually win, Joseph — who only broke into the Guyana team a year ago — put his hand up in emphatic fashion. Lead fast bowler Jayden Seales dropped out with injury after just five overs but Joseph carried the extra burden with aplomb, taking all five second-innings wickets for a match haul of eight. In his five first class games, Joseph has bagged 21 wickets, impressing with pace and hostility.
All being well, his partnership with the much taller Alzarri Joseph (no relation) and the skilful, 35-year-old Kemar Roach will be intriguing to watch.
The fourth specialist pacer on tour, 29-year-old Barbadian, Akeem Jordan, yet to play Test cricket, is very skilful at fast medium and has taken 59 wickets in 15 first class games. A solid lower-order batter, Jordan is also a good close catcher.
Kavem Hodge, a 30-year-old Dominican who bats right-handed in the middle order and bowls steady left-arm spin has established a reputation as a back-to-the wall fighter. He has scored four centuries and captured 55 wickets in first class cricket. He will probably make his Test debut at five in the batting order.
Justin Greaves, a 29 year-old Barbadian, was very probably chosen as a straight replacement for fellow Barbadian medium-paced all-rounder Mayers who was his teammate at under-19 level just over a decade ago. Greaves averages 26.97 with the bat in first class cricket and has taken 76 wickets with his steady medium pace.
For me, a surprise selection to this West Indies squad is the 27-year old Barbadian Zachary McCaskie. In 11 first class games he averages 30.52 with a highest score of 93.
I had fully expected the 23-year-old Guyanese Kevlon Anderson who has had a bright start to first class cricket with two centuries in seven first class games to be ahead of McCaskie. Anderson missed the West Indies A tour of South Africa because of visa issues and that may have decided the selectors to go with the older McCaskie.
That said, Anderson, playing for West Indies Academy, did well against the admittedly much softer Emerging Ireland team late last year.
Tevin Imlach, 27, is Joshua Da Silva’s deputy as wicketkeeper/batsman. He was part of the 2016 West Indies Under-19 squad which famously lifted that World Cup. The Guyanese has one first class century in 17 matches.
A most intriguing aspect entering this first Test at Adelaide will be the balance of the team. Will the tour selectors seek to bolster the inexperienced batting by including both Hodge and Greaves? Or will they omit one and play a strong pace/spin attack of Alzarri Joseph, Shamar Joseph, Roach, Sinclair and Motie?
Me? I would go with the latter option. The thing is that all the bowlers have proven batting ability. That’s including Motie, who has a first class century and averages 22.
Of course, how West Indies fare will turn on the top order. Can skipper Brathwaite and Chanderpaul provide good starts as they mostly did a year ago? Can Kirk McKenzie, 23, and Alick Athanaze, 24, deliver?
I think much will depend on whether Da Silva, now 25, can continue with the form he showed with centuries in the final unofficial Test in South Africa late last year and against the youthful Australia X1 in last week’s practice match.Whatever happens, I believe Brathwaite and his men should play absolutely without fear. They have nothing to lose.