Windies face test
Much to learn as WI face Pakistan at empty SabinaThursday, August 12, 2021
with Garfield Myers
A two-Test cricket series starting today at Sabina Park between West Indies and touring Pakistan has crept up on us like a thief in the night.
To begin with, the recent drama in Tokyo sidetracked all of us including cricket diehards. Also, of course, very wet weather in Guyana ruined the Twenty20 series there, pushing thoughts of cricket farther behind on the back burner.
Hopefully, rain will stay away from Kingston for these two Tests — to be played under bio-secure arrangements as has become customary since the coming of COVID-19. What seems certain is that on-field temperatures at Sabina will be uncomfortably high.
Hope that vaccinated people would have been allowed into the stands have been scuttled by the current surge in virus cases which health experts suggest is being spurred by the much-feared Delta variant. Outside of television and radio broadcast crews, even the media are being barred.
From the point of view of the hosts, player preparations for this Test series — the start of the second edition of the World Test Championships for both teams — have been poor. Outside of a four-day game at Sabina over recent days, most members of the West Indies Test squad have had little or no competition.
From this distance, Head Coach Phil Simmons seems well within his rights to have complained after planned warm-up games for players in their home territories never happened. It seems to us that Cricket West Indies should explain. Was this the result of a lack of money? Or was it the strict COVID-19 protocols in individual territories? Perhaps the situation flowed from a combination of adverse circumstances?
Regardless, West Indies Captain Kraigg Brathwaite and his men — soundly thrashed by South Africa in St Lucia back in July — will have to be at their very best to overcome talented, though unpredictable Pakistan. Of course, the visitors too will doubtless feel under-prepared. I am told Pakistan had just a two-day warm up after arriving in Jamaica.
For me, the most significant feature of the West Indies 17-man squad for this series is the absence of Shannon Gabriel, who has been a great soldier for the West Indies since his debut at Lord's in 2012, but more particularly over the last five to six years or so. Chief selector Roger Harper says Gabriel is being given a break to improve his fitness levels. For sure, he was clearly struggling against Sri Lanka earlier this year and against South Africa in July.
At 33, it is very possible that the Trinidadian speedster, who has taken 159 wickets in 55 Tests, has seen his best days. We will see.
There is no one in the West Indies squad to replace Gabriel's raw pace. However, all things being equal, I expect the hosts to utilise a bowling attack comprising four pacers: all-rounder and former skipper Jason Holder, veteran Kemar Roach, impressive young swing bowler Jayden Seales and Alzarri Joseph.
For me, Joseph's batting should get him into the side ahead of Chemar Holder. That said, the latter was close to unplayable because of bounce and controlled seam movement when he turned up against Jamaica at Sabina Park in 2019, pre-COVID. The selectors will perhaps rely on what they saw in the recent warm-up game as well as in the nets in making their choice.
Kyle Mayers, who has impressed with his out-swing medium pace, will provide valuable support for the specialist seamers. Such is the fragility of the West Indies batting, Mayers's presence may even influence the selectors to strengthen the batting at the expense of Joseph/Chemar Holder. I hope not.
I expect Roston Chase to play as a specialist batsman who also bowls high-quality off-spin. Unless the pitch is seen as a raging turner — which would make no sense against Pakistan — there should be no place for off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall and the left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican.
As far as I am concerned, the return of Nkrumah Bonner following his concussion injury against South Africa means that for the first Test, at least, there should be a top eight batting line-up of Brathwaite, Kieran Powell, Bonner, Mayers, Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, wicketkeeper Joshua Da Silva, and Jason Holder.
The specialist batsmen will be acutely aware that after their failures against South Africa, the technically gifted Shamarh Brooks is standing by, following his century in the warm-up game. To my mind Brooks, is now ahead of Shai Hope in the pecking order.
For cricket watchers glued to their television sets, there is much to see.
West Indies squad — Kraigg Brathwaite (captain), Jermaine Blackwood (vice captain), Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Rahkeem Cornwall, Roston Chase, Joshua Da Silva, Jahmar Hamilton, Chemar Holder, Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Jomel Warrican.