Selection dilemma for Windies ahead of Sri Lanka Tests
Watching CricketThursday, February 25, 2021
with Garfield Myers
I remember as a child back in the late 50s and through the 60s my mother, after initial agitation, was often philosophical when small stuff went wrong in her household.
“Maybe is for a good,” she would say.
I never could work out what good could come of broken crockery and a child's bruised knee.
But watching under-strength West Indies upset the odds to beat Bangladesh in the two-Test series there recently, brought back memories of my mother and her sayings.
For, surely, now we can say that it was for a good that a few of our top Test match players — more specifically, Captain Jason Holder, Roston Chase and Shamarh Brooks — chose not to visit Bangladesh.
Had those three been there we, most likely, wouldn't have seen the eye-opening performances of Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers.
To take the argument a little further, had it not been for the personal problems which forced the withdrawal of wicketkeeper/batsman Shane Dowrich from the earlier tour of New Zealand in December — after playing only on the first day of the first Test — we most likely wouldn't have witnessed the heroics of his replacement, 22-year-old Joshua Da Silva in Bangladesh.
In fact, cricket watchers were least surprised by Da Silva, for he has been consistently outstanding in his short career up to now.
Pre-COVID-19 in early 2020, Da Silva scored 507 runs for Trinidad and Tobago Red Force in eight matches, while keeping wicket. As a reserve player in England, last year — the first international cricket tour following the onset of the pandemic — Da Silva scored a century, as the West Indies played an internal squad practice match under biosecure arrangements. Performances like that, at such a young age, speak to quality.
Mayers and Bonner provide far more intrigue.
The former, a 28 year-old Barbadian, was best known at the Under-19 level and in later years for the Windward Islands Volcanoes, as primarily a talented medium pacer with good batting credentials.
Then, he picked up a serious injury and for a while was unable to bowl. Over the past two seasons he has been concentrating on his batting with extraordinary results. In early 2020, pre-COVID-19, Mayers scored 654 runs in eight 4-day matches, averaging 50.30, for Barbados Pride.
His fabulous double century, which led West Indies to victory during that record-breaking run chase in the first Test in Bangladesh, suggested a man of strong will, quite apart from talent. By now, bowlers around the world — not least the Sri Lankans who are due in the Caribbean next month for two Tests and a number of limited-overs games — will be analysing his technique for kinks. How Mayers deals with challenges posed by Sri Lanka may well decide his Test cricket future.
Bonner's failure, until now, to kick down the selectors' door is a mystery. Those who saw him early on identified a future West Indies Test player, such was his obvious talent. He was part of an especially talent-rich West Indies Under-19 squad of 2008 including Adrian Barath, Brooks, Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo, Kyle Corbin, Steven Jacobs, Devon Thomas, Shacaya Thomas…
For some reason, West Indies selectors chose Bonner for Twenty20 cricket close to a decade ago. I doubt that would have done him any good. But that can't explain his lack of runs down the years.
What cricket watchers saw early last year, pre-COVID-19, as Bonner piled up 523 runs in seven matches for Jamaica was a mature batsman with the technique and talent to dominate bowlers consistently.
His performances against the highly skilled Bangladesh spinners only reinforced that impression. Bonner, now 32 years old, has said that lack of focus down the years hurt him, but that he is now mentally ready for the challenges of Test cricket. All cricket lovers, not just West Indians, will be hoping so.
Roger Harper and fellow selectors now have headaches as regards their specialist batsmen against Sri Lanka. Places are assured for Kraigg Brathwaite, Bonner, Mayers, and Jermaine Blackwood once they are fit and ready. John Campbell could well be replaced as Brathwaite's opening partner given the Jamaican left-hander's need to correct technical flaws.
Also, Shayne Moseley, the alternate opener in Bangladesh who batted at number three in all four innings on tour was unconvincing.
The selectors could possibly ask Brooks to partner Brathwaite in the two Tests against Sri Lanka, if only as a temporary measure.
The big question, then, would be: Who is to walk at number three? There will be a push to include Nicholas Pooran — arguably the most talented Caribbean batsman — in the Test team. That is, if he is willing to play Test cricket, as he has often said he is. And also, would it be fair to ask him to bat at three in his very first Test, after just five first-class games?
Readers will recall that after several years of playing no first-class cricket whatsoever, the exceptionally gifted Trinidadian left-hander chose to be part of two specially organised four-day games in New Zealand, for West Indies A against New Zealand A, in December. He had scores of 46 and 35 batting at number three in the first unofficial 'Test' and 26 and 69 while keeping wicket and leading the side in the second 'Test' .
Given Pooran's talent, that's good enough for me.
All of the above would mean no place for Roston Chase, vice-captain on the tour of New Zealand, and, for several years, key to the balance of the side because of his batting at number five/six and his much underrated off spin.
Jason Holder will obviously return as the leading all-rounder in the Caribbean and, for me, also as captain, despite the heroics of Brathwaite in Bangladesh. In his home country, Antigua, where all matches are scheduled for the Sri Lanka tour, off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall — top bowler on either side in Bangladesh — seems likely to retain his place in Tests. Fast bowlers Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph would complete the specialist Test-match bowling line-up, with support from Mayers and Brathwaite.
Obviously, Da Silva stays as the Test match wicketkeeper, though down the road, the temptation may arise to push him up the order as a specialist batsman. Young 'keepers around the region should bear that in mind.
What of captaincy? After his triumphant tour of Bangladesh, should Brathwaite be retained as Test captain ahead of Holder?
For Holder, the wheel has turned in extraordinary fashion. Lest we forget, just two years ago, Holder was being hailed for inspirational leadership as West Indies beat England 2-1 in the Caribbean. Last year, after West Indies beat England in the first Test in that country against all odds, praise also flowed.
Before any decision to hand leadership to Brathwaite, the selectors and Cricket West Indies must consider the possible implications for his batting. The need for him to build confidence as a batsman and secure his place was an obvious reason for relieving him of vice-captaincy not so long ago.
It mustn't be forgotten that Brathwaite came perilously close to being left out of last year's tour of England because of a long run of low scores. Since then, he has averaged 29.33 from 176 runs in six innings in England; 13.75 from 55 runs in four innings on tour of New Zealand; and 37.25 from 149 runs from four innings in Bangladesh.
Finally, I am amazed that Jamaica made it to the final four of the Regional Super50 Cup. In the build-up to this tournament, even as their opponents played trial matches and other competitive games, the Jamaicans had to be training in small groups because of strict COVID-19 protocols. All praise is due to them.
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