Solid performances in the trials, mainly from the batsmen, would have given the Barbados selectors a stern test in picking the 14-man squad for their defence of the regional Nagico Super50 Championship in Trinidad & Tobago starting next Thursday.
In the absence of five players who are in the West Indies team for the One-Day International series against South Africa – newly-appointed captain Jason Holder, Dwayne Smith, Sulieman Benn, Jonathan Carter and Carlos Brathwaite – plus Kemar Roach who is recuperating from an ankle injury, opportunities arose for others to showcase their talent.
From the very first trial match at Bayfield, there were three centuries reeled off by the Hope brothers, Shai and Kyle, along with Shamarh Brooks.
Shai Hope and Brooks sustained their fine form and Shane Dowrich also got a century in the third trial at Dayrells Road.
Once others chipped in with half-centuries, the selectors would have braced themselves for having to make a couple tough decisions.
There is a fairly healthy look about the Kevin Stoute-led squad. Test player Kraigg Brathwaite has Kyle Corbin as his opening partner with the likes of Kirk Edwards, Shai Hope, Brooks, Ryan Hinds, Stoute and Dowrich providing solidity in the batting.
The spin bowling is also strong with off-spinning all-rounders Ashley Nurse and Kenroy Williams, plus left-armers Jomel Warrican and Hinds.
And the pace is in the capable hands of veterans Fidel Edwards and Tino Best, along with Javon Searles.
Stoute’s medium-pace adds to the all-round strength.
Some critics reckon that Miguel Cummins should have been selected instead of either Best or Fidel Edwards but based on recent performances, Cummins has lost some of the form and confidence, which he showed a couple seasons ago.
Best is aged 33 and fellow, former international Fidel Edwards is approaching his 33rd birthday as well but both still have a hunger for success.
In terms of one-day competition or List A, if you like, the 24-year-old Cummins has played only five matches. At this stage of his career, it is vital for the coaching staff to work as closely as possible with him and hopefully when the regional four-day Championship resumes in early February, he will be in the right frame of mind to show his mettle.
Much focus will be on Shai Hope and Brooks. Here are two exciting players who also impressed in the BCA Sagicor General Super Cup Championship.
Hope scored 331 runs including three half-centuries and topped the overall averages with a remarkable 165.50 for losing finalists ESA Field Pickwick, while in his only two innings for Massy Stores Spartan, Brooks hit half-centuries and averaged 55.50.
Shai Hope is also in the Barbados Pride team for the four-day tournament but Brooks has found himself in the wilderness in that format. With great relief, however, Brooks now looks very assured at the crease and it is hoped that he rises to the occasion in the Nagico Super50.
All-rounder Roston Chase would consider himself a bit unlucky not to be in the squad. In the Sagicor General Super Cup for ICBL Empire, he took 13 wickets at 7.61 runs apiece with his off-breaks and was the most economical bowler all told, conceding just 2.39 runs per over.
He was closely followed by team-mate Warrican, whose economy rate was 2.41, while being the joint top wicket-taker (along with another left-arm spinner Derick Bishop of Brathwaite Construction/Republic Bank St. Catherine) with 17 scalps, at 7.82 runs each.
Chase also scored 239 runs including a century, at an average of 47.80.
In the case of Kyle Hope, any disappointment at not making the Barbados team would have been tempered by being picked for Combined Campuses & Colleges (CCC). He was the leading run-scorer in the Sagicor General Super Cup with 342 (ave: 38.00).
While we tend to dwell on the selection of teams, the role of the coaching staff also deserves attention. To this end, it was refreshing to hear Stoute praising the work of the coaches in the preparation of the net sessions, as well as the enthusiasm shown by the trial invitees from the inception.
Stoute endured a rough time with the bat last year but he will be going into the tournament with a fair amount of confidence. He made a solid 82 off 96 balls in the third trial match and topscored with 75 off 78 balls in a two-wicket win for Barbados Pride against CCC in a Day/Night practice match at the 3Ws Oval yesterday.
Brooks again made his presence felt in the match against CCC, scoring 56 as he and Stoute added 139 for the fourth wicket in a victory target of 214 off 43 overs under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Admittedly, Stoute showed some nerves in last year’s tournament, as he was seemingly overwhelmed at leading the side for the first time. But he did get support from the senior players and Barbados played as a unit.
Barbados are in Group A along with CCC, Guyana Jaguars and Windward Islands Volcanoes, while Group B comprises Jamaica, Leeward Islands Hurricanes, Trinidad & Tobago Red Force and West Indies Under-19s.
Funny things can happen but reaching the semi-finals should not be a headache with the expectation of retaining the title.
There is always a theory that pitches in Trinidad & Tobago tend to be a bit on the slow side but there is evidence that seam bowlers make an impact as well.
Barbados’s success last year was even more marked by the fact that they beat Trinidad & Tobago twice including the final.
Both matches had their fair share of excitement. In their opening match at Queen’s Park Oval, Barbados scored 269 for eight off 45 overs and won by 28 runs, dismissing Trinidad & Tobago for 241 in 43.3 overs. And in the final, they triumphed by 17 runs. Barbados were bowled out for 252 in 48.4 overs and Trinidad & Tobago fell for 235 in 45.5 overs.
It was the sixth title for Barbados in a record 18 finals. Those figures show consistency in reaching the big stage, even though the silverware should be much higher.
Now, for Stoute and his team, retaining the title is foremost as they head to Port-of-Spain on Tuesday.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: Keithfholdergmail.com.