Emotions have run high over the omission of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard from the West Indies squad for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February and March, and understandably so.
To be rid of two seasoned campaigners with a combined 255 One-Day Internationals between them (Bravo 164 and Pollard 91) for the premier global limited overs tournament was sure to raise eyebrows and lead to cries of victimisation.
Yet, the signs were evident after both players were not selected for the current five-match ODI series against South Africa with the telling decision to appoint Jason Holder, the 23-year-old Barbados fast bowling all-rounder, as captain for the first time in place of Bravo. Now, Holder will lead the side in the World Cup as well.
As chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd continues to stoutly defend the selection of the squad, he must know deep inside that what he has been saying will not be easily accepted by a big majority, West Indians or otherwise.
There is a general feeling among observers that Bravo, as captain of the West Indies ODI team on the unforgettable, aborted tour of India last October over a new contract, has been punished for his role. So, too, has Pollard, his fellow Trinidadian and close associate.
Lloyd has been quoted as saying that an absence of “exceptional performances” coupled with a vision to move forward and look for young talent, were the main reasons for not selecting the pair.
“It was a very difficult decision. I can tell you it went on for two days. We suspended it to give a chance to think about things and so on. There were a lot of discussions. But then you get to a point where you say, right, this is where we want to go. It is very difficult for people to understand or to accept. But we want to move on.
“I don’t think they have had any exceptional performances. Nobody [of the pair] has got exceptional performances as far as [playing for] West Indies is concerned. They have been there and thereabouts. We really and truly want to pick people on what they have done for our cricket and not for anyone else,” Lloyd said.
Funny enough, when the squad was first announced for the ODI series against South Africa, yet another all-rounder in Darren Sammy, was excluded along with Bravo and Pollard.
Then with pacer Kemar Roach sustaining an ankle injury during the first Test against the South Africans, Sammy was called up for the ODI series and is also in the World Cup squad.
If we were to argue about statistics from an ODI perspective, it would be found that there is not very much to separate among those in the squad labelled as all-rounders.
Let us examine the ODI statistics of Bravo and Pollard.
Bravo has 2968 runs including two centuries and ten fifties, at an average of 25.36, and 199 wickets (ave: 29.51) with an economy rate of 5.41.
Pollard has 2042 runs with three hundreds and seven half-centuries, averaging 25.20, along with 44 wickets (ave: 38.11) and an economy rate of 5.57.
Both are excellent in the field.
Here also are their stats in the last two years.
Bravo scored 0, 45, 51, 3, 13, 9, 25, 19, 25, 8 not out, 8 not out, 14, 0, 43 not out, 13, 6, 48, 24, 18, 4, 12, 56 not out, 43 not out, 106, 35, 87 not out, 20, 27, 5, 6, 3 not out, 17, 10, 0. That’s a total of 803 runs (ave: 29.74), plus 53 wickets.
Pollard made 0, 1, 9, 109 not out, 45, 41 not out, 0, 30, 22, 28, 0, 4, 0, 0, 3, 30, 0, 89, 26, 10, 2, 40 and 6. That’s an aggregate of 495 runs (ave: 23.57), along with six wickets.
Bravo and Pollard will believe that they were unlucky to be left out of the World Cup squad but it can be argued that their form with the bat in the latter part of 2014 was nothing to really shout about.
And veteran Chris Gayle added some fuel when in typically, vocal style after the second match of the Twenty20 series against the South Africans, which West Indies won 2-1, he referred to “victimisation”, “ridiculous” and “hurt”.
“To me it got to be like victimisation when you look at it towards those two guys. Come on, guys. It is just ridiculous. Come on. Ridiculous. Really hurt. Ridiculous. Honestly, it throw me off. We can only talk. We can express our feelings, which I’m doing at this point in time. The squad already is announced. It is just sad,” Gayle said.
Lloyd responded by saying that he was disappointed with Gayle’s comments, while the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has said nothing in relation to his outburst.
Ironically, prior to the series against South Africa, Gayle’s last ten ODIs produced only 142 runs, at an average of 14.20. Surely, the selectors must always look at the overall picture.
But should we keep debating the reasons why Bravo and Pollard are not in the squad instead of dealing with the challenges, which West Indies will face over the next couple of months?
The ODI series against South Africa is a stern test for Holder, not only as a leader but also a player. Controversy would be the last thing he wants at this time.
A rank rookie like Jonathan Carter has been given an opportunity to showcase his talent with the bat as a left-hander and it would not hurt to try him for a few overs of right-arm medium-pace in the series against South Africa in order to widen options ahead of the World Cup.
One would, however, like to be a fly on the wall to hear the debate among the selection panel of Lloyd, Courtney Browne, Courtney Walsh and Eldine Baptiste.
As a highly successful West Indies captain who was at the helm when the Caribbean team won the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, Lloyd is desperately hoping for resurgence in fortunes. He talks about building for the future and drives home the point that West Indies have been losing with basically the same players.
According to Lloyd, he explained the reasons, in writing, to all concerned parties, including the WICB, the West Indies Players Association, as well as the players’ lawyers. He insisted there was no discrimination by the selection panel.
In that regard, it can be suggested that by giving Bravo a central contract for the 2014-15 season, he remains in their plans, even if one wants to go as far as believing that he is in line for a long overdue Test recall against England and Australia in the Caribbean.
For all of that, the immediate focus is on blending against the South Africans and then springing a surprise at the World Cup.
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: Keithfholder@gmail.com.