Amid the off-field confusion affecting West Indies cricket, focus returns to on-field activity as the West Indies take on South Africa on Friday at Providence in Guyana. It is the first match of the Tri-Nation One-Day International series that also involves Australia.
The Jason Holder-led West Indies team arrived in Guyana yesterday to a warm welcome. But the warmth of Guyanese and West Indies fans could change drastically if they do not put up creditable performances over the next few weeks against their powerful adversaries.
The West Indies have not engendered great confidence in their likely chances with two defeats in Barbados in warm-up matches prior to their departure.
Speaking shortly after their arrival in Guyana, head coach Phil Simmons told the media that as a team they would look at the best way possible to win the tournament.
Asked if the omission of a number of “key players” would affect West Indies chances in the series, Simmons said: “We are here to play against two teams, and that is what we will do.” Simmons has previously been quite open in his call for the restoration of several of the roving Twenty20 stars to the team.
Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo were all left out of the West Indies squad for the first four games. Their omission being a result of choosing lucrative Twenty20 contracts overseas, over participation in domestic 50-over cricket. But while calls for their inclusion have been vociferous, with the exception of Gayle there is very little to justify the perception that their inclusion will make the team better.
Sammy averages less than 25 with the bat in all forms of cricket and at every level of the game. In 126 ODIs since 2004, he has scored 1 871 runs at 24.94. Had his bowling average of 47.54 been his batting average, there might be a plausible case for his inclusion. But that he now prefers to bowl the 51st over in 50-overs cricket and indeed the 21st over in Twenty20s, Sammy has basically rendered himself a non-contributory captain.
Bravo’s performances have been marginally better over the past 12 years, snaring 199 wickets in 164 matches at an average of 29.51. His batting has taken a back seat to his bowling and after initial promise, that has plummeted to 25.36 with 2 968 runs to his account. He has also taken up the mantle of l’enfant terrible with constant public attacks on his employers that do not augur well for his immediate future in the team.
The team has welcomed back off-spinner Sunil Narine and all-rounder Kieron Pollard, who have not played international cricket since November 2015. Having not participated in the domestic 50-over competition, their inclusion caused debate among those omitted. But Pollard missed the tournament through injury and Narine was undergoing remedial action on his bowling action.
But it will be those selected that regional fans will be focused on over the next few weeks. The West Indies’ batting will be centered around the Cinderella Man of the squad, Marlon Samuels, and Darren Bravo. At 35, Samuels is heading towards the epilogue of his chequered career, while Bravo has remained in limbo since his ODI debut in 2009. Once considered along with the likes of Australia’s Steve Smith, India’s Virat Kohli, England’s Joe Root and Kiwi Kane Williamson, to be among the game’s most promising young talents, the Trinidadian left-hander has long been left in their wake. The Tri-Series presents him with a chance to make up lost ground.
The series will also provide underachievers Andre Fletcher, Johnson Charles and Jonathan Carter the occasion to put some substance to style and perhaps reduce the clamour for the return of the likes of Gayle and Bravo. Both Johnson and Carter had poor recent domestic limited-overs showings and can consider themselves fortunate to be chosen. But their chances in the past have been limited and they now merit a longer run in the team.
Much attention will be paid to the progress of all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite. His Twenty20 World Cup heroics are in the past and he will be seeking to impress with bat and ball during the Tri-Series. Fresh from a debut stint in the Indian Premier League, Brathwaite should be match-ready and eager to perform. He bowled noticeably faster in the IPL in the limited opportunities he got and is now provided with the arena to show how much that aspect of his game has advanced.
The matches in Guyana come at an appropriate time as that country is in the midst of its Jubilee celebrations. A good performance by the West Indies will be welcomed by the fans; victory in the series will prove overwhelming.
All the games are day/night encounters and commence at I p.m. After the first round of matches in Guyana, the tournament will head to Warner Park in St Kitts & Nevis for three more games and will conclude in Barbados with the final round of three matches and the grand final at the Kensington Oval on June 26.
West Indies squad: Jason Holder (capt.), Sulieman Benn, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Jonathan Carter, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Shannon Gabriel, Sunil Narine, Ashley Nurse, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel, wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Quinton de Kock, Jean-Paul Duminy, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso, Rilee Rossouw. (WG)