Finding a balance between a seemingly lacklustre showing in their two warm-up matches against a Barbados Select X1 last week and the confidence expressed by captain Jason Holder and head coach Phil Simmons will be critical for West Indies in the triangular One-Day International series with Australia and South Africa, which started today in Guyana.
Barbados Select won by 50 runs in a Day/Night match at Kensington Oval on May 25 and triumphed by four wickets at the 3Ws Oval two days later.
It must be noted, however, that West Indies were missing five players – Holder, fellow fast bowling all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, middle order batsman Kieron Pollard, off-spinner Sunil Narine and pacer Jerome Taylor – all of whom played in the just concluded Indian Premier League (IPL).
And as expected, all five were in action against South Africa today, along with openers Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher, key batsmen Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels, wicket-keeper/batsman Denesh Ramdin and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn.
Those omitted were batsman Jonathan Carter, off-spinner Ashley Nurse and fast bowler Shannon Gabriel.
But as they say, practice makes perfect and every effort should still have been made to put in far stronger performances against Barbados Select.
In the first match, Barbados Select scored 290 for eight off 50 overs and dismissed West Indies for 240 in 47.1 overs.
West Indies managed 200 for nine off 45 overs in the second match and Barbados Select scored 201 for six in 42.5 overs.
Simmons, however, pointed out that despite the losses, the batsmen had looked the part in the nets, while Holder has reminded all and sundry that his squad includes some members of the champion team in the recent ICC World Twenty20 Tournament in India.
“I would not be too concerned about that since five of our top players were missing and I thought we had good sessions in Barbados. I am confident that if we play our best cricket we will be successful since we were not the favourites in the T20 World Cup and ended up winning,” Simmons said.
Holder remarked: “We’ve got a good squad. Many of the guys were in the World T20 squad that just won the World Cup, some of whom are carrying very good form from the IPL.
“We’ve got our own plans. Everybody has their individual plans but as I stress with the guys, it’s all about execution.”
Yes, skipper. It is indeed about execution. And you should add that based on the ODI record of late which shows only two wins in nine matches, it is clear that West Indies will have a lot of work to do if they are to overcome Australia, the world ODI champions and South Africa, ranked at No. 3.
Pitches will differ in Guyana, St. Kitts and Barbados, thus making the bowling combinations a key factor.
The squad chosen is for the first four matches and it will be vital for a couple players whose statistics are under scrutiny to produce consistently.
Having not qualified for the Champions Trophy in England next year, this is an excellent opportunity for West Indies to start rebuilding for the 2019 World Cup as they also seek to move up the ladder from their No. 8 ranking.
Sometimes one gets the feeling that the selectors are a bit hesitant in experimenting with players who are unfortunately tagged as best suited to the longest version of the game.
For example, Kraigg Brathwaite, the obdurate opening batsman from Barbados, is yet to play an ODI – he has 27 Tests – but there are encouraging signs that he can be a success in the 50-over game. In 23 List A matches, he has 733 runs including five half-centuries (ave: 40.72).
Yet the selectors have given another chance to Fletcher, a Grenadian who in 18 ODIs since his debut eight years ago has just 265 runs at an average of 14.72. And if you were to further analyse Fletcher’s List A record, one would find an aggregate of 1554 with nine fifties (ave: 22.85) in 73 matches.
A few question marks have also been raised over the selection of Carter, who is yet to establish himself after 13 ODIs (212 runs; one fifty; ave: 19.27).
It is no secret that Carter is also a handy medium-pacer and can hold his own with the gloves as well, but he has been picked mainly for his batting. Hence, produce when given the chance.
The inclusion in the squad of Test player Gabriel, who is yet to play an ODI, has also come under the microscope but in listening to chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd, he clearly believes Gabriel can be effective with his genuine pace.
Getting back to the warm-up matches against Barbados Select, attention would also have been paid to the performances of a few players who looked the part but are not in the West Indies squad.
Shai Hope, who has played six Tests, had scores of 61 at No. 3 and 48 as an opener for the Barbados Select and guest player Rovman Powell, a Jamaican, made 58 at No. 7 for West Indies in the first match.
While Hope’s ability is known, Powell is a player who has been batting impressively for Sagicor Life UWI in the current BCA 50-over and T20 Tournaments. He should be closely monitored.
It is, however, now on the big stage and Simmons touched on another key area of preparation as it relates to batting.
“We are working hard on trying to get as many singles as possible. We are a team that doesn’t get as many singles as we would like to and it’s something we have worked hard on and are trying to improve,” he said.
“Generally, we’ve been working on the whole thinking of the game and the whole assessment of the situation to make sure we do the right thing in that situation.”
West Indian fans are sure to analyse what Holder and Simmons have been saying, while hoping that the series will prove a success in their quest to move up the ladder.
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 three-and-a-half 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