ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Darren Bravo’s 27-month exile from Test cricket finally ended today, when he was named in a 13-man squad to face England in the opening Test of the three-Test series at Kensington Oval next week.
The left-hander is one of several changes to the squad which suffered an embarrassing whitewash in Bangladesh last November, with Windies A batsman Shamarh Brooks and John Campbell called up for the first time, and fast bowler Alzarri Joseph returning following injury.
Batsmen Kieran Powell and Sunil Ambris, along with leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo have all been axed, while regular captain Jason Holder returns to lead the squad after missing the tour of Bangladesh through injury.
Powell’s axing was on the cards. He has endured an abysmal return to international cricket with repeated failures in the Caribbean, New Zealand, India and Bangladesh. His last 19 innings have resulted in scores of 0, 0, 38, 88, 27, 2, 4, 7, 48, 29, 18, 1, 83, 22, 0, 14, 0, 4 and 6.
The selection of the 29-year-old Bravo brings to an end a bitter saga which had dragged on ever since he was sent home in November, 2016 for an ill-advised rant aimed at Cricket West Indies president, Dave Cameron, and which led to an acrimonious stand-off with the regional board.
And even though the board announced an end to the impasse in July, 2017 and indicated the Trinidadian was “available with immediate effect to play in all forms of cricket”, he did not appear in a single representative West Indies team until he was chosen last October for the Twenty20 tour of India and the subsequent limited-overs series in Bangladesh last month.
“With the return of Darren Bravo, who will add value to a batting department, we expect to see marked improvement,” chief selector Courtney Browne said.
However, Bravo enters the England series with only a single first-class match under his belt since his last Test, after mainly plying his trade in the Twenty20 leagues across the globe.
Playing for his native Trinidad and Tobago Red Force last week against Jamaica Scorpions in Kingston, he had modest returns of 17 and 38.
Brooks, meanwhile, has gained the confidence of selectors after many years of promise but his selection comes at 30 and with him struggling so far in the first class championship, averaging a paltry 18 from six innings.
However, he excelled in the 2017-18 first-class season, scoring 632 runs for Barbados Pride at an average of 48. The 25-year-old also topped the aggregates on the Windies A tour of England last summer, hitting an unbeaten hundred in the opening four-day Test against India A.
Campbell, too, had a productive last season for Scorpions, gathering 603 runs at an average of 43, before also averaging 37 for Windies A in the two four-day Tests against the Indians.
This season, he opened with a half-century against Barbados but has managed only 40 runs in three innings since.
The 22-year-old Joseph, meanwhile, has also found his way back into the squad after playing his last Test 18 months ago but there seems to be lingering concern over his fitness, with 21-year-old speedster Oshane Thomas called up as cover.
He appeared to make a full recovery from a back injury when he was picked for a tour match against Bangladesh last June, and when he subsequently played two one-dayers the following month.
But after being selected for the two-Test tour of India last September, he was suddenly replaced by Sherman Lewis, with CWI saying only that he needed “to continue his rehabilitation to full fitness for international competitions”.
Joseph has, however, bowled superbly in three matches of the first class season, grabbing 15 wickets for Leeward Islands Hurricanes.
“Young, exciting, fast bowler Alzarri Joseph, who was sidelined by injury, returns to the squad and Shamarh Brooks has been elevated for his solid first-class performances over the last three years,” Browne explained.
“John Campbell the incumbent ‘A’ team opener, who has played first-class cricket for a number of years will open the batting after a good first-class season in 2018.”
Both Campbell and Joseph are turning out for the President’s XI in the first of two back-to-back two-day tour matches against England at the 3W’s Oval, UWI Cave Hill which started Tuesday.
There was disappointment, however, for left-handed opener Chandrapaul Hemraj who was overlooked despite his 623 runs last season and a scintillating 144 against Barbados in the third round of the first class championship two weeks ago.
The first Test bowls off January 23, with matches also carded for the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in Antigua from January 31 to February 4, and at the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground from February 9-13. (CMC)
SQUAD – Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican, Shannon Gabriel.