West Indies fast-bowling legend-turned commentator Michael Holding has said the decisions of Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul to opt out of touring England were “unfortunate”, if understandable because of concerns over the Covid-19 situation in the UK.
Earlier this week, West Indies announced a 25-man party to travel for three rearranged Tests against England next month. CWI had previously given guarantees that players would not be forced to go on the tour if they were not comfortable with the safety provisions being put in place. Johnny Grave, CWI’s chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo that Bravo, Hetmyer and Paul all expressed fears about how going to the UK could adversely affect their families.
Speaking in an interview for his YouTube channel, Holding said that while he would not blame any of the players for making that choice, their talents would be missed as West Indies seek to defend the Wisden Trophy.
“The West Indies board, before they were even confirming the tour, had told everyone and the entire public that they would not be forcing anyone to go on this tour,” Holding said. “If any player decided they weren’t absolutely sure about going on tour, they weren’t confident of proceedings they could opt out. And these three guys have opted out.
“I think it’s unfortunate as far as West Indies cricket is concerned. I’m not going to tell anyone that they should be going to England because Covid-19 is around, someone may get sick or even worse. But at the same time I think it’s unfortunate for the West Indies team because these guys have quite a bit of talent, and they’ll be missed.”
Holding made special mention of Bravo, who was dropped for West Indies’ one-off Test against Afghanistan in November, and Hetmyer. Both batsmen were members of the side that beat England 2-1 at home in 2018-19.
Bravo, 31, only returned to the international set-up for that series, after more than two years on the sidelines because of a dispute with the board, and Holding has previously described him as “too talented to be left out”.
“I’m sorry that Bravo in particular isn’t going because Bravo, I think, needs to resuscitate his career,” Holding said. “He started off so brilliantly, everybody thought he was going to be another great West Indian batsman. He hasn’t really fulfilled that. I think the more cricket he can play now, especially for West Indies, the better chance he has of getting back on track and showing everyone the great player that he could be.
“Hetmyer, again, I think he’s a very, very talented player. I think people have heard me talk about him in the past. Again, I’m sorry that he’s not going so that he can get more opportunity to express himself. But I ain’t blaming them for not going.”
Ian Bishop, another former West Indies quick turned commentator, echoed the view that declining to tour should not be held against the trio.
“You have to give players the option because it’s a world health crisis,” Bishop told the Trinidad Express. “If a player decides he does not want to take that health risk, you can’t hold it against him in this context. The players know they are taking a risk if someone who replaced them goes on to have great success. That’s a chance you take.”
West Indies are due to depart the Caribbean on Monday, boarding a specially chartered flight to the UK. On arrival, they will go into quarantine for 14 days before beginning their preparations in Manchester. The first Test is scheduled to begin on July 8 at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, followed by two matches at Emirates Old Trafford, with the whole series taking just three weeks to complete.
The West Indies squad will remain within a “bio-secure bubble” for the duration of their visit, as part of ECB efforts to ensure international cricket during England’s home window, but Holding suggested the experience shouldn’t be viewed as “too much of a hardship” for the tourists.
“I think it’s good. Everyone has been hoping to get back to live sport, because they’ve been watching a lot of recordings – they want to get back to live sport, and cricket in particular,” he said. “Cricket is a game played over quite a few days, so you can get involved in the game, get distracted from other problems or issues that might be going on in life. So it’s good to see cricket is back.
“I’m not too sure about the confinement. They might be confined in one venue, yes, in a hotel, but I wouldn’t really call that confinement, if you think of what’s been happening around the world with the Covid pandemic, because people have been confined to their apartments, a very, very small area. So being confined to one venue, I don’t think that’s too much of a hardship.” (Cricinfo)