Following the hunger and determination, which spurred West Indies to a 2-0 Test series sweep against Bangladesh, there is a big debate over the combination of the team for the battle with Sri Lanka in the Caribbean next month.
Winning the series in Bangladesh without a full strength side after some players cited Covid-19 concerns for not touring warmed the hearts of many West Indian fans. Never mind the opposition, they have argued.
Under the captaincy of experienced opener Kraigg Brathwaite, West Indies won by three wickets in Chattogram and by 17 runs in Dhaka. It was also extremely pleasing that a few rookies including two who made their debuts in Bangladesh – Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers – stood out with the bat.
In addition, among the list of those with impressive performances were wicketkeeper/batsman Joshua Da Silva, off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall and left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican.
Mayers scored the most runs in the series (261) including a memorable 210 not out in the first Test. He also had the best average of 87.00.
Player Of The Series Bonner made 231 (ave: 57.75) and Da Silva 174 (ave: 43.50).
Cornwall grabbed the most wickets in the series (14) at 26.71 runs each and Warrican picked up 10 (ave: 28.50)
Mind you, Da Silva has played only three Tests, Cornwall, five and Warrican, ten.
“Amazing” was the word which Brathwaite, a veteran of 66 Tests, fittingly used to describe the achievement of his team.
“We lost 2-0 the last time we were here so to win 2-0 this time is pretty amazing,” Brathwaite said.
“Winning away and sweeping the home team is truly amazing. We will never forget it. The future looks bright. We have to stay strong as a team, and keep the same attitude. This series was amazing.
“We knew what we faced with all the Covid stuff that was going around. We stuck to the batting and bowling plans. This was among my top career achievements. I enjoyed every moment just being around this team, and it wasn’t easy obviously in a bubble.”
Head coach Phil Simmons has talked about increased competition for places in the side having the potential to make them a stronger unit.
“As coaches and selectors, you want people to fight for their positions,” Simmons said. “You want people you pick to know that they have to perform because there are people waiting to come in if they don’t. That’s when your cricket starts moving upward. Let’s hope this is the start of the upward movement.
“It puts things in perspective that it is just not one or two players that can play this game. It gives us the opportunity to pick who is doing well. It also puts pressure on people to do well because there are other people who can come in. So it goes both ways. Nobody ever doubted the talent pool in the West Indies. It has always been high. It is just how it is being preserved and developed.”
West Indies used 12 players for the Test series in Bangladesh – Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shayne Moseley, Bonner, Mayers, Jermaine Blackwood, Da Silva, Cornwall, Warrican, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph.
In the previous two-Test series in New Zealand, which West Indies lost 2-0, 13 players featured. They were: Jason Holder (captain), Brathwaite, Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Blackwood, Shane Dowrich, Joseph, Roach, Gabriel, Da Silva and Chemar Holder. Da Silva and fast bowler Chemar Holder made their debut in the final Test.
Jason Holder, Bravo, Brooks and Chase missed the tour to Bangladesh because of Covid-19 concerns, Dowrich cited personal reasons, having returned home after the first Test against New Zealand for the same reason, while Chemar Holder was not picked for the Test series.
For the two-match Test series against Sri Lanka (both matches will be played in Antigua at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, starting March 21 and 29), one expects Jason Holder to return as captain, even though some pundits believe Brathwaite should be retained.
Yet, we should not be carried away by the success in Bangladesh. Brathwaite was the interim captain as he was two years ago against the same opposition when injury ruled Holder out of the tour.
Having been replaced as vice-captain by Chase for the series in New Zealand and then asked to lead the side in Bangladesh because of the reasons stated earlier, Brathwaite did a commendable job.
But situations can suddenly change.
When Chase was appointed vice-captain for the series in New Zealand, Lead selector Roger Harper remarked: “He is an experienced player who is tactically aware and very purposeful in his approach to the game. He is readily willing to offer advice and discuss ideas with his fellow players and the coaches and I think will offer good leadership support to captain Jason Holder both on and off the field.”
So after the success in Bangladesh, will Brathwaite be Holder’s deputy for the series against Sri Lanka, thus ending Chase’s brief role in that position?
Holder’s record as Test captain since he was first appointed for the 2015-16 series in Sri Lanka, shows 37 matches with 11 wins, 21 defeats and five draws including four wins and six losses in the last two years, while Brathwaite has now led West Indies in seven Tests, losing five and winning two.
In discussing the captaincy issue, some fans have cited the recent case of India. Their captain Virat Kohli played in only the first Test of the four-match series against Australia before returning home for the birth of his first child.
Ajinkya Rahane took over the captaincy and India came from 1-0 down to win the series 2-1. But for the current series against England, Kohli has duly returned as the skipper.
Captaincy apart, what can we expect in relation to the other places in the West Indies team for the Test series against Sri Lanka?
Batting positions will be competitive.
John Campbell has been somewhat of a failure as Brathwaite’s opening partner after making his debut against England in the Caribbean two years ago. In 13 Tests, he has 572 runs (ave: 24.86) and managed only 80 runs (ave: 20.00) in the recent series against Bangladesh. His place must be in jeopardy.
Some observers reckon Da Silva could be asked to open but as the wicketkeeper it is a challenging assignment, especially if West Indies field first.
Another consideration, though a bit ambitious, would be to put the onus on one of the specialist batsmen to partner Brathwaite, for example Bravo or Bonner.
A likely 15-man squad: Jason Holder (captain), Brathwaite, Bravo, Brooks, Bonner, Mayers, Chase, Blackwood, Da Silva, Cornwall, Roach, Gabriel, Joseph, Warrican, Campbell.
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-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email: [email protected]