It is refreshing when those in the forefront of picking teams as well as other key officials speak frankly with the media.
Since the West Indies squads for the current three-match Twenty20 and three-match One-Day International series against Sri Lanka in Antigua were named a week ago, the likes of Cricket West Indies (CWI) Lead selector Roger Harper, head coach Phil Simmons, captain Kieron Pollard and Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams have been in the spotlight at Press conferences.
Topics ranging from a couple “old men” being selected to much younger players missing out because of failing fitness tests were ventilated.
The selection of at least two veterans – pugnacious batsman Chris Gayle and fast bowler Fidel Edwards – for the T20 series, raised some eyebrows.
The 41-year-old Gayle was recalled for the first time in two years while Edwards, who turned 39 on February 6, is playing international cricket again after a nine-year break.
And if you really want to fret about the number of “old men” in the T20 squad, add all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, 37, and 36-year-old opening batsman Lendl Simmons.
So what is all the fuss about? It is no secret that the selectors are seeking to shape a squad for the 2021 T20 World Cup, which is set for October and November in India with West Indies as defending champions.
Based on what Harper, Simmons and Pollard have said, one can believe that both Gayle and Edwards are likely to feature.
“As we build towards the defence of the T20 World Cup, the opportunity is being taken to determine our best team and squad as we go forward. Chris Gayle has performed very well in recent tournaments and the selection panel thinks that he can still add great value to our team. Fidel Edwards has been selected to give the bowling the potent firepower needed,” Harper said in a media release.
Simmons pointed to the performances of Gayle in the last Indian Premier League (IPL) and Edwards in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).
“We see what Chris Gayle did in his last IPL stint,” Simmons said. “He shows that both with the bat and on the field, he looks fitter and feels better and he is still hitting the ball as we want to see him do it. We’ve seen Fidel in the last CPL and we have seen that he can still muster over 90mph with his searing yorkers, both at the top end and at the back end of the innings, so it is great to have the two of them with us.”
CWI also explained the non-selection of fast bowling all-rounder Andre Russell, saying he had “contracted” the coronavirus “earlier” in February.
“Despite testing negative over a week ago, (Russell) was ruled out of the T20Is by the CWI Medical Panel whilst he completes his “return to play” protocols.”
It was revealed as well that batsman Shimron Hetmyer, all-rounder Roston Chase and fast bowlers Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas all failed to reach the minimum fitness standard in time for selection consideration.
“The policy asks for a minimum standard in certain aspects of fitness testing. It’s pretty simple, and it’s something that all the players are aware of: failure to get to (the minimum standard) makes them unavailable for selection,” Adams said.
Subsequently, it was announced that Hetmyer and Chase are available for the two-match Test series against the Sri Lankans starting March 21 after meeting the minimum fitness standard required by CWI.
“Two of those four players have since met the minimum standard: Roston Chase and Shimron Hetmyer,” Adams said. “They would now be available for the next selection meeting before the Test matches coming up later in March.”
Pollard has stressed that West Indies need to start winning matches on a regular basis. To this end, he is hoping that experience will play a big part.
Following their success at the last T20 World Cup and prior to the start of the current series, the fact that West Indies won just 16 of 50 T20Is while losing 30 led to Pollard making the point that the team must “get back into the habit of winning”.
“You look at some of the younger guys that have gotten the opportunities when we started off around 2019, and it hasn’t really produced the results on a consistent basis,” Pollard said.
“As a team we need to start winning cricket matches, win series. Because we can go down the line of saying ‘we need to blood this talent, blood this talent’, but some of you same guys will start talking about the results as well. So we have to strike that balance [between youth and experience], we have to start winning T20 matches, we’re the defending champions, and we have to get back into the habit of winning. And if that means getting a couple of senior guys in to start that process, so be it.”
Pollard went further.
“These guys continue to perform despite their age. And one thing that has been said throughout is that once you show that you can perform at the highest level, such as franchise cricket from the T20 point of view, the opportunity is still there.
“The way to go forward is having that sort of mixture in the team, youth and experience. The youthful guys can learn from the experienced guys, and these are some of the things that have been missing. From 2016 till now can we safely say we have put forward our best T20 team to go to any series or anything like that?”
Now, it can be argued that clear messages are being sent to the younger players, who in turn should grind their teeth and rise to the occasion.
Improving significantly on their T20 status must be high on the agenda for West Indies. They are 10th in the latest ICC rankings with England at the top, followed by Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
In relation to fitness, it has been pointed out that the CWI system was first introduced in 2017. All players have been written to on it and it is in their contracts and the terms and conditions of engagement.
They have also all received copies of the fitness and conditioning policy either directly, via their Franchises and/or the West Indies Players Association (WIPA).
Furthermore, CWI held seminars with all the players ahead of the 2019 Super50 Cup, explaining the policy in more detail and how fines were being introduced – equivalent to two weeks wages – for anyone who missed their individual target.
It is understood that all players know if they fail to pass the minimum level at any test, they are not available for selection and if they miss their personal target they will be fined and may have their contract downgraded or suspended. All players can request tests or re-tests at any time.
We now look forward to strong, winning performances in the build-up to the T20 World Cup.
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]