By Tony McWatt
The West Indies Four-Day Regional Championship resumes on May 18 and will continue uninterrupted through to the conclusion of its June 1-4, fifth and final round. The tournament’s third and fourth rounds will be played from May 18-21 and 25 – 28 respectively.
The final rounds will allow three sets of matches to be played by each of the six participating regional franchise teams: Barbados Pride, Guyana Harpy Eagles, Jamaica Scorpions. Leeward Islands Hurricanes, Trinidad & Tobago Red Pride and the Windward Islands Volcanoes. Concluding as it will be less than two weeks before the June 16 – 19 commencement of the West Indies – Bangladesh Test Series, the resumed Regional Championship will also offer ample opportunities for those wishing to advance their claims for red-ball team selection to do so.
The West Indies-Bangladesh 2022 Test Series will consist of two matches. The first Test is scheduled to be played at Antigua’s Sir Vivian Richards National Stadium from June 15-19. The second at St Lucia’s Darren Sammy Stadium from June 24-27, 2022.
The Test Series against Bangladesh will be the second of only three scheduled for the West Indies in 2022. The West Indies defeated England 1-0 in the three-match series played earlier this year. They will obviously be hoping for a similarly positive outcome against their Bangladesh visitors.
Following the Bangladesh Series, the West Indies will travel to Australia this coming November. That two Tests tour will likely be a far more challenging assignment. Their Aussie hosts are currently ranked as the ICC’s number one Test team.
Despite the very positive and encouraging 1-0 series win against England, there are still several question marks remaining over the current composition of the West Indies team, particularly in terms of its batting. By the end of the England Series, only two of the West Indies’ top six batsmen, Skipper Kraigg Brathwaite (85.25) and Nkrumah Bonner (44.25), had averaged over 40, the acknowledged acceptable passing grade for Test match batting.
The remaining five, Brathwaite’s opening batting partner John Campbell (22.40), Shamarh Brooks (15.80), Jermaine Blackwood (32.00), Jason Holder (23.50) and Kyle Mayers (28.00) all recorded unimpressive averages of under 35 from their respective collective crease appearances. Indeed, it was left to the West Indies’ wicket-keeper batsman, Joshua DaSilva, to show his far more illustrious teammates exactly what Test match batting is all about.
Appearing mostly at number seven, DaSilva scored 195 runs from four innings batted to end the Series with an average of 97.50, the very best for the entire team. His 195 runs aggregate included his maiden century, an unbeaten 100 scored during the West Indies’ first innings of the third and final Test.
Based solely on the England Series performances, Brathwaite, Bonner and DaSilva would now, therefore, be the only West Indies batsmen who should consider themselves completely immune from any queries about the merits of their continued inclusion in the team. As all-rounders though, both Kyle Mayers and Jason Holder should arguably also be included among such ranks.
Not so John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks and even the team’s current vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood. They should all now be seeking to reinforce the Selectors’ opinions on their Test team inclusion worthiness with impressive personal batting performances during the forthcoming final rounds of the championships.
While attempting to do so they should also be having a cursory glance or two at the batting performances of some of their would-be challengers. Among those seeking to depose Campbell as Kraigg Brathwaite’s rightful opening partner will be Trinidad & Tobago’s Jeremy Solanzo. The twenty-six-year -old Solanzo was selected for last year’s Sri Lanka Series only to have his debut during the first Test cut short by a concussion injury he sustained while fielding at short-leg.
Brandon King, the West Indies’ current T20 opening batsman, has also been included in the Jamaica Scorpions’ squad for at least the first of the tournament’s final three rounds. It will be very interesting to see whether he is indeed used as an opener, and even more so how he fares if given the chance to do so.
Among those challenging both Brooks and Blackwood for one of the Test team’s middle-order batting positions, though arguably far more the former than the latter, will be yet another Trinidadian, Darren Bravo. Once considered to be one of the region’s very best batsmen, Bravo has now been seemingly discarded by the selectors from their immediate consideration in all three formats after a rather lengthy poor run of form. He will, therefore, be hoping to register some mammoth tournament scores as a means of reviving his Test career from its apparent terminal decline.
The Playoffs for this year’s Indian Premier League are scheduled to begin on May 24, with the Final set for May 29. Playing for the Rajasthan Royals, Guyana’s Shimron Hetmyer has had an impressive season to date as one of the franchise’s most outstanding batsmen. Even if the Royals do go all the way to the May 29 Final, as well they might, Hetmyer could then still make himself available for Guyana’s June 1-4 final match against the Trinidad & Tobago Red Force.
Hetmyer’s appearance for Guyana in any of its two final matches for this year’s tournament, if also punctuated by half-decent fifty-plus scores, could possibly warrant his automatic recall to the West Indies squad for the first Test against Bangladesh. Despite not having played in a Test since late November 2019, at just twenty-five years of age he is now still one of the West Indies’ brightest batting prospects in all three formats of the game.
The unknown factor in the entire equation is Hetmeyer’s actual level of interest in continuing his Test career. There have been unconfirmed suggestions of late that he is now no longer interested in doing so.
While there appear to be several opportunities available for Bangladesh Series Test selection claims to be advanced by the region’s batsmen during the forthcoming matches, those for the bowlers now appear to be far less so. The West Indies frontline seamers Kemar Roach (11), Jayden Seales (11) and Alzarri Joseph (10) all had highly credible performances during the England series, accounting for 31 of the 5o wickets captured. With Trinidad’s Anderson Phillips having already sealed his place as the Test squad’s reserve seamer, there doesn’t now appear to be any remaining opportunities for bowlers of the faster variety to avail themselves.
The West Indies used only a single frontline spinner during the England series, and even more importantly in just two of the three matches played. Veerasammy Permaul, the incumbent spinner who chipped in with 5 wickets captured from his two matches played, appears to have done enough to retain his place for the Bangladesh series. Permaul’s Guyana Harpy Eagles teammate, Gudakesh Motie as well as Trinidad & Tobago’s Akeal Hosein will, however, be front and centre among all the other spinners hoping to catch the selectors’ attention with outstanding performances for their respective teams during the coming weeks.
During the early months of 1977 two individuals, one a Barbadian the other Guyanese, registered such exceptional performances in the regional Shell Shield tournament, as it was known back then, that their selection to the West Indies team for the first Test of the home series against Pakistan that was to follow became almost automatic. Their names were Joel Garner and Colin Croft and their resulting respective careers were among the most outstanding ever for the West Indies in Tests.
Will the 2022 Regional Championships’ remaining matches spawn any such similarly distinguished future Test careers? Only time will tell! Whether it does or not its matches should provide some highly interesting viewing.
About the writer:
Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both Wickets and WI Wickets monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted towards Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of the former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.