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By Tony McWatt
Nicholas Pooran’s unexpected November 21 announcement of his immediate resignation from the West Indies white-ball cricket captaincy would have certainly taken many fans and followers of Caribbean cricket by surprise. Especially after Pooran had previously publicly indicated that he was still very much interested in continuing as captain despite his team’s very poor showing and embarrassing premature exit from the Super12 Qualification stage of the recent ICC 2022 T20 World Cup.
Before Pooran’s shock announcement, most of the immediate discussion within Caribbean cricket circles would have been on the outcome and standout performances of the recently concluded 2022 CG Insurance Super50 Tournament. In the November 19 Day-Night Final played at Antigua’s Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, the Rovman Powell-led Jamaica Scorpions emerged as unexpected victors over Nicholas Pooran’s defending champions the Trinidad & Tobago Knight Riders.
Powell’s Super50 captaincy triumph, coming as it did so quickly on the heels of his having also led the Jamaica Tallawahs to victory at the 2022 Caribbean Premier League at the end of September, is one of several talking points that had emerged from the tournament to garner the attention of West Indies cricket’s fans and followers. Maybe also that of its administrators, even as ostrich-minded as they have tended to be within recent times.
Now that Pooran has resigned the discussion surrounding Powell will be as to whether his now second successive captaincy triumph in Caribbean white-ball cricket, merits his appointment to both the ODI and T20 leadership positions as the worthiest replacement for such roles. Having also suffered from an extended run of poor scores, Pooran, whose batting also seemed to have been negatively affected by the burden of captaincy, rebounded well with the bat during this year’s Super50 to finish with an impressive aggregate of 342 runs scored at an average of 114.00 and including a century and two-half centuries. All this while captaining the defending champions Knight Riders to their second successive appearance in the tournament final.
The fact that he, however, finished second to Powell both in terms of runs scored during the tournament, as well as the latter’s eventual emergence as the championship title-winning captain, may have been the final nail that led to his decision to step down from the West Indies captaincy. Before his surprise announcement the debate as to which of the two should be assigned the West Indies white-ball captaincy had already begun to rage with furnace-hot intensity among Caribbean cricket fans. The way has now, however, been paved for Powell to step into the role as Pooran’s replacement.
Powell’s impressive Super50 batting, topping the Most Runs chart as he did with an aggregate of 346 from 8 innings batted for a 69.20 average with one century and half-century also included has certainly underlined and emphasized his West Indies white ball captaincy claims. Even more so was how he scored his runs, always with a calm sense of assurance. In terms of overall leadership and astute on-field decision-making, Powell was head and shoulders above all others during the entire Super50 tournament.
The West Indies selectors will, therefore, now have some decision-making to do in terms of the team’s white-ball captaincy. With the ICC’s 50 Over World Cup now less than a year away, their eventual decision will be extremely crucial.
In terms of the West Indies’ hopes for regaining its long-lost stature as a competitive 50 Overs team, it is now ranked ninth among ICC teams and is in very real danger of suffering the ignominy of not gaining automatic qualification to next year’s World Cup, the emergence of several exciting young prospects during this year’s Super50 has been heartening. Among the batsmen, the 23-year-old Dominican Alick Athanzaze was definitely a standout.
Playing for the Windward Islands, as a left-handed top-order batsman and right-arm off-break bowler, Athanaze scored 292 runs from only six innings batted for an impressive 48.66 average. He also had two centuries during the tournament including his career-high 140. Definitely one for the future and of whom the selectors should now be seeking to have included in the West Indies 50-Over squad mix as quickly as possible.
Much the same can also be said for the 21-year-old right-arm seamer Joshua James. Playing for the West Indies Academy, the recent U19 player impressed all with his pace in capturing 8 tournament wickets at a lowly average of 22.75 and an equally outstanding 4.91 economy rate. West Indies all-time great former seamers Courtney Walsh and Sir Curtly Ambrose were among those who had cause to sing James’ praises because of his Super50 performances. With an eye toward the future and the development of plans to regain an ICC top-five ranking in time for the 2027 ODI World Cup, James is another youngster who the West Indies Selectors should have their eyes on.
Another former West Indies U19 player Shamar Springer, who was a member of the Shimron Hetmeyer-led 2016 World Cup Champions team, also came into his own during this year’s Super50 as a death overs bowler for the Barbados Pride. Springer’s tournament wickets were captured at an average 26.5 with a 5.87 economy rate. His controlled bowling during the crucial death overs of Barbados’ opponents was, however, highly impressive. Still only 24 years old and with his capabilities as a hard-hitting lower-order batsman thrown in for good measure, Springer has certainly also definitively stuck his hand up for white-ball selection consideration in the immediate future.
Amidst all the euphoria of highly encouraging performances by youthful contenders in the batting, seam bowling, and all-rounder departments, the one area which continues to be a major cause of concern for West Indies cricket, especially in terms of the two white-ball formats is the apparent dearth of quality wrist spinners within the region. Much like the preceding 2022 CPL, this year’s Super50 also failed to identify any legitimate contenders as wrist-spinning inclusions to the West Indies white-ball teams.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Yanick Cariah with 12 wickets taken at an average of 27.00 and a 4.76 economy rate was the most successful of all the wrist-spinners on display. Cariah is, however, already in his thirties and will be thirty-one by the time next year’s World Cup rolls around. Not exactly the type of young spring chicken the West Indies should be looking to brood from now and towards a more realistic World Cup championship title-challenging-campaign in 2027.
Even more importantly, Cariah’s bowling far too often lacks the required variety, predominantly consisting of big turning leg-breaks. Those of a highly predictable nature that will not present too many challenges to any of international cricket’s top-class batsmen.
Haydn Walsh the other leading contender for the role, suffered a yet further loss of credibility because of his underwhelming Super50 tournament performances. Walsh captured just two wickets at a whopping average of 73.00 from the 29 overs he bowled in his 6 matches played. His economy rate of 5.00 was impressive for 50Over standards but his failure to complete his allocated ten overs more often than not was a telling statistic.
Finding a suitable, far more penetrative, wrist-spinning option will be a tough task for the West Indies selectors given how bare the resource cupboard now appears to be. With white ball ODI and T20 matches to be played during the forthcoming tour to South Africa early in the New Year, the selectors will likely find themselves having to rely on the overabundant supply of left-arm orthodox bowlers to fulfill the West Indies’ spin bowling requirements.
Much fodder for West Indies cricket’s fans and followers to chew on in the weeks ahead. That is at least until the West Indies’ upcoming December Test Series Down Under against their formidable Aussie hosts garners their rapt attention.
About The Writer: Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets/monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted toward 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.