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By Tony McWatt
The ongoing FIFA World Cup has certainly captured the attention of most sports fans including those who still loyally maintain their allegiance to the West Indies cricket team. For such fans, the upcoming fortnight may, however, prove to be just as captivating as the World Cup as it will involve the West Indies taking on Australia in a two-match Test Series that could well define the future careers of some players on the team.
The West Indies will face their Australian hosts in two Test matches. The first Test to be played at Perth from November 30th to December 4th and will be a pink ball day-night match. The Adelaide December 8th to 12th second Test will be the more normal red ball encounter.
With Australia as the International Cricket Council’s number one ranked Test team enjoying home-court advantage against the eight-placed West Indies, the most any Caribbean cricket fan could realistically hope for would be a competitive Series. Given that it’s now been twenty-five years since the West Indies last won a Test in Australia (Perth 1997) and coupled with the fact that all but four (Kraigg Brathwaite, Jerome Blackwood, Jason Holder and Kemar Roach) of the team’s members will be playing Down Under at cricket’s highest level for the very first time in their respective careers, to expect anything more would be overly optimistic.
In much the same way that Australia had proven itself to be the spawning ground for the launching of spectacular individual careers of players from the eventual world champion West Indies teams of the 1960s and later Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering squad that strode the globe unbeaten for over fifteen years, this series could, however, also unveil a future Caribbean superstar or two.
In terms of batting, Tagenarine Chanderpaul the son of Shivnarine, who along with Brian Lara was one of the only two truly world-class batsmen the Caribbean has produced within the past three decades, will likely be making his debut as captain Kraigg Brathwaite’s partner to open the West Indies innings. All eyes will on young Tage to see exactly how he fares as he starts his own Test career against the backdrop of his father’s outstanding success.
Among the West Indies bowlers, Alzarri Joseph seems to be finally coming of age as a fast bowler who is admirably equipped with that very rare gift of genuine pace. As many of his famous predecessors, such as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Curtly Ambrose have done in the past, Joseph could well find the pacy, bouncy pitch at Perth, the venue of the Series’ First Test, usually has on offer much to his liking. How Joseph fares in his duels with Australia’s top-class batting order could prove to be highly definitive of his apparent potential to become the next great West Indies fast bowler.
The performances of Chanderpaul and Joseph won’t be the only ones garnering the attention of West Indies fans during the series. Indeed for a few others among the team’s roster, the series could well prove to be career-defining.
As captain, Kraigg Brathwaite will be looking to lead from the front by establishing his credentials as a world-class opener against Australia’s vaunted pace attack, arguably now still the very best in the world with all due respect to India. Brathwaite has a penchant for big scores and he will need to be at his best to give the West Indies innings the solid starts that will be necessary to ensure a competitive Series.
Nkrumah Bonner has not been in the best form of late. So much so that there have been suggestions that his place as the West Indies’ number three may be under threat from the likes of Shamarh Brooks and Devon Thomas who both scored respective half-centuries in each of the two warm-up matches the West Indies played in preparation for the Tests. Bonner’s experience should, however, prevail enough to secure his place at least for the first Test. He will be conscious though of those seeking to dispose of him and will want to silence any such threats in the best way possible, by scoring big. Bonner’s leg-spinning abilities will also provide the West Indies bowling attack with some additional variety which could prove to be of value during the Tests.
West Indies vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood has been consistent with his scores of late, becoming in the process very reliable at number four in the order. He too will be wanting to establish his credibility as a respected middle-order batsman. Where better to do so than against one of the best bowling attacks in international cricket performing in its own backyard and in front of vocally supportive crowds?
As the West Indies’ number five Kyle Mayers will similarly be seeking to establish the same credibility for himself as Blackwood. After bursting onto the international scene with a double century in his very first Test against Bangladesh, Mayers has failed to maintain such levels. Indeed, he has scored only one additional century, against lowly ranked Bangladesh in his most recent Test, and has registered only two half-centuries in the 13 matches he has so far played at international cricket’s highest level.
Mayer’s Test average now stands at a sub-par 38.90. This Australia Series could, therefore, prove to be make or break in terms of the continuation of his Test career, especially with his age already being on the wrong side of thirty.
Jason Holder and Joshua DaSilva who normally occupy the sixth and seventh spots in the West Indies batting order are at the other end of the spectrum from Mayers in terms of the solidity of their respective places on the team. Holder is the team’s established seam bowling all-rounder while the 26-year-old DaSilva, who already has a Test century under his belt, seemingly has a long future ahead of him as the West Indies wicket-keeper batsman. Just like their fellow batsmen they too will be looking to enhance their reputations with outstanding performances against the Aussies.
The Aussie two Test series will be even more important for Royston Chase, the recalled Barbadian all-rounder. Having played his previous 43 Tests primarily as a batsman, Chase despite the extended run of low scores he’s produced of late across all formats has nevertheless earned a recall to the squad largely as a result of his off-spinning capabilities which the West Indies’ Selectors believe could prove to be highly valuable on Australia’s bouncy pitches. According to Selection Chair, his Barbadian compatriot Desmond Haynes, if selected Chase will play as an off-spinner likely batting as far down as number seven in the order.
Chase’s all-round abilities will add further balance to the West Indies team and with Holder, Roach, Joseph, and the exciting Jayden Seales providing Brathwaite with supportive seam options, the West Indies bowling attack should be fully capable of posing a few problems for Australia’s batsmen. Whether it will be formidable enough to capture the twenty Aussie wickets necessary to win either of the two Tests is, however, the much bigger question. The answer to which time alone will reveal.
Towards that end, the West Indies bowling attack will have as its double spearhead the experienced Kemar Roach and Jason Holder, both of whom having played Tests in Australia before will be sufficiently familiar with the conditions on offer. Now aged 34 and with 73 matches under his belt, Roach will be seeking to fully utilize the typically seamer-friendly Australian conditions to add to his tally of 252 Test wickets. The extent to which he can lead the West Indies attack in doing so will be crucial to the team’s efforts to at least restrict if not completely dismiss Australia’s formidable batting.
There will, therefore, be much at stake for the West Indies team, during the forthcoming Aussie Test series which will provide a true and tough examination of their individual and collective capabilities.
“The strongest steel is that which has been smelted in the fiercest of furnaces!”
Regardless of the final result, hopefully, the West Indies Test team members will emerge with their reputations intact and who knows some which may even progress to become something really special.
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 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.