Chance for Gayle, Shiv to shine
CAPTAIN CHRIS GAYLE and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will carry the West Indies’ hopes of ending their losing run against South Africa in the three-match Test cricket series bowling off in Trinidad and Tobago, today.
Gayle, in particular, whose Test average has significantly improved since taking over as skipper, will need to lead from the front and set the tone for the Windies’ fragile batting line-up.
His duel with South African speedster Dale Steyn, arguably the world’s leading fast bowler, and Morne Morkel, is one that could determine what kind of total West Indies make.
Should Gayle fall cheaply, Chanderpaul, as he has done ever since Brian Lara’s retirement, will be required to shepherd the middle and lower order.
After his phenomenal run in 2008 when he was the ICC Test Cricketer Of The Year, the long-serving Chanderpaul had a relatively quiet 2009, scoring only 466 runs in nine Tests at an average of 35.84.
The former world No.1-ranked batsman posted a solitary century when he scored 147 versus England in Trinidad.
Already there is talk that Chanderpaul [8 669 runs, 21 centuries in 123 Tests, ave: 48.70] is on the decline, and this will be a perfect chance for him to move back up the batting rankings.
Despite his patchy form in the World T20 and ODI series, Ramnaresh Sarwan was in good form for most of last year, apart from the two Tests he played in Australia. He recorded four centuries among his 850 runs in nine Tests at a healthy average of 60.71, including a career-best 291 against England at Kensington Oval.
Captain Gayle, whose Tests stats of 5 848 runs with 12 centuries [ave: 40.61 in 85 matches] are way below that of his opposite number Graeme Smith, ended last year in grand style with contrasting centuries against Australia in their backyard.
His responsible unbeaten 165 in the Adelaide Test which spanned 441 minutes and 285 balls as he batted through the innings, was followed by a quick-fire 102 off only 72 balls, studded with nine fours and six sixes at Perth.
But the skipper needs to repeat his batting of last year when he hit four centuries in ten Tests for an average of 49.
Despite the positive stroke-ds in his four ODI innings against the Proetas, the gritty Guyanese Travis Dowlin has been selected as Gayle’s opening partner, mainly because of two battling half-centuries against Australia.
The unflappable Australian-born left-hander Brendan Nash, who hit his maiden Test century against England, improving Guyanese Narsingh Deonarine, and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who hammered his third Test century and second against Australia in Adelaide in early December, will occupy the middle order spots with Chanderpaul.
The flamboyant left-hander Darren Bravo, a younger brother of Dwayne, will no doubt be 12th man for the first Test.
Trinidadian Denesh Ramdin, who was out of sorts in the World T20 when he lost his place to Andre Fletcher, has been retained as the first-choice wicketkeeper.
In the fast-bowling attack, young firebrand Kemar Roach and rookie Grenadian Nelon Pascal will have the task of leading the attack with support from seamer Ravi Rampul and all-rounders Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo.
Roach, who made an impressive debut for the second-string side in the two-match home series against Bangladesh, who won both Tests, also earned rave reviews in the recent three-Test tour of Australia, but he has been dogged by an ankle injury.
It is bit surprising that with both Taylor and Edwards sidelined through injury, the selectors ignored the experienced left-arm swinger Pedro Collins, who was among the leading fast bowlers in the 2010 regional first-class season.
His away swing, especially to the right-handers in the South African line-up and his ability to bring the ball back, would’ve provided the West Indies with a wicket-taking new-ball weapon.