Tour squad questions
Now that thee euphoria over the West Indies’ wonderful ICC World Twenty20 success has subsided, let’s look at the way forward.
Darren Sammy has been enjoying a purple patch as West Indies captain, having also won the last Test series convincingly 2-0 against New Zealand, and must be given credit and commendation for the World T20 triumph. Respect is due.
But has he really silenced his critics or detractors, especially those who questioned his place in the Test side.
What the skeptics have been justifiably asking is whether he should command a place in the Test team based exclusively on his leadership qualities if his individual performances are not up to scratch.
The duty of a columnist, commentator or analyst is to impartially examine and comment on the issues without fear or favour.
I have previously endorsed Sammy’s captaincy in the limited-overs format (both T20 and One-Day Internationals), where he is a valuable member once he fully performs his duty as a bowler, and I feel that maybe, over time, he may convince all and sundry that he is also worthy of captaining the Windies’ Test side.
Many other neutral observers have also questioned his place in the Test side based on the view that his inclusion compromises team selection by preventing the team from playing another front-line bowler.
Whereas in 2011 Sammy’s returns in his primary role as a first change specialist bowler were commendable, he has been far from satisfactory with a meagre 12 wickets in eight Tests this year at an average of 53.83.
On the flip side, his batting, which was his weaker suit, has improved so significantly that he scored 440 runs at an average of 36.66 while recording his maiden Test century against England.
Overall, Sammy has taken 71 wickets in 29 Tests at 34.07 runs apiece and scored 1 066 runs at 22.20, statistics that he should certainly improve on in next month’s two Tests in Bangladesh, while improving his record of four wins, eight losses and nine draws in 21 Tests as captain.
A 15-member squad has been selected for that series and rather than take their fastest, most experienced and successful bowler in Fidel Edwards, the selectors have opted for a second spinner in left-armer Veerasammy Permaul.
Edwards and Sonny Ramadhin are the joint 11th highest wicket-takers in West Indies’ Test cricket history, with 158 scalps at an average of 38.37. Only five West Indians – Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall (all with 22), Lance Gibbs (18) and Michael Holding (13) have taken more five-wicket hauls than Edwards who, along with Andy Roberts, has 11.
Using the returns in the 2012 regional first-class season as a guide since everyone wasn’t afforded a chance to play three-day or four-day matches against “A” team opposition, the selection of Permaul (34 wickets at 20.47 in seven matches) ahead of fellow spinners Shane Shillingford (38 wickets at 13.28 in five matches); Sulieman Benn (45 wickets at 14.71 in eight matches) and Nikita Miller (49 wickets at 10.75 in eight matches) – these being the three leading bowlers – is surprising.
It must also be noted that Shillingford has taken 15 wickets in three Tests this year while Benn has 51 wickets in 17 Tests.
It is also unfortunate that leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, who bowled so well last year for 39 wickets in 10?Tests and was named the ICC Emerging Cricketer Of The Year, has been cast aside after a solitary Test against Australia.
Yes, Permaul has shone for the “A” Team and recently on the tour of Bangladesh with the Sagicor High Performance Centre, but that was against weak opposition as he was playing against the reserve cricketers of a nation regarded as minnows on the world stage.
Surely, performances against a weak Bangladesh “A” team should be taken with a pinch of salt and not for elevation to a higher level of play.
Even so, if Fidel Edwards was to be omitted, then promising Trinidadian pacer Shannon Gabriel, who had an encouraging Test debut against England and is now fully fit again, or even Delorn Johnson, the tall left-arm pacer from St Vincent, who performed creditably versus India “A” should have been selected.
That aside, Ravi Rampaul must surely recognize that an early wicket is not par for the course for a strike bowler. His nine wickets in four Tests at 37.77 this year and 44 in 17 Tests overall at 35.34 with no five-wicket hauls are testimony of his underachievement throughout his career.
Kemar Roach, who is among the top bowlers in the world, this year bagging 39 wickets in seven Tests at an average of 22.25, to push his overall record to 82 in 21 Tests at 27.69, will spearhead the attack.
Tino Best, for all the improvement he has made over the past two years, and despite his encouraging Test performances versus England and New Zealand, may be hard-pressed to make the final 11 unless he is preferred to Rampaul as Sammy is assured of the third seamer spot, with mystery off-spinner Sunil Narine and Narsingh Deonarine completing the bowling attack.
It is also heart-warming that the selectors have given Kirk Edwards another chance to rediscover his batting form after his struggles this year. Let’s hope he grabs this opportunity if he gets into the final 11.