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Selectors off target

Tony Cozier

Selectors off target

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The adjectives that littered Caribbean newspapers after the defeats by seven wickets (with 58 balls remaining) and 160 runs (when they could last only 31.1 overs and cobble together 132) accurately described the West Indies performances in the first two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) of the series that was yesterday secured 3-2 by Bangladesh.
Even though the outcome was tighter in the decider yesterday, after the West Indies revival in the third and four matches, much of the criticism was equally applicable.
“Disgraceful”, “woeful” “erratic”, “crushing” were the most favoured after the opening routs. Humiliated was the headline over the reports in Trinidad’s Express and Newsday after the second walloping.
It was, indeed, as humiliating as . . . well, as their 61 all out in 22 overs in the third and final ODI against the same opponents in October last year.
As dismal as that was, it came after two earlier comprehensive victories that had already settled the three-match contest; it was regarded as just another of the blips that have become endemic among West Indies teams over the past couple of decades.
This time, it was different.
It followed the sequence of triumphs in the two Tests and four of the five ODIs against New Zealand at home in July, the World T20 championship in Sri Lanka that encouraged optimism that West Indies cricket was gradually making its way back to respectability, and comprehensive victories, hard-fought as they were, over the same Bangladeshis in the preceding two Tests.
Chris Gayle, among the most intimidating of contemporary batsmen, was at the top of the order again after the end of his prolonged standoff with the board; Sunil Narine brought with him a reputation as a mesmerizing spinner expected to be encouraged by conditions. Both were missing in 2011.
It was all enough to prompt captain Darren Sammy to confidently tell the media, before a toss was made, that his aim was for a 5-0 sweep.
If it wasn’t complacency, it certainly hinted at it. If so, it disregarded Bangladesh’s improvement in the 50-overs game, especially at home, whatever their obvious shortcomings over five days of a Test match.
In the Asia Cup in Mirpur last March, they beat India and Sri Lanka (both with all their big guns) by five wickets and were just pipped in the final by Pakistan by two runs. In October 2010, also in Mirpur, they swept New Zealand 4-0.
That the West Indies drew level after their initial meltdowns displayed the kind of spirit they required to claim the World T20. The difference was that this was not so much the team effort that Sammy noted as he received the trophy in Colombo.
Victories in the third and fourth matches were now based on a few individuals – Narine’s four for 37 and another Marlon Samuels’ classic, 126 (out of 228 for six) in the third; Sammy’s critical, unbeaten 60 off 62 balls at No. 8 and his opening burst with Kemar Roach in the fourth that left Bangladesh at 13 for five midway through the sixth over and without realistic hope of reaching their goal of 212.
Yesterday, Kieron Pollard, in his first significant contribution of the series, dragged them out of the hole of 17 for three in the eighth over with the ferocious hitting that has made him one of the most sought after players in the several T20 leagues scattered around the globe.
There were eight sixes in his 85 off 74 balls as the Bangladeshi brigade of spinners, who were previously turning at angles not even thought of by Pythagoras, were reduced to his fodder.
Darren Bravo presented him with sensible support in a partnership of 132. When Pollard was bowled, ironically by a straight one in the 32nd over, the West Indies were 149 for four. Bravo was set so that it was not unrealistic to anticipate another 80 or so from the remaining six wickets.
The key was Bravo carrying through to the end. Instead, as he had done in the previous match, he tapped an innocuous ball for a close-in catch (short extra-cover rather than the bowler).
As much to the point was the further evidence of flawed selection.
No team can expect to raise positive totals with an order that carries batsmen from five down with ODI averages 25 and under or, in most cases, 20 and under. The problem is exaggerated when three wickets are down early, as was the case with Gayle’s failures throughout.
They will occasionally come off, as Sammy and Pollard did, but Dwayne Smith (average 16.95) marching to the middle at No. 4 or 5, or Devon Thomas, talented but inexperienced, appearing at No. 7, are not sights to lift confidence, especially against opponents relishing conditions for which they were properly prepared.
The selectors have omitted Shivnarine Chanderpaul from their 50-overs considerations on the grounds that they reckon that, at 40, he will be past his best by the 2015 World Cup in Australia for which they are seeking to create the nucleus of their team. It is unlikely that the lower order collapses would have occurred in this series had he been around.
Or, for that matter, Narsingh Deonarine or, yes, Ramnaresh Sarwan who has done a recent U-turn and declared himself ready to return to the West Indies team.
Next season’s regional tournaments should provide the selectors with plenty of answers to the questions raised these past ten days in Bangladesh. And they don’t surround the batting alone.
The “erratic” label pasted on to the first two matches were again applicable yesterday. Perhaps thoughtless, even omitting the 18 wides, would be more apt.
As he did on Thursday, Roach disconcerted the Bangladesh top order with his pace and movement, in spite of a slow pitch. He quickly dispatched Tamin Iqbal, a dangerous left-hander, Anamul Haque, the teenaged century-maker of the second match, and Jahural Islam.
Every time he delivered a full length, a wicket was likely. Yet, even on such a surface, he chose to dig in half-trackers, long hops, call them what you will, but all inviting pulls and cuts from Bangladesh’s two best batsmen, the feisty captain Mushfiqur Rahim and the consistent Mahmudallah.
When Roach returned with the outcome virtually decided, he claimed two more wickets by pitching up. Is such evidence so difficult to digest?
Andre Russell, who had a forgettable series, seemed to take his cue from his partner. He also paid in boundaries for his shortness.
The consequence was that there were 25 fours in the 44 overs Bangladesh took over their target (the West Indies had 13 in addition to Pollard’s eight sixes and one by Bravo). Roach conceded 10 in his nine overs, Russell six in his 10.
So now the West Indies slip below Bangladesh on the International Cricket Council’s ODI ratings. It is a realization that should shock the selectors into redrafting their plans.
The next such engagement is in Australia for five matches in February. The environment will be utterly different, the challenge equally demanding.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.