Different strokes for Smith, Hinds
IF DEVON SMITH was a Bajan, he would’ve been put out to pasture like Ryan Hinds by unsympathetic selectors with absolutely no chance of redemption and resurrecting his dying international cricket career.
Luckily, Smith is Grenadian and represents the Windward Islands. Hence, a meagre 2012 first-class return of 205 runs in six matches at an average of 17.08, was regarded as just having a bad year.
Smith, 31 – just eight months younger than Hinds (both were born in 1981) – has returned with a bang to top the batting charts in both the Regional 4-Day and Super50 competitions.
He scored 348 runs at an average of 58.00 with one hundred and three half-centuries in the Super50 and has 682 runs (ave. 85.25) with three hundreds in six first-class matches this year.
The diminutive left-hander looked like a novice in his last Test at Providence National Stadium in Guyana (2011) when Pakistan off-spinner and opening batsman Mohammed Hafeez removed him cheaply in both innings when he opened the bowling. But he has now put his name back in the West Indies’ frame as a back-up opener to Chris Gayle and Kieron Powell.
However, many skeptics will say regional cricket is his level, as his Test record – an average of 24.71 after 33 Tests with one century – is nothing to do a song and dance about.
Conversely, Hinds, who scored 123 runs in four matches at an average of 17.57 and took five wickets at 29.60, his first real failure for Barbados in the last ten years, was cast aside and not given a chance for a resurgence.
The raw hand dealt him by the Barbados selectors could prevent him from adding to his 6 753 runs in 120 first-class matches (average of 38.15) and 227 wickets at 27.34 each.
Compare the treatment of Smith with his Barbadian namesake, Dwayne Smith, who has been unceremoniously dumped by both the Barbados and West Indies selectors each time he failed with the bat,
Meanwhile, Devon Smith, who has played 144 first-class matches, amassing 9 107 runs at an average of 37.17, just below Hinds, has pushed his centuries count to 22 to Hinds’ 12.
Thanks to the West Indies Cricket Board’s competition format with semi-finals and a final in its first-class league competition, Barbados have a score to settle with the Windward Islands starting today in Dominica at the Windsor Park Stadium.
Whereas, the Windwards, once considered the Cinderellas of Caribbean cricket, have made encouraging strides this year, Barbados’ cricket seems to be progressively heading in a downward spiral.
Not only have the Windwards won the Regional Super50 for the third time in their history, they have also conquered Barbados in the Caribbean Twenty20 in their last two encounters. Barbados’ only consolation was victory in the Super50 preliminaries.
This year, the Windwards also humbled Barbados in their preliminary round four-day match by the embarrassing margin of 216 runs in our own backyard at Kensington Oval. Then, Barbados suffered a 64-run all-out indignity with only Kevin Stoute, who made 33, getting a double-digit score.
West Indies off-spinner Shane Shillingford, who wrecked the Barbados batting line-up with a 12-wicket match haul, will now be licking his chops, especially on his home pitch. Lest we forget, Shillingford bagged ten-wicket match hauls against both Australia and Zimbabwe in his two Tests at the venue.
What can Barbados really do to save face and bring about a change in fortune and secure a berth in the tournament’s final?
With the selectors opting to retain all the batsmen who were part of the 64-run debacle, including 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Shai Hope who has managed a paltry 17 runs in three matches at an average of 4.25, it is going to be a Herculean task.
Yes, Hope has some ability, as was manifested in his dominance of Under-19 cricket last year, but maybe he needs to get a few solid seasons of Elite club cricket under his belt.
Anyway, one expects Roston Chase, who was surprisingly dropped after three matches in which he scored 112 runs at an average of 22.40, to get in the final 11 after playing just five matches over the past three years.
On what is expected to be a dusty spin-friendly Windsor Park pitch, Chase’s useful off-spin could be asset, bearing in mind that Marlon Samuels also took three wickets in each innings in the Zimbabwe Test there.
But Barbados must score over 300 runs, something they have only done against the weaker teams – the Leewards (381-6 declared); Combined Campuses and Colleges (372) and Guyana (367) – none of which reached the semi-finals.
The batsmen must build partnerships, especially at the top and in the middle order. It is noteworthy that Barbados’ best second- and third-wicket partnerships are 74 and 40 runs respectively.
Problem at No.4
The No.4 batting position has been the most problematic this year.
Barbados also need to get a good start from openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Rashidi Boucher, whose best stand, ironically, was 68 in the second innings versus the Windwards when the former carried his bat for 91 not out.
Brathwaite, almost unnoticed, is the competition’s second highest scorer with 430 runs at an average of 55, but Boucher has managed a mere 205 at an unsatisfactory average of 22.77 with a highest score of 81.
Captain Kirk Edwards has made two centuries but failed to pass 50 in any of his seven other innings. He holds the key in coping with Shillingford but must pace his innings and watch his shot selection, rather than try to bulldoze the bowlers before he has settled down. Getting caught at mid-on repeatedly playing an attacking shot is definitely a cardinal sin.
Jonathan Carter, after an encouraging 500-run 2012 season, has disappointed with 204 runs at 22.66, again failing to convert two half-centuries into a maiden first-class century. Perhaps a change from his No.5 position could bear fruit.
Wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich must also work on his consistency in front and behind the stumps.
Off-spinner Ashley Nurse has seized the surprise opportunity afforded him to play first-class cricket with 30 wickets at 18.66 and along with the experienced Sulieman Benn will be key bowling weapons for Barbados.
Rookie Miguel Cummins has been a revelation with 26 wickets at 15.84 apiece and could be the surprise package.
When all is said and done, Kemar Roach must show why he is regarded among the best fast bowlers in Test cricket by knocking over Smith early. That would certainly set the cat among the pigeons but Shillingford may have the final say.