Selectors spill chance
The selectors have given an extraordinary vote of confidence to the West Indies squad for the opening One-Day Internationals (ODIs) of the brief series of five against Pakistan, the first two of which, today and Tuesday, bring international cricket back to Guyana for the first time since 2011.
They have made only one alteration to the teams that, through atrocious cricket in the return round of the preceding triangular series with India and Sri Lanka at the Queen’s Park Oval last week, blew the strong position held at the half-way point following victories in both matches at Sabina Park.
Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, who has been shuffled around over the years more times than a piece on “Suki” King’s draughts board, was once again omitted. All the others were retained.
The basis of such endorsement is not apparent.
In their 15 ODIs for the year, the West Indies have lost eight and tied one under the Duckworth-Lewis method. Of the six victories, three were over hapless, inexperienced Zimbabwe at home in March and two others, over Pakistan in the Champions Trophy in June and India in the triangular at Sabina, both nervously eked out by tailenders after familiar top-order failures.
The one meaningful, convincing triumph was over Sri Lanka in the first round of the triangular, by six wickets with 73 balls in hand.
They have played some dreadful cricket for the year against reputable opponents. Queen’s Park witnessed it at its worst last week.
All the West Indies required in their return matches were solid performances. So superior was their net run-rate leaving Jamaica that, once they didn’t allow it to decline too much, they would qualify for the final, even with two losses.
Instead, they lapsed into their habitual indiscipline to lose by 39 runs to Sri Lanka and 102 runs to India, both under the D/L method in rain-affected matches. Their net run-rate plummeted, the others climbed; they even conceded a bonus point to India.
On the bowler-friendly pitches that obtained at Queen’s Park, India had to struggle to get to 221 for six after 42 overs. With stand-in captain Virat Kohli’s 102 to the fore and No. 8 Ravi Ashwin his partner, the last eight overs yielded 90 runs.
They were helped by an unforgivable 13 wides among 24 extras and Dwayne Bravo’s short-term memory lapse that left his two most economical bowlers, Darren Sammy (8-1-28-0) and Marlon Samuels (8-0-39-1), two overs short of their allocation while he and Kemar Roach were being belted around the ground at the end.
The humiliation was all but complete when the West Indies, needing 279 off 39 overs under D/L, slid to 118 for eight before Nos. 9 and 10, Kemar Roach and Sunil Narine, saved a little face by adding 58.
In their next match, Sri Lanka were similarly battling for survival at 60 for three off 19 overs when play was abandoned on the first day; on resumption the day after, they added 159 off 22 overs to reach 219 for eight on the back of Kumar Sangakkara’s unbeaten 90 that was the innings of the proven master he is.
Just as significant were another glut of 31 extras in the 41 overs offered by the West Indies, 24 of them wides mainly from Tino Best’s elevated bouncers that climbed over Johnson Charles’ uncertain gloves to the boundary. Along with no-balls, the West Indies gave Sri Lanka two additional overs along with three free-hits.
Given such numbers, there was only ever going to be one winner each time – and by large margins that sent India and Sri Lanka through to the final and the West Indies to Guyana for the Pakistan series.
To have headed there with the same squad, all to Ramdin’s absence, could only be taken as an admission that there are simply no others qualified to take the places of those who have so repeatedly fallen short.
The riposte to that is that it won’t be categorically proven unless contenders are given the chance – Nkrumah Bonner and Jonathan Carter as batsmen, the left-arm Sheldon Cottrell, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins as fast bowlers, for instance. All are in their early or mid-20s.
The most recent example of the success of Australia’s anonymous 19-year-old Ashton Agar in the current Ashes Test, not to mention the similarly unheard of 20-year-old “two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine” in England in 1950 and a host of others in the interim demonstrate what bold selections can achieve.
Indeed, the current West Indies panel’s choice of Johnson Charles has had a similar effect in white-ball cricket. It is disappointing to see their approach now.
To give the situation context, the stated objective after the elimination from the 2011 World Cup, through the humiliating loss to Pakistan in the quarter-final, was to use the intervening four and a half years to build a team to challenge for the next tournament in Australia and New Zealand early in 2015.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was advised he would no longer be required for the shorter formats as he would be 40 in 2015 and past his best. How badly his reliability is being missed.
The two other senior players, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, were initially excluded from home ODIs against Pakistan, presumably for younger players to be exposed and assessed.
Chanderpaul has only since been picked for Tests. Gayle (who will be 35 in the next World Cup) is finally back after his prolonged stand-off with the board, triggered by his initial exclusion; Sarwan also returned but, after low scores in Australia and the Champions Trophy, has been dropped, probably for the last time.
With their decision to stick to their previous squad, in spite of the recent evidence, we must assume that chief selector Clyde Butts and his colleagues are satisfied that these are the players who will continue to be in the frame in the build-up to Australia and New Zealand 2015 while others, far younger and worth the chance, remain on the periphery of the “A” team.
The Pakistani series would have been an ideal chance for a few to show their worth. They are the last ODIs until the New Zealand tour at the end of the year when the World Cup is just over a year away.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.