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THE SCORE: Windies still T20 force

Ezra Stuart

THE SCORE: Windies still T20 force

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THE?ONGOING?three-match Twenty20 International cricket series against England that started on Sunday and ends tomorrow at Kensington Oval is the perfect warm-up for the West Indies as they prepare to defendtheir ICC World Twenty20 title in Bangladesh from March 16 to April 6.
Even without injured big-hitting middle-order batsman Kieron Pollard, who is also a useful medium pacer and outstanding fielder, West Indies should still be a formidable force.
But it is not going to be easy as Windies are drawn against some tough opponents in Group 2. They will oppose India on March 23, followed by a match against one of the ICC qualifiers on March 25 before taking on Australia on March 28 and Pakistan on April 1.
Surprisingly, the West Indies have only played three T20 Internationals against India, winning two and losing one. It is even-stevens versus Australia, winning five and losing five of their ten T20s, while they have also only played Pakistan thrice, winning one and losing twice.
How they cope with the Pakistan and Indian spinners on spin-friendly pitches in Bangladesh will be a key factor for a West Indian side boasting a number of power hitters.
The Caribbean side has some of the most outstanding T20 cricketers in the world, headed by hard-hitting opener Chris Gayle, who is capable of destroying any attack on the day.
Mystery off-spinner Sunil Narine, energetic all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, captain Darren Sammy and stylish batsman Marlon Samuels, who is also a handy off-spinner as he showed in Sunday’s opener versus the Englishmen, will also need to play big roles if the West Indies are to have a successful title defence.
But make no mistake about it, the absence of the experienced Pollard – who is one of the world’s most sought after cricketers in this format, plying his trade in almost every T20 league – will definitely be a massive blow for  West Indies.
Unfortunately, Pollard failed to recover from a knee injury he suffered last year playing football.
Statistics in T20 cricket hardly ever tell the full story, especially for middle- and lower-order batsmen who have to play with gay abandon and ofttimes have to sacrifice their wickets in the late overs in the mad rush for quick runs.
Several skeptics have pontificated that both Pollard and Gayle only perform in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and other T20 leagues, but when they wear West Indies colours they hardly ever deliver the goods.
Gayle is indeed the West Indies’ leading T20 run-scorer with 1 060 runs in 36 matches at an average of 32.12 and a strike rate of 141.14 before yesterday’s match. He is the only West Indian with a T20 International ton.
In 37 T20Is, Pollard has scored 569 runs at an average of 22.76, with a strike rate of 149.73. He has managed just two half-centuries with a highest score of 63 not out.
These two aside, I am happy that the West Indies selectors saw it fit to retain both Lendl Simmons and resurgent  attacking batsman Dwayne Smith, who is surprisingly the only Bajan in the 15-man side.
How on earth the West Indian selectors continue to exclude tall left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn is a mystery which only they can solve.
One can understand the selection of both Narine and leg-spinner Samuel Badree, the only two West Indian bowlers with a sub-six per over economy rate. Yes, Samuels can trundle his off breaks and be effective as he showed in Sunday’s opener versus the Englishmen.
But there is definitely room for a third specialist spinner, particularly in Bangladesh, and Benn, who has taken 15 wickets in 17 T20Is at an economy rate of 7.01 per over, should have been selected ahead of unproven left-arm pacer Sheldon Cottrell, as there is absolutely no need for so many fast-medium bowlers.
If not Benn, then Nikita Miller, whose economy rate is 7.07 in nine matches in which he has taken 11 wickets.
With Cottrell gaining selection, the promising Jason Holder has been omitted, while someone like the under-rated Trinidadian Rayad Emrit could’ve been included if the selectors wanted another seam bowling option.
That said, I won’t be surprised if Jamaican left-arm seam bowler Krishmar Santokie replaces Ravi Rampaul in the starting 11.
Rampaul, in my view, is far from fully fit. Before yesterday’s game, his economy rate was 8.83 runs per over, while he has taken 26 wickets in 21 matches, which are not the returns you expect from a strike bowler.
In fact, Jerome Taylor, who I hope will be recalled to the West Indies side sooner rather than later, had 23 wickets in 17 T20Is at an economy rate of 7.88.       
Santokie, noted for his clever variation in pace, was the leading bowler in last year’s inaugural Caribbean Premier?League with 16 scalps. In the three T20Is he played so far,
his economy is 5.60 runs an over and it is high time he is given a fair break in the West Indies’ T20 set-up.
I believe dynamic Jamaican all-rounder Andre Russell, who led the Jamaica Tallawahs to the inaugural CPL title, will be an asset in the outfield and with the bat, but his bowling has really been a disappointment of late.
His three wickets have been taken at 93 runs apiece while he has an economy rate of over ten runs an over, which really is a luxury. However, along with Sammy, he could play a valuable role with his big shots in the closing overs.
Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher, who are both capable of doing wicketkeeping duties, may hardly get a chance to play as Denesh Ramdin has certainly secured the position behind the stumps where a specialist is needed as he showed with his three stumping on Sunday.
Finally, from a Barbadian perspective, let’s hope Smith – who has enjoyed a wave of success over the past six months, winning the Player Of The Series award while helping his former IPL franchise Mumbai Indians to win the Champions League Twenty20 – gets more than the solitary match he had in 2012 as his partnership with Gayle can really put fear in the hearts of opposing bowlers.
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