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Benn – or break

Philip Hackett

Benn – or break

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With all the eggs in the Sunil Narine basket, Dwayne Bravo’s West Indies team is set to start a new ODI series against India in Kochi next week.

The squad of 15 announced recently by a new section panel led by the iconic West Indian Clive Lloyd provides further evidence that “the more things change the more they remain the same”.

Still present is the popular recycling process that has characterised West Indies cricket for almost two decades.

The failure to recognise the obvious is another trait of West Indies cricket that has cost us dearly in the past. The desire to baffle completes a triad of strategies that if designed to perplex have achieved their objective with remarkable consistency.

The most glaring shortcoming of the team selected is the presence of just one specialist spinner, Sunil Narine. Even if he remains in peak fitness and features in every match, he can only bowl ten of the 50 overs scheduled.

On the evidence of the previous tour of India almost a year ago, the other 40 could be problematic.

Narine, Ravi Rampaul and Lendl Simmons were the only bowlers who conceded fewer than six runs per over in that three-match series which India won 2-1. Not surprisingly Narine was the only one who conceded fewer than five per over.

Darren Sammy, who topped the batting averages in that series and was Man Of The Match for his match winning unbeaten half-century in the solitary success of the series, earns his selection as a power hitting all-rounder along with Andre Russell. Dwayne Smith has proven that he plays his best cricket at the top of the order while Jason Holder has shown encouraging signs of developing into a genuine all-rounder in shorter and longer formats.  

Nevertheless, room should have been found for at least one other specialist spinner, and in this regard Sulieman Benn and Nikita Miller can consider themselves unfortunate. The real losers here, though, could be the West Indies cricket team. Miller was dropped without having the opportunity to feature in the recent series against Bangladesh. That is baffling to say the least. If for whatever reason these selectors have lost confidence in Miller, the successful return to international cricket of Benn has provided an attractive option.

It seems reasonable that Leon Johnson’s place in the side, presumably in place of the injured Chris Gayle, was secured after his heartening performance against Bangladesh. The brilliance of Benn with the ball in that series should have earned him a similar vote of confidence, particularly since his reputation as a cricketer has developed out of his stingy left-arm spin bowling. While there is not much to separate him from Miller statistically, his current form and confidence weigh heavily in his favour.

On the evidence of the inadequacy shown by the pacers on the tour to India last November, it should have been obvious that another quality spinner would be needed and it is baffling why this new, supposedly visionary team of selectors would have allowed such a mind boggling omission.

For the umpteenth time Marlon Samuels is being processed through the recycling plant of West Indies cricket. On his most recent trip to India with the West Indies team he scored 65, 4, 19 and 11 in the Two Tests and 8, 24 and 71 in the ODIs. Certainly, these are not compelling numbers. Kieran Powell, who was third in the averages in the ODI series, may have been a better investment.

 Nkrumah Bonner, who fashioned a century against Bangladesh ‘A’ a few months ago and whose List A record that includes three centuries makes more impressive reading than that of Leon Johnson, who is yet to record a ton at that level, could have been another alternative.

Jonathan Carter is seemingly not even in the thoughts of the selectors for ‘A’ team duties and could find himself out in the cold permanently, looking on as mediocrity continues to be recycled.

The harsh reality is that given the current state of West Indies cricket and the lack of meaningful insight in formulating strategies to improve, whatever combination of players is selected, India will prove to be a tough assignment.

The failure to address what I believe are serious leadership issues has also complicated the problem. Professional league or otherwise, I fear that a further slide towards the bottom may be one from which we may never recover.